What To Do Today: 4 Ds to help you manage overwhelm

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Some days it’s hard to know where to start. There are lectures to watch, additional reading to catch-up on, that essay to finish by the end of the week, those seminar notes to review. Oh and the laundry basket’s overflowing and that other essay title has just been released. 

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when so many things are competing for our attention. And, when we’re stressed, we often find it harder to prioritise, assigning every task equal importance.  

This is when the 4 Ds might come in handy. This is a short-term time management strategy designed to be used on the day to help regain a bit of perspective. This technique can help us prioritise our tasks for the day so that we can at least make a start, make some progress and start feeling productive and in control again. 

The 4 Ds stand for Do, Defer, Delegate and Dump.  


What will you focus on today? To help you decide, you may like to think about: 

  • What is most urgent, in terms of deadlines etc.? 
  • How much time do you realistically have available today? Which task(s) would best fit into this time?  
  • What would calm you down the most and/or make you feel like you’d made progress? Sometimes, just making a start on something you’ve been putting off for a while is enough to make you feel you’re back on track. 


These are tasks that you will need to get to shortly, but they’re not urgent enough to have to be done today. Often, we worry we’re going to forget to do something if we don’t do it immediately. Help prevent this by making a list of any tasks you’re deferring. You may then find it helpful to put this list out of sight so the tasks you have lined up for the future don’t distract you from the one you’ve chosen to focus on today. You can refer to this list again the next time you’re deciding your ‘Dos’ for the day. 


Is there anything (outside of your studies, of course!) you could ask somebody else to take on to free your time up a little bit? Granted, the opportunities for delegation are few and far between at present due to social distancing. But perhaps you could still do something like getting a housemate to take your turn loading the dishwasher to give you a clear run at studying? 


As we mentioned at the beginning, that overwhelm is often caused by too many things competing for our attention at once. Which tasks could we eliminate from that competition – for now? What might we need to get to eventually, even fairly soon, but which we could ignore for today while we make progress with more urgent things? Dumping a task isn’t permanent. That task might become a ‘Do’ in two days time. This is just a way of clearing some headspace for the tasks that have the greatest priority right now. When you’re juggling lots of plates, it’s worth recognising that some are made of glass and some are made of paper. Dropping a glass plate may have a long-term impact on your future, but dropping a paper one won’t. Sometimes it’s okay to let the odd thing slide.  

The 4 Ds is just one of the time management tips our tutors Nicky and Caroline discussed in their Cuppa and a Catch-up video last month. They introduce this strategy at the 30.53 mark, but you may wish to check out the rest of the video for more top tips. And if you’d like to discuss time management or any other study strategies with us, you’re welcome to book an online 1-1. Head to our website to find out more.  

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