Inbox Zero for Students: How to eliminate 14,625 Emails in 1 Hour

How many email messages do YOU have in your inbox?

One student I met with recently had a total of 14,627 emails in his inbox, dating back to 2011.

No wonder he feels so overwhelmed and frustrated by his email, and rarely uses it.

And he’s not alone.  Many students I’ve met with say they never check email anymore.  And those who do often look at it only every 2-3 days.

Why managing email matters…

While text messages and social media are great ways to stay in touch with friends, they can’t substitute for email.

College admissions offices, financial aid organizations, and potential employers for internships & summer jobs often use email as a primary means of communication.  So, kids who don’t look at or respond to their emails regularly risk missing course registration deadlines, financial aid cutoffs, and and even announcements from their professors about upcoming exams.

Keeping up with email is an important life skill for students to develop…ideally, before they leave home for college.

The good news is, it IS possible for students to get control of their email — no matter how out-of-control it has become. [Click to Tweet]

Getting to Inbox Zero…in 6 simple steps

The most recent student who went through this process was able to clear 14,625 emails out of his inbox in a single coaching session, leaving him with just 2 to reply to later that afternoon!  

Here’s how we did it…

  1. Get a Gmail account.
    If you’re not already using Gmail (, I’d highly recommend it.  Gmail instantly reduces email overwhelm by dividing your emails into primary, social, and promotional messages, which allows you to instantly identify the important emails that need your attention.  In addition to their web platform (shown below), you can also access Gmail on an iPhone or Android.


  2. Add all of your other email accounts to Gmail.
    Rather than logging into multiple different accounts to check all your email messages, you can simplify your life by setting up Gmail to send and receive messages from all the email accounts you own:


  3. Eliminate junk mail with (
    The fastest way to get unwanted promotional emails out of your inbox is to sign up for, a free email service that combines all your promotional emails into a single daily email, and allows you to unsubscribe from email newsletters with one click.

    Newsletter 071315 1

    Once you’ve signed up, you can view a list of all the mailing lists you’re subscribed to, and select the ones you want to unsubscribe to, and which ones you want to add to your daily digest (“add to rollup”).  Everything else will stay in your Inbox, and be delivered as usual.  You will be asked to share something about the service on social media after the first 5 unsubscribes; after that, you can unsubscribe from as many newsletter lists as you’d like.  

  4. Clear out the emails in your ‘Promotions’ folder (and social & forums)

    41264000872429.u6pKN0DFuFOPcv855vPI_height640The easiest place to start clearing out your email inbox is your Promotional tab.  Most people have LOTS of promotional emails…one recent students had 7,951! 

    The good news is these messages are often not very important, so you can delete or archive most of them.

    Start by scanning through 2-3 screens of emails, to see if there’s anything you want to keep.  If you find something important, drag it to the primary tab, and say “Yes” when Gmail asks you if you always want to move email messages from this sender to primary.  

    Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 10.04.41 AMOnce you’ve scanned several pages and are feeling confident that there’s nothing else in here you really want to keep, you can click select all, and then click on the link “Select all 7,951 messages in Promotions” (or whatever number you have) and click DELETE (or ‘shift+3’, on a mac).

    Now, cheer as you watch thousands of useless emails disappear from your life!

    If you feel uncomfortable deleting al your messages, you can choose to Archive your most recent messages, and then delete the rest of them.  When messages are archived, you can still search for them later using the search bar in Gmail, which works just like a Google search.  

    Once you’ve cleared out the messages from your Promotions tab, repeat the same process with your Social and Forums tabs.

  5. Archive all the old emails in your Primary tab.
    Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 11.09.42 AMIf you have emails in your inbox from several years ago, choose a cutoff date (for example, one year ago), and archive everything older than that.  

    Click ‘Oldest’ to display the oldest messages first, then click Select All (not everything in promotions, just all the messages on that screen) and click Archive.  Then, repeat this process until everything older than your cutoff date is archived.

  6. Process all your remaining emails, using the steps below.
    At this point, all of your promotional, social, forum, and old primary messages should be gone (hooray!).  So, all that’s left in your email system are the newer messages from your primary folder, which you will actually want to review, since there could be something important in here.  These can be processed using the same steps you’ll want to use on a daily basis to process your email messages, which I’ve described below.

Daily Email Process

  1. DELETE unwanted messages.  If you have multiple screens of emails to review, start with the oldest first. Skim through the entire page of subject lines, select all the messages you want to get rid of, and hit DELETE. TIP: If your email is mostly trash, select ALL of them on the screen, and then deselect the ones you want to keep. It’s faster, and you get rid of more emails that way.
  2. ARCHIVE everything you want to hang onto for reference. Skim through the subject lines, and select all the messages that you don’t need to do anything about, but that you want to keep for reference, in case you need them in the future. If you think you might need to do something about an email, but you’re not sure, don’t select it yet. TIP: Again, if your email is mostly reference, select all and then unselect the ones that may contain some information about an action you need to take. Once you’ve selected all your reference emails, hit ARCHIVE. All the emails that remain at this point should be messages that potentially contain an action you need to take.


  3. DECIDE what to do with everything else.
    Click on the newest message to open it, quickly skim through it’s contents and, ask yourself:

    Is there anything I need to DO about this?”

    There are 3 possible answers to this question…
  • “No” 
    If you read through an email and decide there’s nothing you need to do with it, you can either Delete it or Archive it (if you think you might want to refer back to it later).


  • Maybe later…”
    If you think you might want to do something about this later, use Boomerang for Gmail ( to return the message to your inbox later.  For example, if you received an email about the common application prompts, and you want to start working on them after you return from your vacation on August 3, you can ask ask Boomerang to return the message to your inbox at 9 am on August 4.  


  • “Yes! I need to…”
    If there’s something you need to do related to this email, you have two options: 
    • Do it NOW.
      If it will take less than 2 minutes, go ahead and do it NOW.  If the next action you need to take is look something up on your calendar, go ahead and do it.  If you need to write back quickly, type your reply and hit “send”.  Once you’ve completed the action, you can Archive the message.
    • Do it LATER.
      If it will take more than 2 minutes, you can choose to do it now if you have the time, or add it to a to-do list to work on later.  If you add it to your task list, it’s a good idea to set up Boomerang to return the email to your inbox a few days later, to make sure you’ve completed the task and it hasn’t been forgotten. If someone is waiting on your response, and you know it will take you awhile to get back to them, you may want to send them a quick reply (<2 min) to let them know you’ve received their message, and will get back to them shortly. 

That’s It!

Once you’ve completed these steps, there should be ZERO emails in your inbox.

Set a goal to get it back to ZERO once a day…or at LEAST once a week.  Students who complete the Daily Email Process above once a day should only need about 5-15 minutes at most to go through all their emails and get their inbox back to Zero.

If you keep up with this process, dealing with email can be transformed from something that feels stressful & overwhelming, to a quick & easy process you can stay on top of with very little time & effort 🙂

It’s your turn!

Print out the list of steps above, write down the number of emails in your box, set a timer, and GO FOR IT!

Keep track of how many emails you eliminate & how long it takes you to get to zero, and share your results below…I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Is coaching a good fit for your teen?

If you'd like to discuss how academic coaching can help your teen create a plan for his or her work, minimize procrastination, and improve organization, time management skills, motivation, or study skills, click here to schedule a complimentary consultation with me.

By |July 17th, 2015|Categories: Organization|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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