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 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 hair dryer 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 and strategies that give an example of a proactive person.
Planners. Proactive people use planners as they are supposed to use them – to record future events and scheduled activities. By being able to view the future, they are able to anticipate possible problems and act before they can occur. Just looking at an event, such as a meeting, in your planner or electronic device sets your mind thinking about things you will need for that meeting.
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 after every event. If anything was missed, it is added to the list so that it won’t be forgotten the next time.
Goals. Proactive people hold planning sessions with themselves 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.
Long-range planning. 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.
Attitude. Although there are certain tools and techniques that proactive people use, it is mainly an 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 reading the instructions before assembling a swing set.
This attitude or way of life can be developed and nurtured. 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 to act 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. Think ahead. Set goals. Schedule time for activities. Plan daily. Use checklists. Review results. And continually make adjustments to improve future outcomes. There is power in being proactive.