Productivity. Performance. Success

Are you a fire fighter? Do it, delegate it or defer it

“From Burnout to Superman Productivity” Series: Tip 4

Do it, delegate it or defer it - Jonas Lind

Do you find yourself caught up in a constant round of fire fighting? Are you running around like a headless chicken? Is there ever a quiet moment?  I have been there and I still fall off the wagon occasionally.

It’s like an addiction. For a long time you revel in the “panic mode”. You take pride in how well you can multitask and juggle problems of all sorts. You can drive, eat and answer emails at the same time.  You believe that you are a superman! Well, almost anyway.

These are typical reactions you hear from a perennial “fire-fighter”. Do you know how busy I am? How understaffed we are? We can’t afford to hire more people? I don’t have time to change!

I have said it all. “I don’t have time to change!” was my favorite excuse.  Sounds quite stupid right?  Not at all, when you are busy being busy.


So what’s the problem?

The problem is that it’s NOT effective and it’s NOT efficient! You don’t get the important things done. Before you know it, the panic mode will bring you to a complete meltdown.

The good news is that this can be fixed (if you really want to).

Tip #4

Prioritize to do it, delegate it, or defer it.

Unforeseen things happen every day but there are ways to make sure it doesn’t take your attention from more important work. I use this simple model from David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” (recommended read):

  • Do it. If it takes less than 2 minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.
  • Delegate it. If it takes longer than 2 minutes, ask yourself am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate tasks.
  • Defer it. If the action takes longer than 2 minutes and you are the right person to do it, you have to defer it to one of your action lists or find a time in your calendar.


Be disciplined. Don’t start unplanned things that take more than 2 minutes if it’s not a “life and death” situation, and you are the only one in this world that can help. Most of the time you can “delegate it” or “defer it” to a later time.

If you are the right person to do this and it takes more than 2 minutes. You need to ask these two questions before you jump and cancel whatever you are doing:

  • How important is this? Is this more important than whatever I’m doing at the moment? (Think 80-20. Not everything is important. Force yourself to prioritize).
  • How urgent is this? (Do I have to do it all now? Today? This week?)


If it’s not important AND urgent, it could probably wait, and you can defer the activity to your action list or to a later time in your calendar.

I use this model to define, prioritize and take action on all my work, grouped broadly into the following types of work:

  • Digital inboxes (emails, messaging applications, social media)
  • Incoming calls
  • Action lists from meetings
  • New ideas (find a way to document all your ideas so that you get it out of your head)

Try this and let me know if it works for you.

Leave a Comment


  1. August 12, 2015    

    I felt excited while reading this post. The reason is that I’m almost already doing something close to this. For my office daily schedule I usually have a plan before starting my daily work. I have started using “Google Keep” for this few weeks ago. Before that I was just saving notes in my mobile. Anyway, I usually plan and start my work items having a combination of urgent + simple + isolated tasks. Down the list i have complicated tasks or things which need to be attended by more people together.But this method and the method in the post are I think somewhat ideal scenarios. I think situation can really get complicated when it involves more people, vendors or adhoc sort of task development. I also believe to divide the task as much as possible, plan the task in hours and set smaller goals e.g. to complete an ABC task before lunch or before noon prayer

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 16, 2015    

      Hassan, I will look at Google Keep. I’m using Evernote today.
      Re individual and team productivity I think it’s very important to stick to the daily plan (and priorities). Pareto rule (80-20) can be very helpful. It’s very simple to me..if one prio the “right things” (effectiveness) one will have time to do these important things well (efficiency). A company must scale down on everything that is not critical. Keep things simple. Look at “KISS”. Keep it Simple. Stupid.

  2. Azzad Ariffin Azzad Ariffin
    August 14, 2015    

    Seldom do I find tasks that take mere minutes to finish let alone two. So I guess It’s either defer or delegate. Apart from asking how important or urgent something is, other thing I something ask myself is the degree of accountability of the job or how trustworthiness is the person whom I choose to delegate it to.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 16, 2015    

      Azzad, I think there are a lot of things that can be done in 2 min. A quick call, email, whatsapp message. I’m glad that you mentioned accountability. It’s very important. I will write a post about this. Thanks :-)

  3. Haminar Haminar
    August 16, 2015    

    Indeed it is a good tips and article.. either we realize it or not.. we have been using this approach in our life (don’t know about you all but I did)..

    The 2 minutes to me just a figure of speech.. it depend one that suits you.. based on ownself limit..

    At the end of the day.. it is how we RESPOND, and not how we REACT..

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 16, 2015    

      Thanks Haminar. It has helped me a lot. If I’m not disciplined I will start fighting fires. ??

  4. August 16, 2015    

    The whole concept of do it, delegate it or defer it is something that sometimes we don’t realize that we are doing it in our daily life. It might not be in 2 minutes time frame, but we have done it. As I started reading this article, I realized that some concepts are a bit confusing to apply at same time. Everyone talks about prioritizing your work which in my opinion is very good and at the same time we are talking single tasking which I totally support. However, since everyone have different priorities, Should you do it or delegate it or defer it when a higher priority task landed on your table? Should you single tasking or multi tasking? And If your boss calls your during your meeting, should you answer it? Our judgement makes the concepts great or burden to us.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Shariman, thanks for your input. I divide my day into different focus areas. In the morning I spend 90min (630-800). on something that requires my full attention. I will only take calls from my wife and she would only call if someone is about to die :-) I don’t check messages during this time. The rest of the the day my focus is on customers and colleagues. If I’m in a meeting I have my whatsapp notification on and I reply messages every hour. My first priority is our customers and all staff serving our customers. All internal matters have lower priority.

  5. Mina Mina
    August 17, 2015    

    I think fire-fighting [mostly] happens in situations where we are not moving according to the plan. When the ‘planning’ is not done correctly and thoroughly, that’s where the ‘urgencies’ and ‘unexpected’ happens. The plan applies to any sort of task; a big project, hosting a party or even a brief conversation with the boss. So, to me, we can never overlook the importance of planning and of course moving according to that plan!
    No doubt, there will always be something that doesn’t go according to the plan, or something that happens out of no where. But if there is a plan B, C, or D in place and you have thought ahead of different scenarios, I could guarantee there will be less fire-fighting and more of ‘responding’ to situations.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      I agree. It’s very important to have the discipline to plan. We need to stop and ask ourselves what’s important. Currently, I’m working on 4 initiatives. To remind myself I ask myself every night what I have done to bring these 4 initiatives forward.

JONAS LIND is a co-founder of two IT companies, one in Sweden and one in Malaysia. He has been in the IT industry since 2000. He currently resides in Malaysia with his family.

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