Proactive people are always looking ahead at future activities, projects and events and anticipating needs, problems and possible outcomes.
For example, if they are attending a conference in a different city, they go beyond actually booking air travel, arranging ground transportation and booking a hotel room. They mentally walk through the three-day event, deciding in advance what they will wear at the various functions, which presentations they will attend, and who they will seek out in order to maximize their networking opportunities. In the process, they might decide that they will need business cards, writing materials, an empty carry-on bag to house the information that they will be collecting at the exhibits and casual clothes for the Saturday night barbecue.
It’s no accident that a few people always seem to have a spare pen to loan, a safety pin to offer, a Band-Aid or pain killer when someone’s in distress and shampoo when there’s none in the hotel room. These are the people you turn to when you need a hairdryer or a list of meeting rooms or change for the hotel vending machine. They are also the people who are frequently selected as project managers, management trainees, and group leaders. They are organized, punctual, and productive – and respected by their managers and peers alike.
What is their secret? How are they able to be prepared for almost any situation? Here are a few of the tools, strategies, and mindset that form an example of a proactive person.
1. Set goals
Proactive people hold planning sessions with themselves as well as with others and set specific goals for the future. They not only put them in writing, along with deadline dates, they schedule time in their planners to actually work on them. By doing this, they are helping to create their own future as opposed to reacting to unplanned events.
2. Block off time for important tasks and activities
Proactive people use planning calendars as they are supposed to use them – to reserve time in the future for priority tasks and activities. By being able to visualize the future, they are able to anticipate possible problems and act before they can occur. Just looking at an event such as a scheduled meeting in writing, sets your mind thinking about things you will need for that meeting. Proactive people normally schedule their priority activities about a week ahead, leaving unscheduled time each day for those important and urgent tasks and activities that inevitably pop up throughout the week. They may have to do some juggling in order to fit them all in; but they never allow a priority task or activity be replaced without first rescheduling it to another time slot. And they never replace a scheduled activity with a less important one. They realize that the good is the enemy of the best.
3. Use checklists
Proactive people make up checklists for all repetitive events or activities, such as meetings, travel, conferences, sales calls, workshops and interviews. These checklists are updated if necessary after each event. If anything was missed, it is added to the list so that it won’t be forgotten the next time. Checklists save time and money and prevent errors.
4. Review results
Proactive people don’t just follow through with planned tasks and events, they follow up as well, and make sure the value received was worth the time and effort expended. This ensures that they are indeed completing the 20% of the tasks that yield 80% of the results. They always question whether they are making the best possible use of their time.
5. Plan long-range
Proactive people recognize that it’s never too early to plan, and that planning too late causes crises and time problems. If the Titanic had started turning sooner, it never would have hit the iceberg. Small adjustments made earlier avoid large adjustments having to be made at the last minute.
6. Set deadlines
Proactive people set deadlines for every planned activity. They are aware of Parkinson’s Law, which indicates activities will consume as much time as you have available for them. Setting deadlines both increases efficiency and prevents procrastination. Proactive people realize that deadlines don’t cause stress; only unrealistic deadlines cause stress. So they always allow more time than they think the task or activity will actually take. This allows for those unpredictable interruptions.
7. Maintain the right attitude
Although there are certain tools and techniques that proactive people use, a big part of it is their attitude or state of mind. In fact, it could be called a way of life. Proactive people wouldn’t think of making a telephone call without first jotting down the items for discussion or going to the supermarket without first making a list of the items they need. They don’t resent looking at a map before taking a trip or googling a prospect’s website before meeting making a cold sales call or reading the instructions before assembling a swing set.
These practices can be developed and nurtured until they become habits. Practice with little things, such as deciding before going to bed what clothes you will be wearing the next morning. You may discover that something needs pressing. In the morning, mentally walk through the day. What time will you leave the house, where will you park, what jobs will you do first, etc. The more times you think ahead, the more comfortable you will become with planning. As you see your days running smoother, with fewer crises and problems, the more you will be encouraged to become proactive in everything you do.
Proactive means “acting beforehand.” Taking action in the present will influence things in the future – perhaps even the future itself. So practice those habits exhibited by proactive people. Set goals. Schedule time for priority tasks and activities. Use checklists. Review results. Plan long-range. Set deadlines. And continually make adjustments to improve future outcomes.
Do you want to be more proactive?
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