Email Processing and Triage: The 4Ds Approach

Email processing and Triage: 4Ds approach

Email Processing and Triage: The process of assessing each new message and deciding when and how to handle it.

As we discussed in a prior posting Email Processing and Triage basics, Email processing and triage is perhaps one of the most challenging, and frustrating, aspects of Email and a common cause of Email overload.

There are several potential "strategies" that can be employed to assist with Email triage, and the one we will review in this posting is the 4Ds approach (sometimes expanded to the 5Ds approach).

The 4Ds approach is a way to work through your Emails and ensure you handle each one only once.

For each message you review in your Inbox, you make a decision if you want to:

Delete it, Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It

Here is additional detail on each of these steps:

Delete It

  • If it serves no value, doesn't apply to you, or is junk, just delete it.
  • Don't be afraid to delete. Most items saved are never referenced again.

Do It

  • Read the full message, Perform the requested action, or Respond to it.
  • Always try to "Do It", especially if item is important or can be performed quickly.
  • After you "Do It", make sure you either "Delete it" (if it is not needed) or "File It" (save attachment or message to an archive folder).

Delegate It

  • If it can be done by someone else, forward it with a note stating the specific required action.
  • Make sure to use a system (follow-up flags, categories, folders) to track the delegated item

Defer It

  • This involves keeping an item for later review or creating a Task from it, often because it requires more time or attention then you have at the moment.
  • Make sure to use a system (priority, flags, categories, filing) for when you review it again.

The 5Ds Variation:

There are several variations on the 4Ds approach, and one which I have seen is the 5Ds approach.  In this system, in addition to "Do It", you also have a "Distribute", which indicates that you need to somehow move or relocate the message to a different context or media channel, such as turning an Email into an appointment or a task.

So, the 5Ds list will look like:

  • Do It - Reply to the message or simply deal with the task at hand
  • Delegate - Assign task or responsibility over to somebody else
  • Delete - Delete it if it is junk or doesn't require follow-up or archiving
  • Defer - Set a reminder to review or follow up on it at a later time
  • Distribute – Move the Email to a different channel, such as to an appointment, task, or social media

Whichever Email processing and triage approach or variation makes most sense to you and that you can regularly follow is the one you should adopt!

What is your Email Triage Approach?

Do you have any "best practices" to share?