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How to view email priority in Thunderbird

If you use the Thunderbird email client, and you've been missing out on priority status, it's time you made it easy to see when an email is urgent.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Person doing work on a laptop
TravelCouples/Getty Images

Have you ever sent an email to a recipient that was of the utmost importance? When you did, how did you indicate that message was, in fact, very important?

Did you put ***PRIORITY*** in the subject? Did you send them a follow-up message to tell them they had to read the previous email ASAP? Or did you just hope they knew every single word from you was absolutely crucial?

Also: How to encrypt your email (and why you should)

What about if someone sent you a message that required your immediate attention? How did you know that you had to drop everything and open that missive immediately? In short, you might not have known.

One solution to this conundrum should be to set a priority flag. More than likely, the email client you use allows you to set a priority flag in your email. 

Say, for instance, you have a very important missive to send to someone, and you want to make sure they know that the communication is of the utmost importance. To that end, you compose the email, set the priority for it to the highest option, and send it away, knowing the recipient will see that high priority flag and read the email immediately.

Also: How to change your username in Windows 11

But that's not how it always works. Let's say you're using Apple Mail to compose the message, and you then set the priority to high and send it away. When the recipient receives that email, they might not see a priority flag because of one of three things: 

  • They're using a different email client
  • Their email client doesn't support the priority flag
  • They don't know where to look for that flag

One of the big problems is that not all email clients display priority in the same way. For example, the priority flag in Thunderbird doesn't quite work the same way as it does in Apple Mail. 

Also: How to add Send Later functionality to Thunderbird email

In Apple Mail, if an email has the priority flag set to high, it will display !! immediately to the right of the sender's name:

Apple's way of indicating High Priority.

The !! indicator vaguely tells you this is a high-priority email.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

But did you actually know that !! equals high priority? Did you know if an Apple Mail email is either normal or low priority, it's not indicated in any way? And did you know that if you read that same email in a different client, you won't see that double !! to indicate that it's a high-priority communication?

It's a confusing and frustrating situation, but all is not lost.

Take, for instance, Thunderbird. While Thunderbird isn't set to display priority out of the box, you can actually "unhide" the priority such that, even if an email is sent from Apple Mail, the priority flag will show.

Also: How to add Do Not Track to Thunderbird (and why you should)

Let me show you how to set that feature up.

How to reveal the Thunderbird Priority flag

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need is the Thunderbird email client (it doesn't matter what operating system it's installed on) configured with your email account. That's it. Let's unhide the priority.

1. Open Thunderbird

The first thing to do is open Thunderbird.

2. Enable Priority

Right-click any column header in the top right pane (such as Subject, Correspondents, or Date). From the resulting popup, select Priority to add that column.

Enabling columns in Thunderbird.

You can enable all sorts of columns in Thunderbird.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

At this point, you should now see a new column in the message list that clearly indicates the priority. The only caveat to this is that you're adding yet another column to the message list, which some might view as cluttered. 

However, if you want to be able to view the priority of an email, it's a sacrifice you'll have to make because, even if you open the email, the priority flag cannot be viewed anywhere else in the software.

The Priority column added to Thunderbird.

Thunderbird makes it clear what priority an email is.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

I often use the priority flag in emails (except when using Gmail, because Google regularly has its own way of doing things), but I have no idea if the client the recipient uses will even display the priority of my missive. 

Also: How to send password-protected emails in Gmail

However, if you use Thunderbird as your go-to email client, I'd highly recommend you enable the priority column, so you know when someone has sent you an email that needs your immediate attention.

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