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The 4 Ds of time management: How to make the most of your time.

Published 13 October, 2022
Tasbih Amin
Written by Tasbih Amin

It is estimated that an average person spends approximately one-third of his or her days at work. Let that sink in. We devote a substantial chunk of our lives to our jobs, which makes it important that we are being efficient with our time. Time management is a crucial skill, whether you are working in a team or running a solo business.


One of the most popular frameworks is the 4 Ds of time management, which stands for Do, Defer, Delegate and Delete. This system is based on the principle that you should focus on the things that are most important to you and delegate or outsource the rest. 


But how exactly do you know which projects to work on immediately, delegate or drop? We’ll take a look a closer look at each of these categories and show you how to apply the 4 Ds system to maximize your efficiency. 


Before you start, do things right. 

a purple stickie with the words "do things right" handwritten on it.
We often think that getting things done quicker is the element of effective time management. This is not at all what we’re preaching in this blog post. The 4 Ds method is about using the time you have to do things the correct way and yield the best results. If you do not have the time to work on a task that isn't particularly important or critical, don’t rush through it. Either defer it or delegate it to someone with the time to do it right. 


Doing things the right way means identifying activities that are the most critical for your goals. Once you identify those activities, you can begin focusing your time and energy on them. Take the time to learn to do things properly, so that you are not spending your time doing things incorrectly. What works for one person might not work for someone else. It is important to find out what works best for you and your goals.    


Remember, while it is important to learn how to do things properly, the best way to do things is just to do them! Do not let perfection be the enemy of what is best. Sometimes, it is more important to simply start, rather than wait to get it all right.    


So, don't be afraid to make mistakes -- we all do. Just learn from them and move on.  When it comes to managing your time, it is essential that you determine your priorities.

Applying the 4 Ds of time management.


What are the things that you want to get done with your time? Do you want to improve your productivity, or want more time for fun? Once you decide what you prioritize, you can begin setting goals and creating a productivity strategy for how you will get there.


An easy way to prioritize your tasks or projects is using the Eisenhower Matrix. This matrix is essentially visual aid for using the 4 Ds management method, and it looks like this: 


eisenhower matrix


Now let’s take a closer look at each category individually. 



This one’s fairly obvious. The tasks that fall under this category need to be dealt with immediately.  


There are tasks that simply cannot be delayed and are very essential for you to do yourself. Think of responding to a client’s email. You want to show your dedication to your client by responding as soon as possible.  By the same token, you want to maintain a good relationship with that client by writing the response yourself as opposed to asking your assistant to do so. This is an example of a task that you want to get done right away.


The biggest challenge you face with this category is procrastination. There are two approaches to this issue, and you can test which one works for you best. You can start with easy and quick tasks to get out of the way and feel accomplished. Tasks like writing emails or making quick phone calls are good examples. Sometimes, you’ll feel that you’re more motivated when you get things done, no matter how small, and it pushes you to tackle bigger and harder projects later. 


The second approach, coined the “Eat the Frog” method by Brian Tracy, works the other way around. The term is inspired by Mark Twain’s interesting metaphor, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” It means that when faced with two urgent and equally important tasks, it’s better to start with the bigger and tougher one. That way, your day becomes substantially easier, and you’re more motivated to keep moving forward once you’ve moved the biggest boulder out of the way. Moreover, the beginning of the day is when you’re mentally and cognitively at your best, so it’s best to tackle the hardest tasks first when you’re most focused. 


Whichever approach you pick, consistency is key. The goal is to establish a habit of doing things the correct way right away. 



The ‘defer’ or ‘delay’ category is reserved for important tasks that are not time-sensitive. You still want to do them yourself, but you can afford to do them at a later time. The key to this category is proper scheduling lest you procrastinate on these projects. 


Examples of tasks under this category include planning, proactive work, creative thinking and anything that requires more research or resources. This kind of work needs time and space to be effectively done right. You cannot rush them or work on them under pressure, otherwise, you run the risk of compromising the quality of your results. Once you’re done with the pressing activities on your ‘do’ quadrant, you have the ability to think clearly and take your time on the tasks that require a clearer state of mind. 


To avoid procrastination, make sure to block time in your calendar dedicated to the ‘deferred’ tasks. Once on your calendar, you hold yourself accountable and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. 



Delegation is the art of asking for help, it could be tricky for many business owners. Entrepreneurs by nature are doers and value control, which is why they run the risk of burnout.


When you refer to the matrix mentioned earlier, you’ll notice that the ‘delegate’ quadrant is for work that is urgent but doesn’t require your expertise. Tasks like note-taking, sitting in on routine meetings, and even email management can be done by other people and thus, frees your time to focus on revenue-generating activities or work that needs your skillset. This is not an abdication of control, but an opportunity to focus on the tasks that you enjoy and that sharpen your skillset. Moreover, you empower your team by assigning them more responsibilities and building their confidence by delegating the work you usually do.  


For effective and smooth delegation, follow these five simple steps:


  1. Define the task that needs to be completed.
  2. Assign the task to a responsible individual.
  3. Set a deadline for the task to be completed.
  4. Check-in with the assignee to ensure that the task is on track.
  5. Provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. 


If you work solo, consider hiring a freelancer or a virtual assistant to lighten up your load. You’ll be surprised how better the outcomes of some tasks can be when they're given to the right person with dedicated time to work on them.  



Believe it or not, some items on your to-do list can simply be dropped.


When you take the time to prioritize your tasks, you’ll realize that some activities are not as time-sensitive or essential to reach your objectives. Plainly put, these tasks are not worth your time or your team’s. How many times did you sit in a meeting that could’ve been summarized in an email? These tasks are commonly known as ‘busy work’ and can be dealt with through simple automation. 


A good way to determine whether or not to delete a task is through Pareto’s 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is a simple concept that can apply in a lot of different areas. The core idea is that 80% of results are achieved with 20% effort. The 80/20 rule can be a useful way of thinking about how you should allocate your time and resources.  For instance, if you are trying to grow sales, you might want to focus on the 20% of customers that are driving the 80% of sales. Or, if you are trying to become more productive, you might want to focus on the 20% of your tasks that generate 80% of the results.


If you want to be brutal with your time management, think of the top 20% of the tasks that gets you closer to your goals, whether it’s more client satisfaction, revenue or awareness, and either delegate or delete the remaining 80%. 


In conclusion, we can call the 4 Ds of time management the 4 Ds of productivity since it unleashes latent resources and allows them to be used appropriately, leading to better results. You will find that, if applied correctly, the 4 Ds of time management are cost-effective and helps in reducing stress, thus allowing you to thrive in the work that you choose to spend your time on. 

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Topics: Systems and Processes