If you Google the “4D’s of Time Management”* you get the same 4D’s (Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer) but often in differing orders.  This seems to miss the point.  Surely it’s the order in which you do these things that really counts?

The 4D’s can be applied to any piece of work, request or email that crosses your path. They are (in order, as far as I’m concerned) as follows:


Delete It

The first question should always be does this really need to be done?   Does it need to be done at allthat is?  Can you just delete the email (and unsubscribe perhaps?) for example, or, does anyone actually read that report?


Do It

If it does add value, can you do it right now in under 2 minutes?  If it will take longer than that then don’t do it now – read on!


Delegate It

If it adds value, is there someone else you can delegate this to?  Work should always be passed down to the most junior level possible in an organisation, partly as this is the most cost effective thing to do, but mainly because you should give all of your reports every opportunity to do more and more stretching, developmental work.  You can still retain ownership or the authority for something whilst passing responsibility for actioning it on to someone else.


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Defer It

This is intentionally last on the list, but it is often the first thing we do.  We read emails for example, and leave them in our inbox to do at a later date.  (Personally I would recommend leaving nothing in your inbox, but I know lots of people struggle with this concept.)

This is dangerous territory because it’s a natural (and constant) fallacy that we are particularly busy at the moment and we will have more time to get stuff done when things calm down a bit.  Unfortunately this doesn’t tend to happen.  The us in one week time is just as busy as the us today, and the us in 3 and 6 months time is just as busy with things we haven’t even thought of yet.  A good policy is to think of the future you as a separate, and really important stakeholder.  Don’t push things in their direction; they need to be free to concentrate on the big things and to get the right things right!


If you must defer it…

When you do defer it, invest a little more time up front doing so and be as specific as you can.  Don’t just add one or two words to your list such as “Analyse Basingstoke Report”. Think through what you will need to do to be able to sit down and do the work properly (Do you need to talk to someone first?  Line up more information? Check deadlines? Etc.) And, importantly, think through what your best estimate of how long it will take is.  Put this information on your To Do List, along with a when you would liketo do it and when you mustdo it by.

Incidentally, I’d be wary of simply putting things off to the evening or the weekend when there will be less interruptions and you can concentrate on it more.  This is a slippery slope, as obviously it eats in to our home and health lives, but it also encourages us to get in to the habit of doing the most important work on the periphery of our day, when we are unlikely to be at peak performance.  It may also mean you end up becoming less efficient throughout the core of the day, finding things to do and essentially waiting until everyone goes before you start your real work.


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* The 4D’s approach doesn’t have a single clear originator.  The 4Ds as I interpret them owe more to “Getting Things Done”, David Allen than anyone else and that’s where I’d recommend you head if you would like more detail.