I have been traveling for the past two weeks with limited access to email, which can only mean one thing -- I am returning to an email inbox from hell.

While I have filters and use a great service called SaneBox to manage emails, I currently have three active email accounts and receive countless emails such as pitches, consultation requests and newsletters. I try desperately to keep up, but as many can probably relate, it can be an overwhelming task.

For that reason, and upon returning to an inbox with a quantity notification worthy of anxiety, I wanted to set a process to easily and quickly sort through my inbox.

So, as I attempt to get control of my inbox, I wanted to share my strategy so you can get control of yours.

Set A Time To Check Email

Email is like YouTube -- you can get sucked into a seemingly endless cycle of engagement that can lead to hours of wasted time you can never get back. 

For this reason, set a specific time frame during which you will read your email -- and stick to it. Yes, I get it, you are important and need to be available, but I would argue that anything critical and requiring your immediate attention will result in a phone call or text. Otherwise, email can wait until you have the time to give it the attention it deserves.

Act On Every Email

Since you are limiting your time to engage in email, it is important to make the most of that time. Therefore, take action with every email you receive as soon as you receive it. This may sound difficult, but not when you limit yourself to these actions.

  1. Delete, Archive, or File. If an email is not important now, it will not be important later. Get rid of it. Remember my favorite slogan: When in doubt, throw it out. And if it absolutely hurts you to delete emails, then archive or file it away.

  2. Delegate. If the email requires action that can or should be completed by someone else, then forward it accordingly. 

  3. Use a Generic Response. Take a little time to consider the most common emails you receive, then draft generic responses for them. Set up "email signatures" with your generic responses so you can easily access them. This will cut down on most messages requiring your attention.

  4. Respond Personally. If an email is important and truly elicits a personal response, then answer it right away. A better option: pick up the phone (or schedule a call during your non-email hours) and eliminate the need for lengthy emails.

  5. Set an Action Reminder. If the email requires a response or action that can be done later, schedule an action item. Use your task list or services, such as Sanebox's SaneReminders, to manage, schedule and remind you -- then delete or archive that email.

Do Not Look Back

Twice in the past year I have purged thousands of emails, once purposefully and once accidentally. In both incidences, I remember being overwhelmed with doubt and guilt at what I had done, wondering if I would miss or eventually need the emails I had deleted.

In the end, what I discovered is that email is much like a past relationship -- they can be difficult to end and part with, but with time, they will fade and eventually be replaced. So, like past loves, it is time to get over your email inbox and spend time on more important and relevant tasks.

What other tips do you have for those trying to get control of their email inbox? Please share your advice in the comments below.