I’m probably a very rare beast, a Mac user who uses Thunderbird rather than Apple Mail. The reason I use Thunderbird is because I don’t like lock-in. I’ve had my same mailboxes on Windows, Linux and Mac, so I know that as long as I use Thunderbird I can move to any OS I want at any time and keep all my mail, contacts and settings completely effortlessly. I’d just have to copy one folder. It can certainly be argued that Thunderbird is less polished looking than Mac Mail and it has a few less features but on the whole it’s a very capable client that works well.

I’ve been using the basic features for years but of late the sheer volume of mail I have to deal with at work has led me to start experimenting with ways of making my life easier. The first optimization people generally think of is message filters so I’m not going to talk about those because I think they are pretty obvious and people are used to using them. Instead I’m going to give two hopefully less obvious tips.

[tags]Mozilla, Thunderbird, Email, To Do, Organise[/tags]

Have Thunderbird Cleanup After You!

Something I spent an inordinate amount of time doing was deleting old messages. I get a lot of email from various monitoring systems that is really of no interest once it’s a few days old. In the past I used to take time every few weeks to do a big purge of these folders. Same goes for sent and trash. Now I have those folders looking after themselves. In Thunderbird you can set a message retention policy on each folder. To do this right (control) click on the folder you want to have look after itself, go down to Properties ... and then select the Retention Policy tab. With this tab you can define how Thunderbird should automatically delete old mails.

Thunderbird Mail Retention Policy Dialogue Box

Keeping Track of Tasks

I’ve been using Thunderbird to mark mails as Important, To Do, etc. for years and have found the color coding helpful. However, as the volume of my mail has increased, I’ve found it less and less useful. Once a mail marked as To Do scrolls off the top of my page I forget about it and it often doesn’t get done, thus defeating the purpose of flagging a message as To Do in the first place!

Smart folders to the rescue! Well, they are called smart folders in most apps on the Mac but in Thunderbird they are actually called Saved Searches. Smart folders are basically virtual folders that fill themselves based on a search of one or more folders. They are like a constantly updating search result page that is always available. What I have done is set up a smart folder called To Do which shows all the messages I’ve marked as To Do.

Before I go on, just a quick note for those of you who don’t know how to mark messages as To Do in Thunderbird. You just right (control) click on the message and go to Label and then To Do.

Thunderbird - Mark Message as 'To Do'

To create your smart folder go to File, then New and then Saved Search .... Then just give it a name, click on the button Choose... to select the folders to search. I found this dialog a little counter intuitive but you just have to put a tick next to all the folders you want included in the search. Then fill in the criteria for the search below. To get my folder will all my To Do items I used the settings shown below:

Thunderbird - Create Smart Folder - Step 1

Thunderbird - Create Smart Folder - Step 2