The 4D rule builds time into your schedule

As self-employed workers, you should know that the need to optimise productivity is a must for all successful activities. In this busy society, it is not easy to find a way to get more from our daily output. That’s the reason why you should follow this simple, but vital 4D methodology.

The 4D methodology includes Delete, Delegate, Defer and Do. These are the four available decisions that are available when prioritising any given set of tasks whereby you set out to optimise productivity.

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. Then this helps to achieve the outcome that makes the most sense for the business.

While the 4D rule is applicable to any part of the modern working office, it is something that is particularly useful when handling emails.

1. 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 is spam.  This is down from 66% which has reduced thanks to the increasing sophistication of spam filters. Beyond clear-cut spam, take some time to unsubscribe from all unwanted general distribution lists. Set up rules in your inbox to automatically move those unwanted 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. Delegate

Delegating is an essential skill that successful entrepreneurs need to optimise productivity. Delegating also ensures the long-term survival of a business beyond the skills of one or two key employees. Unfortunately, it 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. These include such 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 with better by someone else. You will save time and the team will get better results.

3. 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 into 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. Do

Everything left are the 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 the 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.

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Marco is a digital marketing executive and freelance writer. At the moment he’s working with Activia Training, a training provider agency that focuses on delivering training in Software & IT, Management and Staff Development for entrepreneurs who are looking for improving their productivity or expanding their businesses.