Increasing productivity is a must for all successful entrepreneurs. Out of the range of techniques aimed at helping busy executives to get more from their daily output, the “4D” rule comes out frequently as a favorite, due to its simplicity and efficiency at boosting returns.
The four Ds stand for Delete, Delegate, Defer and Do – which are the four available decisions that are available when prioritizing any given set of tasks. It is a very straightforward approach, and something that we all do on an unconscious level throughout the day. However, this system is meant to formalize the decision-making process to achieve the outcome that makes most sense for the business.
While the 4D rule is applicable to any part of the modern working office life, it is something that is particularly useful when handling emails. This is a one specific technique of time management, one of the most important soft skills entrepreneurs should have.
1. D is for Delete
Junk and unwanted emails still take a surprisingly large part of our inboxes. According to antivirus software provider Kapersky Lab, around 56% of all email traffic in 2015 was spam, down from 66% at the end of 2014 thanks to the increasing sophistication of spam filters. Beyond clear-cut spam, take some time to unsubscribe from all unwanted general distribution lists, or at least set-up rules in your inbox to automatically move those emails to a separate folder.
It is also important to delete all of the emails on your to-do list that have remained there for longer than a month – the likelihood is that those tasks were not that important in the first place, or you would have already dealt with them.
2. D is for Delegate
Delegating is an essential skill that successful entrepreneurs need to handle, in order to ensure the long-term survival of a business beyond the skills of one or two key employees. It unfortunately runs against the natural instinct of many business owners, who tend to be by nature self-reliant.
According to Richard Branson, CEO and founder of Virgin Group, it's the simple ability of leaders to “delegate and let go.”
“If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.” — Richard Branson.
Another barrier to delegation is often the belief that it will take longer to teach someone else how to do the job properly, rather than doing it oneself. Take some time to review all the recurring time-consuming tasks, such as monthly reporting duties, that you have to deal with.
Remember to forward emails that are out of your area of expertise and can be dealt better by someone else. You will save time and the team will get better results.
3. D is for Defer
Build a to-do list of tasks that you only can handle (ie the emails that can’t be delegated) but that are either very time-consuming, or of a lower priority. Be honest with yourself, and don’t let this defer list grow beyond a reasonable size: it is easy to fall in the trap of adding a lot of emails in that defer folder. A good idea is to create a specific folder for those emails that need to be handled later, and to review it on a weekly basis to action any emails that have remained in that folder for more than a week.
Don’t forget to review what you have deferred. Some tasks can be done later, but no later than the last responsible moment. Due to the ever changing environment we live in, some tasks become obsolete if we defer them.
4. D is for Do
Everything that is left over are things that you need to deal with.
First, apply a rough 2 minutes rule-of-thumb. If it takes less than two minutes to deal with a query, then act on the email straight away. Don’t put off things that can be handled immediately with little effort.
Sort all other tasks in order of their priority, rather than by time needed to accomplish them. We tend to be much poorer at multi-tasking than we think we are, and knowing that you are currently working on the most important task of all will help you to focus your attention on the work at hand, rather than flitting around various tasks.