Earnings season can be a joyous time or cause mini heart attacks. Everything falls back to one important piece, preparation. Whether or not you prepare properly for earnings will determine success or failure.

Traditionally, preparation means committing time for research. Unfortunately, casual / hobby investors don't have full-time jobs sifting through past earnings reports, fundamentals, market trends, etc. to gain an edge.

The good thing is, you don't need that stuff anyway. Follow these basic steps to successfully navigate earnings season better than the pros:

1. Write down the earnings dates of all your holdings. Online trading platforms will display upcoming earnings dates in one fashion or another. Look through your positions and save the earnings dates. If you must research them one by one then make sure to keep a record of it. Open a simple text file and save it to your desktop as "earnings". Write down the ticker, date, and if earnings are due in the AM or PM (i.e. before the bell or after the bell). Order the file by date of earnings, top to bottom, for easy tracking.

2. Write down the earnings dates of the key leading stocks of each group your holdings are in. Expand your new simple text file to include the leading stocks and their earnings dates. Why? Because how the leading stocks react to their own earnings will most often impact the other stocks in the group. As far as finding these leading stocks, I recommend using the ViewTrade webtrader to sort through the best performers by sector. The tool makes this easy by breaking down the leading stocks in each industry group based on performance. You can even see different time periods for a more in depth view of stocks that may be strengthening.

3. Treat every position the same way BEFORE the earnings release. By sticking to a pre-set guideline for each position, you remove emotion and regret. For example, a rule could be "I will always sell half my position at least three days before its earnings report." So, if one of your holdings blows it out of the water, you are fine with the result. If it completely misses and tanks, you are fine with the result as well. It becomes a simple numbers game and nothing more.

Furthermore, you can apply the same rule to take into consideration leading peer stocks that will report before your own holding. Rule example, "If the leader of the group falls at least 5% after earnings are posted, I will sell at least 75% of my stock's position." If the leader of the group blows out earnings and tanks on expectations, your stock could have a similar fate. Knowing that odds are now against you, why take on added risk?

4. Treat every position the same way AFTER earnings are out. Post earnings reactions, whether positive or not, should be an emotionless experience. Yes, no emotion. By preparing the exact same way, your rules for engagement prepare you for any fate. Now, you can react to the earnings accordingly. Post earnings rule example, "If my stock gaps up at least 5% at the open, I will re-buy my full position." Or "If my stock gaps down at least 3% at the open, I will sell my remaining shares entirely."

5. Review your results and tweak your rules for next time. Every trade should have post-analysis conducted. No matter how successful the trade, the good and bad should be noted along with a screenshot of the chart. Rules remove emotion and keep you disciplined, developing them though takes times. Tweak your rules and move forward with confidence.