4ds of time management

4 Ds of Time Management Explained 

If you feel you’re getting bombarded by millions of tasks that leave you no choice but surrender – don’t put up a white flag: try using 4 Ds of time management. This system is very simple, yet effective. In a way, we can call it 4 Ds of productivity since it releases hidden resources and lets you use them properly, achieving better results. Trying to become the master of your time, you will definitely find it helpful – if not fully, then to a particular extent for sure.

What are the 4 d’s of time management?

4 Ds of time management is a system developed to help set priorities and optimize work processes, filtering tasks and focusing on those that are really important and urgent. 

Though this system has been used for years, it is hard to say who created 4 Ds of time management. It was mentioned in Career Comeback: Taking Charge of Your Career by Jacquie Wise, published in 1991, where the author gave credit for the idea to Daniel Johnson; the older references can be found in “Business India” magazine (1986).

So what do the “4D” stand for? The words used for each D are “drop” (“delete” or “dump”), “delay”, “delegate”, and “do”. Basically, “D” is a strategy used to help you organize your schedule. It originated from the Eisenhower Matrix – a simple grid consisting of two axes that represent the degrees of importance and urgency. The 4 of d’s of time management template is based on this matrix but adds more meaning to it.

Let’s go over each of the 4 Ds of time management and get a more detailed understanding:

Drop ⚽

Saying “no” is rude, correct? How often did you sacrifice your personal time and maybe health to keep a promise you didn’t even want to give? The same applies to the business world. If you are a freelancer, you can face a situation when you don’t get enough work over a long time period; so when you finally start getting it, you can take on too many projects and eventually burn out. “Dropping” some of the projects can save your energy and inspiration for the future.

Besides, talking about “dropping”, we should also mention that there are many things that are a  simple waste of time. Try to analyze your daily routine and figure out what are the biggest time thieves. Think about meetings. Will it make any difference if you shorten a meeting by 15 minutes? If not, go for it. There is no need to discuss issues for the sake of discussion. Besides, sometimes you do not have to attend meetings at all because your presence is not required.  

Social media is another black hole where your time disappears. We often don’t notice how much time we spend on the phone, but scrolling down your page and replying to messages can steal hours (!). The problem is, that it is hard to get focused after you get distracted – in fact, getting back to work and trying to focus again takes even more time than the distraction itself.

Reading emails is not an exception. It’s one thing if these are work-related emails, but what if this is spam which you have to filter to get to the important ones? It would be smart to unsubscribe from all the websites sending you those emails.     

Delegate 📂

A pile of tasks growing can make you feel desperate and start panicking. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Let’s be honest: you cannot be an expert in everything. There must be people on your team who are more competent or skilled in something. As Eisenhower, the author of the before mentioned matrix, said, “Always try to… learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you”. 

Why not share the assignment with someone who can do it better? You can kill two birds with one stone, getting rid of the extra burden and making others feel useful. Invoicing and expenses, shortlisting CVs, conducting surveys, etc. – are the tasks that you can potentially delegate.

Yes, your inner perfectionist will suffer; but if you think carefully and pick the right person to do the right task, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Besides, some tasks, though taking much time, are very simple to do and don’t require special skills. Is there anyone who could schedule interviews? Share articles on social media? Book flights? If yes, ask them to assist.

It is true that if you are not a boss, delegating can be hard. Being an employee, you cannot give tasks; however, you can ask for support. Your colleagues or even your manager can help you solve problems you struggle with. After all, you are not alone on your team.

Delay ⌛️

You feel inspired and enthusiastic; ideas keep coming to you. Suddenly, someone knocks on the door and asks you to do something. You put the task you’re doing aside. Your muse, offended to the bottom of her heart, flies away. When you start your previous task all over again, it’s not the same. Annoying, right?  

“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important” – this quote, again by Eisenhower, should be a good reminder to those who often find themselves in this situation. How can we avoid it? The trick is, if you’ve got many tasks to do that are important yet not urgent, deal with them – but later.

Someone is asking you to come up with new ideas, but this can wait – so delay it. You get emails that you can reply to tomorrow – delay it. You need to call your family or friends, but everything is okay and no need to do it right now – delay it. You have to research materials to develop a long-term business strategy – do the same, delay it!  

