The 4 Ds of task management with free Excel Template

The 4 Ds of task management are a great way to help you prioritize your tasks and achieve the most important goals. The four Ds stand for Delete, Delegate, Defer and Do. Using the 4 Ds is very simple. For each task on your list, decide whether to:


Ask yourself - does this task have to be done? If the answer is no, then delete it from your to-do list and move on.


Can someone else do this task just as well or better than you? If so, delegate it to them and free up some of your time. Learn the fastest, most effective delegation process! How to Delegate - the Fast ∓ Effective way.


Will this task still be relevant in a few weeks or months from now? If the answer is yes, then consider deferring it until a later date and put a reminder in your calendar. To keep your inbox organized it may help to file deferred emails in a 'deferred' folder in your email client.


Do any of the tasks require immediate action? These are the tasks that you should focus on first. Prioritize them and take action as soon as possible.

By using the four Ds of time management, you can effectively manage your time and become more productive. Keep in mind that tasks may change over time, so be sure to regularly evaluate your list to make sure you are working on the most important items.
The 4 Ds of task management. Delete, Delegate, Defer, Do. To-do list template.

A bit of history on the 4 Ds

The exact origin of the 4Ds is difficult to pin down, but Dalia Goldberg has found the earliest references in a 1986 issue of the Journal Business India and in Jacquie Wise's 1991 book Career Comeback: Taking Charge of Your Career. In Business India the 4 Ds are:
  • Drop - all work that is not absolutely essential.
  • Delay - whatever does not require immediate attention.
  • Delegate - whatever can be done equally well by others.
  • Do - only that which is absolutely essential.
Wise describes how she came across the 4 Ds in an article by Daniel Johnson. She expands them into 7 Ds, but lists Johnson's list as Dump, Delay, Delegate and Defer.

15 real world examples of using the 4 Ds to manage your to-do list

  What it means Examples
Delete Decide what you don't need to work on, delete and move on.

Spam emails internal & external

Irrelevant newsletters

Unnecessary meetings

Reply all email chains

Delegate Ask yourself if you are the only person who can do this task? If not, why wouldn't you delegate?

Repeating tasks, e.g. operational office tasks.

Well documented tasks.

Tasks with associated training available.

Anything that doesn't require you specific skill-set/knowledge.

Defer Tasks that don't need to be completed straight away, should be scheduled for another time.

New non-urgent projects

Tasks waiting on another person.

Tasks that aren't due for sometime and can be scheduled into your diary.

Do Urgent and important tasks and tasks that have an immediate deadline.

Urgent requests from management.

Day to day tasks that your job requires.

Blockers/problems that need resolving immediately.

Important tasks that have a high impact.

Deleting emails - how to be ruthless with your inbox

Emails can be a stressful, nightmare if you don't take control of them. There are few people who don't feel a spike in their blood pressure when they see that their screen is full of unread emails.

For your own sanity use the 4 Ds - specifically D for Delete - to decide on the emails that you won't allow to take up your time. This will be both a professional and personal decision. For example, there will be emails that anyone doing your job could be reasonably expected to action e.g. a request from your boss, but there will also be emails that your team mate may enjoy reading and acting on, but you may choose to ignore. For example, you might ignore all emails related to after work socials as you will always be with the kids. Or you may to choose to ignore emails related to the office building as you work from home.

Use the categories below to review your emails and decide what you will allow to take up your time. Everything else can be deleted as it comes in, or on a regular basis. Even better you can set up automated rules in your email client to route pointless emails to your trash folder.

Common types of workplace email

Which of these emails will I allow to take up my time?
  • Job related - emails directly related to my job. For example, emails addressed to me or to my team.
  • My department - emails related to my department/team. For example, team meetings, urgent team wide jobs, team socials, changes to ways of working.
  • Company news - meetings, newsletters, qtrly reports, year end reports, announcements.
  • HR / personnel office - new policies, well-being emails, training.
  • Building/office related - bad weather, traffic alert, fire alarm test, cake / biscuits on site.
  • Internal spam - Not relevant to me - emails to many groups, miss-addressed emails.
  • Automated emails - alerts e.g. system down, reminders.
  • External spam - delete always.
Using the 4Ds will take practice and discipline, but over time and as you find that the world doesn't end when you delete company newsletters, you will start to automatically apply it to each of your tasks. You can download the free template below to get started!

Download the template!

Excel download - 4 Ds Task list (.xlsx)

Excel 97 - 2003 download - 4 Ds Task list (.xls)


Goldberg, D. (2022) The 4Ds of Time Management and How To Use Them. toggl blog. (Accessed: 19 January 2022).

Wise, J. (1991). Career Comeback: Taking Charge of Your Career. Australia: Pitman. pg. 79

Business India. (1986). India: A.H. Advani. pg. 137.

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