How To Use The 4 Ds Of Effective Time Management

Let’s claim your valuable hours… back!

Bryan Collins
Jul 26, 2018 · 4 min read
“An analog timepiece with black number boards” by Loic Djim on Unsplash

Do you sometimes struggle with time management?

Or does the day lack enough hours to attend to your projects, habits, commitments and more?

When half past five rolls around, do you look at your to do list and feel you didn’t accomplish much of anything?

If you’re struggling to take charge of the day, consider using a popular productivity strategy known as the four Ds of effective time management.


Simply put, act!

Before deciding to do a task, I like using the two minute rule from David Allen as a decision framework. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in just 120 seconds: write an email, make a quick phone call, pull a report and so on.

In the productivity book Getting Things Done, Allen explained,

“The rationale for the two-minute rule is that that’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands — in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff.”

If your task takes longer than 120 seconds and you still need to do it, work on this task alone for 30 minutes or until you complete it. Remember, multitasking is the enemy of effective time management.


Also known by some writers as drop, delete is the easiest of the four Ds to implement because you don’t have to do much of anything beyond making a simple decision to do or to delete.

Wan Ho has written about this productivity strategy and length and said,

“I can usually delete half or more of my emails without opening them. I am especially brutal when I return from vacation and have to go through a backlog of emails.”

Many productivity consultants recommend approaching this D through the gaze of the Pareto Principle. Known as “The 80/20 Rule”, it states 80% of the results come from 20% of causes or activities.

So ask yourself: Will this activity help me get the long-term result I or we want?

Depending on the activity marked for deletion, you might need to go back to the requester and explain why you’re not doing it.

If the deleted item is a simple activity, remove it from your to do list and move on with your day. The second most pleasing thing after completing a to do list is removing an item from it.

If you’re still unsure, the next D can help.


Decisions are tough.

To defer means saying, “Not right now” rather than, “Not ever.”

This could be a new project you want to commence in a week or two or it could be a request from a colleague that you need to attend to by the end of the day. It could be an idea you want to reflect on before taking action.

For example, when I get an email that takes more than two minutes to deal with, I drag it to a folder in Outlook or Gmail called Action.

If I get a request from an instant messaging tool like Slack, I add the item to my to do list on a Trello board. The tools are unimportant. Instead, capture and defer these new requests so you can refocus on what’s in front of you.

If you follow this approach, remember to review your list of deferred tasks at the end of the day or week. During this review decide if you want to do or delete.

After all, there’s a fine line between deferring and procrastinating indefinitely.


If you’re new to delegation, you might find it disconcerting when the results are somewhat different than when you complete the work yourself.

That doesn’t mean you should stop delegating!

Delegation is a great way to better leverage your day.

To delegate effectively, create a playbook breaking down a project or task step-by-step and detailing what the outcome looks like.

This way, the result is less dependent on the person completing the tasks and more on the quality of your checklist. This approach is particularly useful if you’re using outsourcing sites like Upwork.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Guwande wrote,

“[Checklists] not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.”

That said, smaller tasks you want to delegate don’t necessarily need a checklist.

Instead, consider if your time is spent more effectively by delegating or doing. For example, you might want to delegate paying a supplier and prioritize phoning an unhappy customer.

Apply the 4 Ds of Effective Time Management Today

There’s no big secret to effective time management.

It involves making decisions about what act on now, later or even never.

If you struggle with these decisions during the trenches of the working day, use the 4 Ds of effective time management and then review what worked and didn’t work at come five or six pm.

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Bryan Collins

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Author of The Power of Creativity — Dublin — Advice @ — Join my newsletter @

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Bryan Collins

Written by

Author of The Power of Creativity — Dublin — Advice @ — Join my newsletter @

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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