The floodgates have opened.

You took a few days to attend a conference or seminar, or you headed out on some other business trip as a way to stir up your thinking. When you get back, you suddenly receive hundreds of emails from your new contacts. What's your best plan of action?

Try taking this approach:

Step One: Ask the why

I strongly believe the most important question you should ask when wading through a huge email archive is fairly simple: You have to ask they why. Why did you even go to the conference? What were you trying to accomplish? Why did you meet certain people there and avoid others? As with any Herculean task like wading into a mountain of email, you have to know why you are even bothering and what is motivating you so much. You can't get into the "what" and "how" of processing email without knowing the whys. One of the reason email can be so overwhelming after a conference is we forget to figure out the real reason we even went on a trip or what we are trying to gain from the experience. Ask why, then process email.

Step three: Weed out the fluff

I tend to weed out emails quickly and efficiently. I'm really, really good at spotting which incoming messages are not that important. As one of my old bosses use to say, you have to fly like the wind. Weeding out fluff is an act of removal. You already know why you are searching through those hundreds or even thousands of messages. Maybe you are trying to generate new business or you want to partner with someone a project, or maybe you just want to educate yourself more. Get busy with the Delete key if a message doesn't help. Don't try to deal with the deluge before you weed out some of those extraneous, superfluous messages.

Step three: Get the background

I make extensive use of a Gmail extension called Rapportive. It's been around a long time, but the real purpose here is to quickly give you some background on someone who is new to your inbox. Obviously, if there are messages from your boss or a colleague, you also have to keep that message around, although there's a technique there as well in flagging those messages. You can't really act on a new contact or idea until you get some background on the sender.

Step four: Identify the most important contacts

Part of the trick here is to develop some email muscle memory. You have to quickly identify the folks who made an impression on you, either as a person or with an idea, and then you have to get serious about labeling and flagging those messages. Don't keep them in your inbox though! Move them to a personal folder (if you use Outlook) or label them (if you use Gmail) to reduce the inbox clutter. These buckets should match up with the "whys" mentioned earlier. Create categories like "new ideas" or "potential partner" as a way to flag the messages you want.

Step five: Make initial contact

I've attended dozens and dozens of conferences, and the one technique I always use after I get back in my office is to send a quick "handshake" note. Send a note like this: "Hey, we met at the seminar and just getting to the top of your inbox -- let's make a plan for lunch." In solidifies the new relationship and, even more importantly, reminds you about the contact. You have weeded out the fluff, you know a bit about the contact or idea, now send a quick message to get the discussion going and make plans to do a full follow-up. It's a step in the right direction.

Step six: Relax

No, really. Your email may be buzzing and overflowing, but remember that yo level-set this whole process. You have specific goals in mind. You can relax knowing that it will take time to develop new business relationships with contacts. 5,000 new emails looks like an emergency, but you can get that number down to a more manageable size. It's a good thing to have so many new ideas coming into your inbox; take a deep breath and realize that every message is an opportunity to advance your career or the business itself, one message at a time.