Master the 4 Ds of Time Management

If you’re anything like most people, your day is filled with various tasks that need to get done. Or, more accurately, your brain is filled with tasks that you think need to get done. But there’s only so much time in the day, and you only have so much energy.

That’s where the four Ds come in: Do, Drop, Defer, Delegate. Your day should begin with a list of actions you need to take or things you need to deal with. Put all those things in a list and then go through the list and assign each task to one of these four buckets. Voila. It’s as simple as that.

Let’s dive into how these four concepts can help you organize your day, and more importantly, buy back the emotional and intellectual bandwidth you need to be efficient and effective.

If a task aligns with your goals, do it. But if it's not a priority for you or your boss, it's often better to drop it or delegate it. Click To Tweet

Do

This one’s easy. Do means, “I can totally stop what I”m doing and accomplish this right away.” If you have this reaction to the task–great! Put that in your “Do” folder. These are usually simple tasks like, “Call the plumber” or “Schedule a call with Sales.” More complicated tasks that require some back work will usually not go into this bucket–and we’ll talk about those in a second.

Drop

This one’s my personal favorite. This list consists of tasks you’re just not going to bother with. Depending on your line of work, you may get frequent requests to perform a task that is outside your scope or purview. Many times, you have the power to decide you’re not going to do that task. You may have to report back to your requester and explain why you’re not going to perform the task. But the point is, just as you don’t have to show up to every argument you’re invited to, you also don’t have to tackle every task thrown your way. Some aren’t worth your time or attention.

A good way to determine whether or not to perform a task is to consider its overall value to your goals or your boss’s goals. If the task aligns with what you want to accomplish, then you should probably do it. But if it’s not a priority for you or your boss, it’s often better to drop it or delegate it.

Pro tip: This is a GREAT rule for dealing with your inbox, especially after a vacation. Read the subject line only. If it’s not important or doesn’t concern you directly, delete it and move on without opening it. Lifesaver!

If your inbox is a disaster after a vacation, here's a tip: Read the subject line only. If it's not important or doesn't concern you directly, delete it and move on without opening it. Click To Tweet

Defer

Deferring an action is probably the most difficult. For one, you’ll have to keep dealing with the task until it’s done. But it’s also tricky because it can feel like procrastination. To avoid actual procrastination, turn each deferred action into a list of sub-tasks.

When you come across an item that you believe you need to defer, jot down the actions that need to happen first. If, for example, you have an action to deliver an SOW to a client, you might not be able to do that right now. You may have to estimate the time required for the project, coordinate schedules with other people, get legal to sign off, etc. Break down your main task into sub-tasks until you have a list of items that you can work on right now. Put those into your Do or Delegate buckets as appropriate. Keep coming back to the overall item until you’re ready to act on it.

In some cases, your deferred action doesn’t have subtasks; it just isn’t a priority. For example, let’s say you must get out your quarterly report today. But one of the items on your list is, “Buy new curtains for the office.” You can safely defer the curtain action until you have the time and energy for it. So deferrals can happen for several reasons. Just make sure that you’re not deferring an action that should be a Do or a Drop. If you find yourself delaying an action over and over, perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether it’s a priority for you at all, or whether you’re the right person for the job.

If you find yourself delaying an action over and over, perhaps it's time to reconsider whether it's a priority for you at all, or whether you're the right person for the job. Click To Tweet

Delegate

Sometimes, you’re better off asking for help than tackling a task yourself. Perhaps you have too much on your plate, or you’re just not the best person to get the work done. For example, any time you hire a vendor to do work (whether it’s graphic design, accounting, or someone to fix your leaky pipes), you’re delegating the work. And bravo to you, by the way. Knowing when to delegate is a huge part of taking back your brain power and energy.

To delegate successfully, you need to keep track of what you’re asking others to do, especially if you’re still accountable for the work. For example, let’s say my manager asks me to edit a report. I don’t have time (and maybe I’m a terrible proofreader), so I hire a vendor. That vendor is now responsible for producing, but I’m the one held accountable if the work doesn’t get done or isn’t done well.

In this instance, I might make a checklist of everything my vendor needs to do. I’ll share this checklist with them, and we’ll have periodic check-ins to make sure we stay on target. This way, I know where we stand, I see the work is getting done to my satisfaction, and I can move on with my day.

Understanding the four Ds of time management will make you a better employee by giving you control over your day. But it also helps you become a happier human because it gives you the peace of mind of knowing where and how you need to spend your energy. And no matter what your job is, that’s a precious asset to have.