The 5 Ds

Approach your work strategically to get more done, maximize job satisfaction and minimize frustration

Whether it’s that pile of work on your desk, a project you need to manage, an event you need to plan or any other collection of tasks you have to handle, you have a choice to make before you start working.

Large letter D

The Choice

  • You can simply plow into the work, starting with whatever is on top and working until you’ve finished. This is a tactical approach and, while your work ethic and sense of responsibility will cause you eventually to finish the work, you will likely waste some time, encounter some frustration and personally handle some tasks better handled differently, whether by others or in terms of the nature of the task.


  • You can instead use the 5 Ds approach to your work. This is a strategic approach and it will, without fail, make you more efficient and productive, lead to a higher quality result, let you spend more time on things you are good at and like to do (thus, making you happier), and sometimes even give you a chance to offer a developmental opportunity to someone else, build a relationship or create a reusable tool.

Here’s how the 5 Ds work:

Instead of simply plowing into that pile of work, spend a few minutes before you start doing to examine each piece of work to see if it can be:

  • Dropped. Does the work need to be done at all? Who needs it and why? How does it tie to the accomplishment of a goal or project? How does it tie to the achievement of your or your organization’s strategic goals?
    • If it’s not necessary or valuable, drop it.
  • Deferred. Does the work need to be done now? How should it be prioritized in light of the rest of your work?
    • If it doesn’t need to be done now, put it in your tickler file so it comes back to you in time for you to finish it by the time it actually does need to be done. (This has the added benefit of getting off your desk the stuff you don’t need on it.)
  • Downsized. Does the work need to be done as presented or is it really a smaller or different task when you think about it in the context of project deliverables and overall goals?
    • If a modified or different effort would lead more clearly or efficiently to the right result, then do what actually needs to be done rather than merely doing the work as presented or requested.
  • Delegated. Are you the right person to do the work? Would it be better handled by someone senior (who could get the result faster), a peer (who has more expertise, experience or time and could get a better or quicker result), a subordinate (because it doesn’t require skills where you add value), an outside service provider (who has more bodies to throw at it, more expertise, better process or other tools), etc., etc., etc.
    • If the right result can be achieved more effectively by someone else, enroll the someone else and delegate.
  • Once you have dropped, deferred, downsized and delegated work as appropriate, what’s left is what you do.