7 Habits to Work Proactively, Not Reactively
That proposal was due last week, you are days behind on finalizing the plan because decisions aren't being made in meetings, there are 100 emails you need to respond to and back-to-back calls in your calendar today. Then, after skimming the news so you know what's happening in the world, the clever tweets you have to squeeze in during lunch, and the time lost answering a random email or LinkedIn connection (catching breath) — we wonder, how are we getting anything high-priority done today?
As I tend to be tough on myself when I fall behind on important things, I am practicing what I call "proactive working, not reactive working" habits. Because there is simply too much to do, we must be more proactive and intentional than ever when planning our time. This way our work doesn't suffer, we can be more present and kind in how we respond to others, and we stay sharp and creative in our actual work.
Here are seven habits I have learned in my entrepreneurial career (and from great coaches like Mimi Duvall and Martha Ringer):
1. On Mondays, write down the few things that you MUST get done this week.
A trick of Sheryl Sandberg's – this requires you to step back from the weeds to channel your inner "CEO of self" and identify the work that only YOU can do and that will move the needle. Other items can be tasks that you'll knock out in two minutes of downtime, delegate, or push to "must get done next week."
2. Work out of your priorities list (ideally you have just one), NOT out of your email inbox (close all other screens/windows, please!).
That email inbox on your phone/computer screen is like crack. Once you check one, you just can't stop… or compulsive deleting kicks in. It can start in the morning and before you know it, it's time for bed. So minimize distractions by not even going there so you can focus on the things that you have deemed more important.
3. Block out time to answer emails only 2-3 times a day.
Still not convinced that you can minimize your email time? I am far from perfect on this one, but if we're always working out of the inbox, we're working reactively to non-priorities. Perhaps scan your email morning, lunch and late afternoon – answer what you can in an allotted time, and by all means, if something is priority, address it. Flexibility is key.
4. Schedule your seasons like a college semester.
Just like we used to plan everything around our classes in college, I have blocked out times and days for things like meetings and calls versus writing and reading. Some days have themes (e.g., Tuesdays are "team day" where we have important collaborative meetings and I try to give my team what they need to complete their goals). This way we're not constantly thrown off course. A 15-minute call in the middle of an hour block that you've designated for writing can really sidetrack your day.
5. Break the big projects into smaller chunks of work.
We procrastinate on what we feel are big and daunting projects, so break up the work into as many small pieces as you need to and tackle away until you feel like a superhero. Woohoo!
6. Try not to overthink. Just DO.
If you over-think, a 5-minute email could take 30. A few additional Powerpoint slides could take half a day. We tend to overthink when we feel insecure. So shift into a vibe that allows your inherent awesome instinct and abundant intelligence to do its natural work and just get it done. As the saying goes, "Done is better than perfect."
7. Celebrate what you ARE getting done.
At the end of each day or before you go to bed, reflect or journal what you DID get done and pat yourself on the back for an awesome day. Make "feeling awesome" your new crack!
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