ARTICLE: The “6-D” Information System

You know you need to learn this method:
• If you use your email and voice mailboxes to store things you need to do but don’t have time to address right now
• If your brain swims with all kinds of ideas and things you need to do
• If the location of your stacks of paper on your desk determines its contents. (The upper left hand corner of the desk means something different from the upper right hand side of the desk. And, of course, items angled sideways carry an altogether different meaning.)
• If you are constantly searching for things. You find yourself saying things like, “I know it’s right here.” (By the way, the average professional spends 36 minutes a day looking for things!)

Indecision, by its very nature, causes clutter and creates pile-ups. Many of the piles on your desk and files in your email box represent postponed decisions. The keys to successful information management are: (1) have a “home” for each category of information, and (2) decide immediately where each items belongs and (3) put it away. It doesn’t mean you have to do it; you just have to put it where it belongs. 

To help put these principles in action, I teach my clients a system I’ve developed called the “6-D” System. Each piece of paper, each idea in your head, each email, each voice mail, each fax…these are simply pieces of information. 

There are only 6 things you can do with any piece of information:

1. Discard—Permanently get rid of it. Ask yourself the tough questions—do you really have the time to read it? What’s the worst that could happen if you discard the item? Can you get another copy if necessary? You must be ruthless in this stage! Studies have shown we only refer to 20% of all the information we insist on saving. Today, the question is not, “Can I throw this away?” but “Why should I keep this?”

2. Delegate— Refer the item to someone else. Get it going “out the door” to that person right away. We cannot “manage by doing” in the DigitalAge, so give away as much as possible.

3. Do— If you have the time to complete, review, sign, or reply to the item, do it immediately. Then get it going back out the door to the requester. This step is generally for action items that will only require two to five minutes to complete. Investing the time now will save time in the long run because you won’t review the item over and over again.

4. Date— For items you can’t work on immediately, determine when you need to see the item again and put in the appropriate dated storage system.

5. Drawer— File items you can’t toss, delegate, and that don’t require any action. 

6. Delete— Halt the information; keep it from getting to you in the first place. Stopping reports, memos, letters, minutes, catalogues, magazines, and junk mail that you don’t need or have time to read.

If you think of these options each time you look at a new piece of information, it will create one seamless system, rather than several disjointed methods for individual items. The key is to keep ALL of your “in-boxes” empty each day—paper, email, voice mail, and your brain! Let’s go through the corresponding “6-D” equivalents for each category of information.

PAPER 6-D Equivalents
1. Toss or Recycle
2. Route it (interoffice envelope, routing label) and place in “OUT”
3. Respond and place in “OUT”
4. Tickler file (email me if you don’t know how to set one up) or action file (“to be read” file, “to be copied” file, “to be faxed” file, “computer entry” file, etc.)
5. File it in a corresponding project file near your work area or “to be file” bin to go into a reference file
6. Remove yourself from mailing lists

EMAIL 6-D Equivalents
1. Delete it
2. Forward it
3. Reply
4. Move (or copy, depending upon your software package) to Tasks (Action items) or Calendar (time-sensitive meetings and appointments). OR, print and file in tickler file if you prefer a hardcopy
5. Drag to appropriate personal folder (only if no action is required).
6. Unsubscribe from mailing lists and tell your friends to stop sending you their “joke of the day”!

VOICEMAIL 6-D Equivalents
1. Delete it
2. Forward it
3. Reply or call back if less than 3 minutes (best if your voicemail system has an automatic “reply” feature that sends a message right to the person’s voicemail)
4. Write a note in your planner on the day you need to respond, OR make a log entry in your phone log, OR write the information on an index card and file in your tickler file; then delete it
5. Transcribe the information (only if no action is required) and file in appropriate project or reference file
6. Contact the caller and remove yourself from group distribution lists or give them the correct person who handles that request

1. Ignore or Tickler
2. For things to discuss with others, write an entry in their Communication Log, make a note to call them in your planner, or send an email to schedule a meeting
3. Do it
4. Write on master to-do list if future oriented, a daily to-do list if you’re going to do it immediately, or a project planner if it has multiple steps
5. Transcribe and file in the appropriate project or reference file
6. Give yourself permission to stop worrying about it

To organize your office, you must clean out all of your “in-boxes” (your paper in-box, email in-box, voicemail box, and your brain!) so you can manage your current work. So get your organizing equipment ready! Tack up a 3x5 card with the “6-D’s” printed on it. Then surround yourself with the trashcan, recycling bin, envelopes, routing labels, tickler file, planner, “to be filed” folder, phone, and pen. Either go into the office on a Saturday, or apply the “6-D’s” a half-hour a day. Do NOT put an item “down” until you have made a decision about where it goes. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do the item, just put it away. 

Once you’ve got the old stuff cleaned up, the key to maintaining your organized office is to have ALL of your in-boxes empty before you leave the office each day. The old adage “a place for everything and everything in its proper place” is indeed true. Don’t shuffle information, decide immediately, and be disciplined about putting things away the first time you see it.

© 2001 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at