THE BLOG
06/03/2014 11:28 am ET | Updated Aug 03, 2014

7 Steps to an Empty Inbox

My email Inbox has exactly one email in it as I write this, although I'm sure others will find their way in shortly. If your Inbox has 100, 500 or even more than 1,000 emails, you may think having it cleaned up and cleaned out is only a dream ... a dream to be fulfilled when you say good-bye to email when you retire.

Not necessarily. Email is a tool to make life and business easier for you, and when used, directed and deleted properly, it can serve to do just that. You have to decide first if email is even the best way for someone to communicate with you, or, if you'd prefer something else!

I personally like email because I can respond anytime, day or night, as my schedule (and mood) allows. Just this past Friday, after a long and somewhat stressful week, I somehow summoned the energy to tackle my Inbox. I am used to having few-to-no emails in my Inbox, but the last couple of months I have let my own system slide, much to my dismay.

Here's what I discovered: email mastery was much easier than I thought, both getting it back in line, and getting everything done that needed doing.

Here is my step-by-step process to give control of your email back to the one who should have it: you!

Step One: Delete. Mercilessly delete emails that are of no use to you, now or in the future. Delete them all in one, two or three steps by simply checking the emails that need to be deleted and press delete. Doesn't that feel great? You probably just eliminated 50 percent of your emails. Deep breath. Keep going.

Step Two: Create a TO DO List as a Non-Negotiable Calendar Appointment. Block out two hours as one two-hour block or two one-hour blocks. As you go through each of the remaining emails, put what needs to be done (return call, answer email, create document, etc.) on your list. Be sure to include phone numbers, websites, or the location of where you filed the email. I use the Notes section of my Calendar Appointment for this list. When the time comes, you'll know exactly what needs to be done, and you'll get it all done in record time.

Step Three: Create Files and Save. Create files, just like you have in your computer, to save important emails for later reference. Move only the most important emails into those folders, and delete the rest. From time to time, delete an unnecessary files. I have a file for each corporate client, and these: TO READ, TO DO, TO FILE, SAVE, and PENDING. Create the folders that will help you stay organized and find what you need in seconds.

Step Four: Unsubscribe. If you haven't read the last five ezines from Gardening Today, you probably don't want to read them. As new emails come in to your Inbox, you'll notice them because they don't have a lot of "friends." When appropriate, go to the bottom and click "unsubscribe." If, by chance, you miss getting them, you can always subscribe again later. Alternatively, you can save them into a Gardening Today folder, or even create the aforementioned "TO READ" folder for any downtime you have (does anyone really have downtime anyway)?

Step Five: Create Rules. You can use keywords or email addresses to automatically sort incoming emails into the folder of your choosing. Emails from clients can go automatically into their folder. You'll see the folder become bold when a new email appears.

Step Six: Use Auto-Responders. I read email every day right around 4 p.m. That's generally the end of my day, and I can get through them quickly and easily using these tactics. I let people know with my AutoResponder when I'm going to respond to them (90 percent of the time, anyway), so if they have something urgent, they can text or call me. Guess how often I get a text or a call? You guessed it, not that often.

Step Seven: Conquer email with your calendar. Just as you may use my strategy for pre-scheduling your next week before you wrap up on Fridays, from now on be sure to calendar time each week to clean up and clean out your Inbox so you never find yourself under "email water" ever again.

Remember this: email is a tool. It is meant to be a productivity tool for your benefit. If you feel overwhelmed by email, take the time to put a structure in place that serves you.

Honorée Corder is the author of a dozen best-selling books, including Vision to Reality: How Short Term Massive Action Equals Long Term Maximum Results.