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In one of our training courses, we offer instruction on using the Four Ds email management system with Outlook. With this system, you take one of the following actions on every email in your inbox:

  • If it isn’t important, delete it right away.
  • If it isn’t an item you need to handle yourself, delegate it.
  • If it’s a task you can complete in two minutes or less, do it (send a reply, file the message, make a phone call, etc.).
  • If you need to handle it, but reading the message and completing the task will take you longer than two minutes, defer it.

(There’s also a fifth option, but it doesn’t involve the letter D: If you need an item as reference — even if you have decided to defer it — move it into a reference folder.)

In our training, we show our clients’ employees how to apply the Four Ds using specific Outlook tools and features such as Conversation View, Quick Steps, rules, tags, categories and more.

Simply reading about a system will not cause a transformation. It takes training, practice and commitment.

The goal of this system is to reduce the number of times you touch each email message, and, of course, to help you keep your inbox tidy. But simply reading about a system will not cause a transformation. It takes training, practice and commitment.

The system has been around for about a decade, but it’s as useful today as it was when productivity expert Sally McGhee published it in her book Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook to get Organized and Stay Organized  — and maybe even more so, considering the current volume of email in the average corporate employee’s inbox.

  • Wan How

    Hi Jen,

    Thank you for your post. I delete about half of my emails every day! As a practitioner of the four D’s, over the years I have applied it in many other areas, e.g. phone calls, tasks and processes:

    Stop doing
    You don’t have to
    Stop completing surveys
    Drop that call
    Stop starting
    Outsource, batch and automate
    Identify a task to delegate
    Delegate: Breakdown the task
    Delegate: Create a checklist
    Delegate: Find someone who can do it
    Delegate: Train
    Defer: When do you need this by?
    Defer decisions
    Defer ahead
    Defer together
    Do prioritize
    Do one thing at a time
    Do estimate
    Do develop cadence
    Start starting

    I have the four Ds posted on my desk and have gained back lots of time!



  • Kelly Thompson

    Great posting. How about Database or Documentation for that fifth “D”? I’m sure we can find a fit.


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