There are a couple of secrets here. Delaying things, try to put them on a list in chronological order (what needs to be done first, second, and so on). Also, don’t forget to set deadlines. This will prevent you from procrastinating.

One more obstacle on your way to finishing a project could be a desire to take on a new and more interesting one. This can be a trap because multitasking can lead to decreased effectiveness: focusing your attention on different things at the same time, you may disperse it.   

Overall, “delay” can be a very good technique for big teams since usually they work on multiple things and do need to prioritize.

Do ✅

You have already decided what can be dropped, delegated, and delayed – now you need to actually do what doesn’t fit in any of these categories. Usually, these are tasks that you must do immediately since they have a serious impact on your work.

You are working on a project that has to be submitted today because that’s the deadline set by the client – do it now because tomorrow will be too late. Emergency or a crisis happens – you need to fix it, and the sooner the better. The exam is tomorrow, and you are not ready yet – open a book and read it, otherwise, you may have to stay at college for another year.

In a way, “do” is the easiest one out of the four Ds: you just do things and move forward once you finish. The hard part is to figure out what actually should be done. If you fail, you risk taking too much responsibility and burnout.

So before doing something, stop for a second, take a deep breath, and think: do I really need to do it? Maybe someone else? Maybe not now? Maybe not at all?

The importance of 4 d’s of time management

To illustrate the importance of 4 Ds, let’s go back in time a little and look at the person whose ideas lie in the basis of this system – Dwight Eisenhower. The 34th President of the United States and a 5 star General of the Army, he made remarkable contributions to the world history: he was the Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII, the first NATO Supreme Commander, a person who initiated the creation of NASA – and this is only a small part of his achievements. Eisenhower was famous for his calculated approach to planning, and as we can see, his urgency-importance matrix did work. This is why the technique developed by him is definitely worth attention.

Now, let’s come back to 2022 and think about what this technique can give us in modern realia. Many firms use time-tracking systems, requiring workers to document their time every day. Doesn’t it mean that it makes a lot of sense to prioritize the tasks and start paying for the things that really need to be done?

This can be especially useful for project managers who are leaders of groups of people, and whose responsibility is to use the money allocated for the project wisely. Indeed, small adjustments can have a huge impact over time. Think about it: you can save 4% of profit if your team tightens their timesheets by 30 minutes per day. By applying the 4Ds in project management and prioritizing the tasks, you can save a ridiculous amount of time – and money.

4 d’s of time management pros and cons

As with any other time management system, the 4 Ds one, having obvious advantages, is not perfect. Below you can read about this in more detail:

Pros: The ability to manage your time can be a relief, especially when you feel that you’re getting overwhelmed. 4 Ds of time management is a great way to start since it doesn’t require any special tools. You can buy a notebook and track your tasks manually, or use tracking software. You will probably be surprised how many hours you lose reading the news on Instagram.

Besides, practicing task filtering, you can substantially develop your decision-making and self-analysis skills, as well as logical thinking.

Cons: we should remember that life is unpredictable and there will be situations when the 4 Ds method will simply not work.

First of all, you can be objectively overburdened with work that needs to be done immediately – and you won’t even have time to think if you can or cannot do something about it.

Secondly, it won’t always work if you don’t totally control your own schedule. You cannot say “no” to things your manager tells you to do, and you cannot always delay or delegate them. The only thing you can do is to have a conversation and provide your suggestions.      

How to apply the 4 ds of time management

So how does the 4 Ds system work in action? 

The very first thing you should do applying this technique is set a goal.

Then think about what steps you need to take to achieve this goal. Make a list of steps – for a month, week, and day. 

Every morning, write down the things you have to do today, prioritizing them. Analyze their importance and urgency, and try to understand what category they should fall into: “delete”, “delegate”, “delay”, or “do.”

Sounds easy, right? But it can be pretty challenging, especially in the beginning. You may need to break a lot of habits. You may think that sitting and classifying the tasks is a waste of time. However, once you get used to it, you will see a clear picture of how you work and where exactly you fall down on your way, learning to make quick decisions.

Time is probably our most valuable resource, and it is not limitless. No matter who you are, a famous politician or a homeless person, you only have 24 hours per day. So how do you use your time? Are you sure you don’t need to change anything? Before you say “no”, think about a cynical truth – time is money, and a failure to use it properly will inevitably affect the contents of your wallet.

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