Help! My Outlook inbox is haunting me – even in my sleep! This is the cry for help I receive from all too many business owners who have lost the battle of the bulging inbox. Alas, the dreaded message appears in their sleep: 'downloading 1 of 1238 email messages' flashes through their dreams throughout the restless nights.

Let's take a look at some simple, first-step solutions to the bulging inbox predicament so you can return to a good night's sleep.

Diagnosing the problem is the first step to resolving the issue.  Start by assessing the situation with these questions and action steps.

                How many newsletters, special offer lists and updates do I subscribe to? Of those, how many do I really read and act on on a regular basis? Take the plunge and devote some time to unsubscribing from the updates you don't utilize regularly.

                How many lists am I on? Do I participate and/or learn from them? Do I get my updates in individual emails or in digest form? (You can choose the digest form in your profile settings on Yahoo and Google lists.) Let go of the lists you don't participate in. If you participate as an expert but don't learn much, reassess the time spent here.

                How many of these emails are really necessary? Can I unsubscribe, change protocol with my outsourcing team, delegate them or remove myself from lists and updates I no longer need?

Taking these steps often eliminates a good percentage of the overflow. Now let's look at some organizational options.

Scheduling – Schedule about three blocks of time in each day to do nothing but act on and answer emails. Don't answer the phone or allow any other interruptions. During the non-email time of the day, shut down Outlook. It's a bit daunting at first but your email will get far more attention when you give it your undivided attention than it will if you pick and choose who to respond to all day long while multi-tasking.

Flagging – I had fallen into the bad habit of flagging emails for a later time – and I would never get back to most of them! Now when I flag an email I put a reminder on it as well and schedule it for one of my 'email only' blocks of time. I no longer use flagging as a procrastination method.

Creating Rules and Folders – If you receive emails from a constant source, like clients or your website, create separate folders for each source.  I have created a 'rule' so that all of my client emails go into the 'current client' folder. All of my website comments and inquiries go into another folder, etcetera.  Creating rules like this will help you to prioritize your responses. Go to Outlook help if you don't know how to do this.

Delegate – How many of these emails are items do YOU have to act on? If you receive orders and client requests in large numbers, perhaps it's time to bring on part time help.  This can be done on a virtual basis so it doesn't always mean bringing someone into the office. If you are 'cc'd' on a lot of emails consider asking the source to stop sending you copies of those items where you no longer need to be in the loop.

Schedule RSS Feed Time – If you subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds, create a rule to have them go into one folder and schedule time to follow your favorite feeds. Don't allow these to be a big distraction for you. I let all my feed updates wait until Friday and I act on them then. What a time saver!

In summary: Unsubscribe, organize and delegate!

How do you prevent your inbox from turning into a nightmare? Share your insights with us!