Author’s note: The “five Ds” is an idea that’s been around for some time; here’s my take on it.
I run two businesses, one of which sometimes has employees I need to oversee. I write at least ten thousand words every week, I do all the cooking in my house, and I manage our finances. I get a lot done, and I still have ample time for friends and lounging. About half the time, I even manage to take Fridays off.
My time-management system isn’t perfect, and there’s always room for improvement, but I think I’ve got a pretty good thing going. I use a combination of Todoist and simple spreadsheets to keep track of all my tasks, but there are many tools you could use to manage your time well. At the core of my time-management philosophy is an idea I like to call “rolling with the punches.”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have more to do than you can possibly accomplish in a given day, week, or month. It’s easy to lie awake at 3:00 in the morning worrying about looming exams, events, or deadlines. But, believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to go to bed with four hundred unfinished things on your to-do list and still sleep soundly.
Here’s the thing: You’re never, ever going to be able to say at the end of a day, “I did everything I could have done or wanted to do.” And new things will always pop up that demand your time and attention. The key is to confront and accept these facts without stressing out about them. With extremely rare exceptions, unfinished tasks are not the end of the world (and if they are, that’s usually a good sign that you need to Decline, Delegate, or Drop some—more on the “five Ds” in a moment.)
A good question to ask yourself at the end of each day is not “Did I do everything I could or should have done?” but rather “Did I accomplish at least some of the most important things on my ever-growing, ever-changing list?” As long as you can say “yes” to that question, you can (with practice) rest easy, knowing that you’re always making progress toward your goals.
In other words: Know that the “punches” are always going to keep coming, get comfortable with that fact, and regularly remind yourself that it’s not a bad thing. You’ll adapt, you’ll shuffle things around as needed, and you’ll be okay.
I find the “five Ds” very helpful when it comes to using my time and energy most effectively. In order, they are: Decline, Do it now, Delegate, Delay, and Drop it.
- When a new project, task, or request pops up on your radar, immediately ask yourself: “Does this jibe with my important goals and values, and if so, does it do so to a high enough degree that it truly deserves some of the precious real estate on my to-do list?” If the answer to either question is “no,” politely Decline the opportunity if you can. There will always be others!
- Check each item on your to-do list and consider whether it can be done quickly (in under five minutes) and whether it’s the most important item on the list. If either is true, it’s probably best to Do it right now (or at least work on it, if it’s a big project you can’t finish in one sitting).
- If a task or project is important but you lack the time, energy, or skills to do it efficiently and to a high degree of quality, and if there’s someone else who might be better suited for the job, consider Delegating it.
- If you can’t or shouldn’t delegate the task but know that you’ll be equipped to handle it later, Delay it until then. It’s perfectly okay to delay tasks all the time. Right now, my Todoist has twenty-seven tasks on it. I’ll finish maybe four of them today, and the rest will get bumped to later. I delay tasks every single day, and it’s never caused me problems.
- If you’ve already accepted a task but can’t Do it now, can’t Delegate it, and can’t Delay it any longer, it may be time to Drop it and forget about it. Of course, if someone else is depending on you, don’t abandon a task without really good reasons or without doing your best to help him find another way to get it done. But if you assigned yourself this task, it’s no big deal. For instance, I had “paint the deck” on my to-do list for something like three months, and I just kept delaying it every time it came up. I realized that the deck would need painting eventually, but it wasn’t in such a sorry state that the need was pressing. I deleted it and added it back a year later once it became a more immediate priority—and Did it a few days after that.
When you consistently implement the five Ds, the end result is that you roll with the punches almost without thinking about it. Your stress levels will drop as quickly as your productivity skyrockets. Give it a try!