Reducing visual clutter in Mail.app

The fabulous Patrick Rhone from Minimal Mac instructs Mac users how to make their e-mail program less cluttered in his guest post today. Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your talents with us!

Take a look at the peacefully minimal Window above. That is Mail.app, the built in e-mail application on Mac OS X. You may not recognize it in that form. By default, it looks like this:

In just a few steps, you too can simplify and de-clutter Mail.app. Here is how:

  1. In Mail.app, under the View menu, select “Hide Mailboxes.” This will hide the folders along the left hand side of the Mail window. Don’t worry about being able to get to those. I’ve got a better way coming up.
  2. Next, also under the View menu, select “Hide Toolbar.” This will hide the icons at the top of the window. Once again, I’ve got a solution for accessing those items, including the Search box, that is faster and will save you hours a week.
  3. These next steps are optional but I endorse them.

  4. Install, Letterbox. This gives you the option to use that widescreen monitor to its fullest extent by placing the preview pane for the messages on the right or left side versus the default which is on the bottom. If you have the screen real estate, why not use it?
  5. Install Mail Act-On. This will allow you to navigate mailboxes, file messages, open folders, set custom actions, and much more — all using your keyboard. Using this, in combination with learning the default keyboard commands, will eliminate the need to keep items number 1 and 2 displayed and save hours each week for heavy email users.

Speaking of keyboard commands, if you want to display the Mailboxes again, Command + Shift + M will bring them right back. Also, if you miss the search box in the Toolbar, Command + Option + F will bring it right back, allow you to perform your search, and hide the toolbar again once done. See, told you I would give you a better way.

20 Comments for “Reducing visual clutter in Mail.app”

  1. posted by Kuldar on

    Sorry, but I can’t see how having to press Command + Option + F to open search, preform search and pressing Command + Option + F again to close it will save me time. I mean, sure it looks nice, but not too practical in my opinion.

  2. posted by Patrick Rhone on

    Kuldar – Because, in my usage, using the keyboard is a lot faster than using the mouse to click into a search field (or perform just about any other task). This is true even if the Toolbar is there.

  3. posted by Leon on

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but the screenshot of the ‘decluttered’ version of Mail.app is really hard to compare, since there is no mail at all in the screenshot. It would be nice if you could upload a screenshot of the enhanced Mail.app with the mail visible.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would really like to try this out, but I’m afraid of all the steps before I can judge if I the declutterd better than the original.

  4. posted by Mike on

    I’m constantly filing my emails away in various folders, since I have so many projects going on that require me to keep my correspondence, so hiding the folder tree seems suboptimal. I can’t argue with the clean, sleek look of the minimalist inbox, but this might be one of those times where, for many people at least, function has to prevail over form.

    That said, there are some suggestions on Minimal Mac that I thought were fantastic, so two thumbs up for introducing me to that website!

  5. posted by Brandon Burton on

    @Mike install the MailActOn trial and try to use it diligently for a week, you’ll begin to see why you don’t need the mailbox view showing 🙂

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Leon — The top image is Patrick’s at Inbox Zero … which I think is all of our goals (well, ar least mine). The second one is stock art from the Apple site since it was the only “traditional” setup we could find. I use Letterbos, so mine isn’t standard.

  7. posted by Patrick Rhone on

    Leon – Erin is right. I keep my inbox at zero largely by using Merlin Mann’s techniques. Not only this but it would be hard to show the kind of screenshot you are looking for without displaying actual mail, most of which I receive is personal/or professional. I send all “bacon” email to my Gmail account.

  8. posted by Russ on

    Would be nice to let people know Mail Act-on is $25 after a free month.

  9. posted by Marc Köhlbrugge on

    For some reason the search bar tends to reappear after a while. Anyone else got this problem, or am I the only one?

    Bonus tip: Don’t use folders or multiple inboxes, just have everything in one place. As soon as you open an email act on it (e.g. reply or add a todo item to your todo list). Then delete the message. If you set your preferences right it will be removed in a 1-2 weeks.

    If you want to archive an email, in most cases you don’t, use something that actually is meant for archiving (e.g. 1Password for site credentials, text-files for text information, etc)

  10. posted by Pete on

    Uncluttering != Throwing everything away.

  11. posted by Marc Köhlbrugge on

    Uncluttering == Throwing all clutter away.

    If you’re not using the graphical user interface because you use short cuts instead, the GUI is clutter so remove it is uncluttering :). Of course that only holds true if you don’t use the GUI.

  12. posted by Patrick Rhone on

    By the way folks, I should note that, despite my using Mail.app this way for some time, Unclutterer approached me to do this post after seeing the earlier submission on Minimal Mac from Marc Köhlbrugge. Good guy who knows his stuff.

  13. posted by Yogagirl614 on

    I’m having issues installing Letterbox. Where is the “Terminal”?

    (i.e: 2. Open Terminal, and type:
    defaults write com.apple.mail EnableBundles 1)

    Please don’t yell, I’m new at this…

    Thanks!

  14. posted by Stephen on

    Uncluttering != Throwing everything away.
    Uncluttering == Throwing all clutter away.
    Clutter != everything

    I can use logic too 😉

  15. posted by trillie on

    @Yogagirl: “Terminal” is a program you can find in your applications folder. It’s a command line interface, like cmd.exe in Windows, which executes your text input.

    If you’re new on a Mac and you’re looking for something, use the Spotlight function — that’s the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner in the menu bar. It finds _everything_ and you don’t have to specifiy where you want it to search (in files, in file names, only programs etc). And before you’re looking for your Applications folder now, try typing “Terminal” into the Spotlight search bar, then click on the found item 🙂

  16. posted by omgavon on

    There’s a difference between clutter and visual clutter. My mailboxes are organized between the 9 different email addresses I use. Mail is archived, sorted and purged when not needed any longer.

    I look at this, and it reminds me of an ostrich sticking his head in the sand — if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

  17. posted by Leon on

    @Patrick, I see. Thanks for the explanation.

  18. posted by Anita on

    My thoughts:

    1. The whole mouse_vs_keyboard_shortcuts thing is purely a matter of personal preference, not productivity. I’m sure you can cite me 26 different studies that nitpick how many nanoseconds you “waste” each time you use the mouse, but learning 300 or so keyboard shortcuts to replace the mouse completely is sure to kill many more hours of productivity in the process, hours that you’ll most likely not make up by using the shortcuts. So no, there is no intrinsic “betterness” to one or the other.

    2. What is the point of showing me what an empty inbox looks like? I don’t use my email manager for the sake of seeing how pretty it is when it’s empty. I use it to *gasp* manage email! If your inbox is truly at zero, then it’s just common sense to send yourself a “sample” message for the sake of taking a screenshot and showcasing how the email will actually be displayed — especially if one of your points is how much more of that message you can see on screen with your setup!!!

    3. I’m all for customizing your software/display to suit your needs, and getting rid of visual clutter, but this just looks like minimialism for its own sake, not for the sake of making your life easier. I’m really not interested in how much more white space you can get on your screen…

  19. posted by Reducing visual clutter in Mail.app « blog: arya nugraha on

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