A Rationale for Inbox Zero and how to do it (from a student)

A Rationale for Inbox Zero and how to do it (from a student)
Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk / Unsplash

The "inbox zero" idea is an old and grandfathered productivity idea which provides a lens for how we can view our tasks/emails and provides a practical method for managing emails. As a student, I've recently thought that maintaining a clear and clean email inbox is important. The volume of emails I receive per day is low, and the gravity of these emails were almost always low. Despite this, the habits it forms and the clarity it provides me suggest to me that it was a worthwhile technique to learn.


  1. The time it takes to set up inbox zero is well worth the clarity and consistency of an organised inbox.
  2. It will set you up for the future, as more important tasks inevitably reach your inbox.
  3. It reinforces the productivity schema that things should be organised to the minimum possible level and only touched once.
  4. Adopting this technique will make managing two inboxes (e.g. Personal email and school email) simpler and more efficient.

How to do it:

  1. Set-Up

In any mail app, create an "AA Outstanding" folder, or something similar, which will act as a folder for all pending tasks. Do not create any other folders until you have something to put into it. Mentally, understand that you only need to clear your inbox once, because once you reach inbox zero it is easy to maintain (if you are a student with a low email volume).

2. Start filtering

Delete as many unnecessary emails as you can, and unsubscribe from as many marketing emails as you can. Anything which is relevant to you urgently goes into the "outstanding" folder. As you slowly filter through the thousands of emails, create folders for relevant areas of your life. For example, I have a folder for "payments" in which any online receipt immediately goes. Similarly, I have a folder for my part-time job rosters/payslips. The key to this exercise is to group things meaningfully and only once you have an email to add to it.

Personally, I stretched this over a week and did 30 minutes per sitting while I was on a break or procrastinating.

3. Maintaining

Daily, or whenever you check your emails, process emails from the inbox into the respective folder. For me, I still like to manually process my emails rather than some automated action but this is because I will only get 4-5 emails per day on average. This ensures that I am touching emails once, (maybe twice if it goes into the "Outstanding" folder).