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Are you feeling overwhelmed because of an ever-growing list of to-dos? It is high time you should think about time management techniques and optimize your to-do list. In this article, you’ll learn about 4Ds of time management, an easy system to manage time and to-do lists.
You can find various time management methods developed by different personal development experts. People are using the methods according to their activities and purpose. The key to finding the right one for you is to consider your needs, activities, and schedule. If you have a less complex list of to-dos, or you just started the journey of time management, 4Ds of time management is an ideal method for you.
It is one of the easiest methods to get started with time management. Beginners find it handy, as they are looking for a simple system to start managing time to make their life better. However, many experts also like to use this method because of its simplicity.
The 4Ds method is a combination of two popular time management and productivity methods – Eisenhower Matrix and Inbox Zero. It represents the rules of the Eisenhower box without its visual illustration and the components of the Inbox Zero method.
The 4Ds are: Delete, Delegate, Defer and Do. The Ds help a person make a quick decision on tasks – what to act on now, later, or even never.
Many people find the system convenient because it allows them to make decisions about their to-dos on the spot instead of processing their to-do list later. The method is ideal for people who want to bypass the complex systems of time management. And the beginners who want to get started with the time management journey with a simple method.
Who created the 4 Ds of time management?
It is thought that 4Ds of the time management system was primarily defined in ‘The Power of Focus’ book, which was written by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt. However, Jacquie Wise gave credit to Daniel Johnson for this concept in his book ‘Career Comeback: Taking Charge of Your Career,‘ which was published in 1991. The idea was also used in an article published in 1986, Business India (Issues 211-217).
Although it is not clear when and who developed the idea of 4Ds of time management, the method is used extensively for decades. Many time management and productivity experts are using and recommending this method in their articles, blog posts, and books.
The Components of 4Ds of Time Management
Here we’ll explore all the components of 4Ds in detail and learn some examples of how you can apply them in different situations.
Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do – Steve Jobs
It is also known as ‘Drop.’ The idea is about discarding unimportant and unnecessary tasks from your to-do list.
Not every task has the same value in your life or career. Even some of them have little or no long-term benefit in your life or career. For example – an unproductive or a lengthier meeting.
The key to using the ‘Delete’ technique is to review your daily routine and evaluate the effectiveness of every task in your schedule. Discard all those unimportant personal and professional commitments that have minimal impact on your life and career.
To many people, it is easier said than done. However, it is doable if you pay attention to your daily routine for a few days. You’ll be surprised to see the result at the end.
You do not need to drop everything ruthlessly from your life. This method aims to make your life easier, not stressful. It encourages you to remove time-wasting activities and optimize your daily routine on result-driven tasks.
Here are a few things you can do to free up yourself and get rid of time-wasting tasks:
- Meetings: Avoid attending meetings that are not related to your job. Also, try to limit meeting time from hour-long to less than 45 minutes.
- Email: Keep your inbox clean. When you wade through spam and promotional emails, you waste your valuable time and energy. You’d better unsubscribe yourself from those emails.
- Say ‘no’: Learn the art of saying no. Whenever a task comes to you, be thoughtful about putting that in your to-do list or doing that instantly. Review your existing to-do list before agreeing to do any extra work.
If you are getting an ever-growing pile of work on your to-do list, you need to think about delegating some of the tasks. No matter how hard-working a person you are, you have limitations in finishing the works in a given timeline. Therefore, delegation is considered an essential skill for managerial and entrepreneurial success. Nevertheless, this skill is applicable in different aspects of life, regardless of professional or personal level.
If there are activities that could be done by someone else, delegate them. By delegating tasks, you can accomplish more things in less time and avoid burnout. Instead of wasting your time, energy, and talent on trivial tasks, you can make the best use of your time and skills on high-value duties. In addition, your team members will feel empowered and motivated.
However, some people avoid delegating tasks because of perfectionism. To avoid this problem, you can follow the 70 percent rule. It means that if you find a subordinate who can do a task with 70 percent perfectly according to your level, you should delegate it.
The key to successful delegation is choosing the right task and delegating it to the right person in the right way.
Here are a few examples of delegation:
- Repetitive jobs: Invoicing and expenses, late payment collection, social media scheduling are recurring tasks that you can assign to someone with appropriate skill.
- Reporting: If you have to conduct a market survey, let a research team do it for you. The team will design a survey questionnaire, collect information, analyze it and report back to you. The only thing you need to do is to make decisions based on the report. You can save a lot of time in this way.
- CVs shortlisting: It is better to let your subordinates select CVs when hiring new personnel. The final selection decision still remains in your hand.
From these examples, you’ll get an idea about the type of work you can delegate. You can try to relate them to your situation.
Practice effective delegation techniques to be a master in delegation. In delegation, although you can get the work done, in the end, you are still responsible for the work done by others.
People who can focus get things done. People who can prioritize get the right things done. – John Maeda
Some people call this delay, but the idea is the same.
