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Proactive: What does it mean to be proactive?

Among founders and entrepreneurs, it’s almost a buzzword. Something that some might use to describe themselves, to sell themselves, when sometimes they don’t even understand it. So, what does it actually mean?

24 May 2019 by Maria Landa

Proactive, a word commonly used within the working world. Something recruiters are always mentioning, employers are always seeking and a keyword in many job descriptions. Lack of being proactive within the workforce can even lead to being fired by your employer, “Yes, he/she was good but wasn’t proactive”.

The fact that everyone is using it has started to lead to many misconceptions about the word. You constantly hear it being thrown around within your business it may start to lose its impact, yet being proactive is key to a successful business and career. Let’s focus on what it means to be proactive and how you can be more proactive within your work?

Among founders and entrepreneurs, it’s almost a buzzword. Something that some might use to describe themselves, to sell themselves, when sometimes they don’t even understand it. So, what does it actually mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word proactive as a person or action ‘creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened’.

In other words, being proactive means carefully planning actions that will focus on what’s important and enable them to take the situation in the direction they need it to be, not just waiting until the situation has derailed enough for urgent action to be taken. The problem today is, most things around us are more urgent and reactive than important and proactive.

Reactive because most situations are at the mercy of urgency and external influences. This is very common within the day to day business. Something that’s urgent may constantly find itself above things that are less urgent but equally important. Here are some examples:

  • If you get a new email or a new text message asking a simple question you’ll respond to it right away.
  • If there’s a work event or meeting request, you’ll respond immediately to it by usually, agreeing to go.

By the end of your day you’ll go back home exhausted, focusing your time on immediate solutions and easy at hand tasks, thinking where did the day go?

You shouldn’t let stuff just pile up on your to-do list, but perhaps you’re focusing too much on the immediate activities rather than the ones that will have a bigger impact in the long run.

Working based on urgency can be dangerous, it may feel like you’re being productive when it may just be delaying it. You’ve answered a 100 emails but have you actually made any progress? Are you actually moving forward?

All those reactive, urgent things need to be done, of course, but they don’t have to be done in the moment or even done by you. Proactive tasks are all those ideas and projects you’ve buried in the “when I have more time” list. They exist to move your business forward and help it grow. For example:

  • Coming up with new strategic goals for the upcoming year.
  • Creating a new list of why a specific feature of your product is important and what can you do to move the business towards that direction.
  • Finding new ways to develop leadership in your team.

Proactive tasks are all the strategies and ideas that will get you closer to your goals. If you really want to become someone who’s proactive you have to incorporate some self-discipline into your work-life. Emergencies will arise, along with constant demands and urgent questions that take up your time, but you can control how and when you respond. You can choose to remain proactive and here are some tips to get started:

  1. Find a reason to stay disciplined. Goals will be vital to stay proactive and on-track.
  2. Stop procrastinating (for real this time). Visualise how it’ll feel to complete whatever you’re putting off, create deadlines for yourself and commit to them.
  3. Learn to say No. Establish rules for yourself, things that will help you to have an easier and more productive life. Such as ‘I don’t answer emails over the weekend’ or ‘I don’t stay at the office after 5 pm’.

Think about everything that’s currently happening in your life and the factors that may be contributing to your lack of productivity. How can you do more? There’s always the potential for something greater.


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