How to Apply, Rename, and Remove Flags From Apple Mail Messages

Use Mail's Flag Feature to Mark Email Messages for Follow-up

Applying flags in Apple Mail
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Apple Mail flags can be used to mark incoming messages that need further attention. But while that may be their primary purpose, Mail flags can do much more. That’s because Mail flags aren't just a bit of color attached to emails; they're actually a form of smart mailboxes, and can do many of the things other mailboxes in the Mail app can do, including being used in Mail rules to automate and organize your messages.

Mail Flag Colors

Mail flags come in seven different colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and gray. You can use any flag color to mark a message type. For instance, red flags may indicate emails you need to respond to within 24 hours, while green flags might indicate tasks that have been completed.

You can use the colors any way you wish, but over time, it can be difficult to remember just what each color was supposed to mean. After we show you how to assign flags to messages, we'll show you how to change the names of the flags.

Assigning Flags to Email Messages

There are three common methods of flagging or unflagging a message; we'll show you all three.

To flag a message, click once on the message to select it, and then from the Message menu, select Flag. From the pop-out Flag menu, select the flag of your choice.

The second method is to right-click on a message, and then select a flag color from the pop-up menu.

If you hover your cursor over a flag color, its name will appear (if you've assigned the color a name).

The third way to add a flag is to select an email message, and then click on the Flag drop-down button in the Mail toolbar. The drop-down menu will display all available flags, showing both colors and names.

Once you've used one of the methods above to add a flag, a flag icon will appear to the left of the email message.

Changing Flag Names

While you're stuck with the colors Apple selected, you can rename each of the seven flags to anything you wish. This allows you to personalize the Mail flags and make them much more useful.

To change a Mail flag's name, click the disclosure triangle in Mail’s sidebar to reveal all of the flagged items.

Click once on a flag's name; in this example, click on the Red flag, wait a few seconds, and then click on the Red flag once again. The name will become highlighted, allowing you to type in a new name. Enter the name of your choice; I changed the name of my Red flag to Critical, so I can see at a glance which emails need to be answered as soon as possible.

You can repeat this process to rename all seven Mail flags, if you wish.

Once you have changed a flag's name, the new name will appear in the sidebar. However, the new name may not be visible yet in all menu and toolbar locations where flags are displayed. To ensure your changes migrate to all locations in Mail, quit Mail and then relaunch the app.

Flagging Multiple Messages

To flag a group of messages, select the messages, and then select Flag from the Message menu.

A fly-out menu will display the list of flags as well as their names; make your selection to assign a flag to multiple messages.

Sorting by Mail Flags

To organize flagged messages into a group, click the flag column header in the Mail viewer window.

Removing Flags

To remove the flag from a message you can use any of the methods we outlined for adding a flag, but select the option to clear the flag, or in the case of right-clicking a message, select the X option for the flag type.

To remove the flag from a group of messages, select the messages, and then select Flag, Clear Flag from the Message menu.

Now that you've been introduced to flags and how they work, you'll no doubt find unique ways to use them to fit your needs.