In your to-do list, some of the tasks need only you to get them done. Here you need to apply prioritization skills. If a job is essential to do but not urgent, schedule it for another day.
You can delay doing a task when you focus on something else and do not want to be interrupted; or if the job requires more information and time to get it done. However, do not fall into the trap of procrastination. Schedule a time to do it and set a hard deadline.
Here are some example situations when you can apply the defer technique:
- A new request: Your colleagues may come to you with a new request. If it is not urgent to deal with the request, you can plan a time to deal with that later.
- Meet deadlines: If you are dealing with multiple projects with different deadlines, set project completion dates in order of due dates.
- Replying to emails: Not every email requires urgent action or immediate reply. Therefore, don’t worry about reading emails and take action as soon as they arrive. Set a time to check email and deal with email requests.
‘Do’ refers to the tasks that you need to do now. It is the final D of the 4Ds of time management. These tasks come after filtering tasks through previous 3Ds (delete, delegate and delay), and these tasks need your immediate action. Usually, these types of works are important and urgent. If they are not done, the consequences are negative for your career or life.
When you’re doing work, make sure you remain focused on the task at hand. Try to avoid distraction or procrastination until it is done.
Here are some examples of the tasks that go into the ‘do’ section:
- Urgent: Sending a mail, calling back to a phone call, and printing a report – these are essential tasks that need to get done right away.
- Scheduled work: The tasks that have been scheduled in a day should be done diligently. Attending a meeting, preparing a presentation, working on a project are some examples of scheduled works.
- Two-minute tasks: If a task needs less than two minutes to do, you should do it right away, provided that the work is relevant to your career or life.
How to Apply the 4 Ds Technique to Improve Time Management
The 4Ds of the time management method require quick decisions on what to do now or do later or delegate or delete. Thus, you have to be good at prioritizing skills.
The first step to getting started with this method is to set a goal. Then organize and prioritize your tasks according to their importance and relevance of your aim. At the beginning of a workday, review your to-do list and sort them according to the 4Ds.
To apply the method more effectively, track your daily activities and conduct a time audit through a handwritten log or tracking software. By doing this, you’ll be able to know about your time habits – how you are spending your time, how long you are spending on particular tasks, and how much time you are wasting. This knowledge will help you to make quick decisions regarding your to-do list.
Next time, whenever a task comes to you, you’ll be able to decide quickly about its right category – delete, delegate, defer and do. Also, you’ll be cautious about allocating time and spending time.
When you successfully prioritize the constant flow of tasks, you’ll be able to spend more time on the things that matter to you.
Recommended Tool for the 4Ds Technique
Although the 4Ds of time management technique is a simple method without any tool, some software can help you be a master in this technique. Here is a helpful tool that you can use to get the most out of the 4Ds framework.
RescueTime: This time tracking software will track your time and activities automatically. Though the software won’t help you directly make decisions about tasks and their right category, it will give you an idea about your time spending habit.
Every day you‘ll get a detailed report about your working habits – productive time and distracting time. By using this software, you can remain conscious of distracting time. Also, you can allocate time for tasks and align your to-do list based on your goal.
Pros and Cons of the 4 Ds of Time Management
There is no one-size-fits-all technique of time management. Each method is associated with advantages and disadvantages. Here I’ll discuss the pros and cons of 4D’s of time management.
Since the process is simple, you can start following it easily. You do not need any special tool to get started. A simple notepad is enough to jot down your to-dos and categorize them according to importance.
The best part of this method is that it makes you think about the importance of a task before doing it immediately. Also, it helps you to practice decision-making and self-analysis skills extensively.
When you classify tasks according to the 4Ds framework, you can make your life more manageable. You can decrease burnout and stress while increasing your productivity. You get more done of your goal instead of remaining busy in doing less important tasks.
The 4Ds of the time management method have some limitations. Since this is a simple framework of time management, it won’t work in complex situations. In addition, there is no sub-category system in this method.
The framework won’t work for you if you fail to sort which task you need to drop, delegate, delay and do. Moreover, in some situations, people remain overburdened with work and fail to get the most out of the technique.
However, the process won’t work for the people who have less control over their schedule. For example, your manager may want you to attend the meetings you feel are unnecessary or reply to messages immediately. Since these situations hurt productivity, if possible, you need to discuss with your manager to fix the problem.
The fundamental of the 4Ds of time management is to prioritize your tasks among 4Ds – delete, delegate, delay, and do. When you prioritize and process your tasks efficiently, you won’t waste your time doing insignificant things. You will get more accomplished of your goal.
Here is a quick summary of 4Ds:
- Drop – when a task is unimportant and doesn’t add value to your life and career.
- Delegate – when a task is not your responsibility and can be handled by someone else.
- Delay – when a task is important, but you can’t do it right now, schedule it for later.
- Do – when a task is in your schedule. Also, the tasks that are important and urgent.
Do you want to explore more time management techniques? Read this article – 5 Time Management Techniques to Be More Productive in a Day. Here you’ll find the 5 most used methods to manage time.