How to Set Up New Email Alerts in Mac OS X Mail

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In OS X Mail, you can get alerts just for the kind of messages that are urgent and important.

Want to be overwhelmed with constant email reminders? Of course not. Want to be alerted to important messages the moment they come in? Of course.

In Mac OS X Mail, you can generally get the latter without the former. You can set it up to announce new emails in only the inbox, or in all folders; you can also limit alerts to senders in your address book, or to people you have marked VIPs, and you can concoct a smart mailbox with selection criteria to announce exactly the right email. Lastly, you can add a notification action to specific incoming message rules for good measure and added flexibility. (Do approach the rules with caution, though; see below and try to use a smart mailbox instead.)

Of course, turning off all alerts—temporarily, if you choose—is another option.

Get New Email Alerts for VIPs, Contacts, Inbox, Smart Folders, Rules or All Messages in Mac OS X Mail

To specify what kind of mail you want to receive desktop alerts in Notification Center from Mac OS X Mail:

  1. Select Mail | Preferences… from the menu in Mac OS X Mail.
  2. Go to the General tab.
  3. Select the desired category for which you want to receive new message alerts under New message notifications::
    1. Inbox Only: receive alerts only for new messages arriving in your inbox.
    2. VIPs: get alerts only about messages from people you have marked as VIPs.
    3. Contacts: be notified solely about messages from people in your address book (you cannot pick individual contacts for notification).
    4. All Mailboxes: have notifications show up for all new messages arriving in your email accounts.
    5. A smart folder: be alerted to all new mail arriving in that smart mailbox; using the folder's selection criteria, you can set up your personal set of email notification rules.
  4. Close the General preferences window.

Add Desktop Notifications to Incoming Message Rules in Mac OS X Mail

While you can set up Send Notification as an action for email filters in OS X Mail, various tests have not revealed to us, at least, what this action actually accomplishes—and under what circumstances.

To make any incoming message rule in Mac OS X Mail alert you to the messages its criteria select:

  1. Select Mail | Preferences… from Mac OS X Mail's menu.
  2. Go to the Rules tab.
  3. To add desktop alerts to an existing filter:​
    1. Highlight the rule to which you want to add notifications.
    2. Click Edit.
    3. Click + next to an action under Perform the following actions:.
    4. Select Send Notification from the Move Message drop-down menu.
      1. Of course, you can also modify an existing action, say Bounce Icon in Dock.
    5. Click OK.
  4. To add a new rule that notifies you about the emails that match its criteria:
    1. Click Add Rule.
    2. Type a short title that will help you recognize the filter's criteria and proposed feats under Description:.
    3. Pick the desired criteria for triggering the rule's actions under If ___ of the following conditions are met:.
    4. Select Send Notification from the Move Message drop-down menu under Perform the following actions:.
      1. You can add further actions, of course, to the filter.
    5. Click OK.
  5. Close the Rules preferences window.

Turn Off Mac OS X Mail (or All) Desktop Alerts

To disable all Notification Center alerts (for the rest of the day):

  • Click the Notification Center icon in the OS X menu bar while holding down the Alt key.
    • Click again while holding down Alt to enable alerts again at any time.

As an alternative to clicking the menu bar icon:

  1. Open Notification Center.
  2. Scroll to the very top, past the first notification if there are any.
  3. Make sure Show Alerts and Banners is OFF.
    1. To enable alerts again manually, make sure Show Alerts and Banners is ON.

To turn off Mac OS X Mail alerts more permanently, choose None as its notification style. You can also turn off recent message listing in OS X Notification Center, of course.