Do you wait for things to happen . . . or do you make things happen?
Do you find yourself stalling for the “right” time to take action. . . or do you make “now” the perfect time?
Do you always find yourself one or more steps behind. . . or comfortably ahead?
Whether we’re talking about your personal life, your career, or your current job, one of the most overlooked keys to success is your degree of “proactivity,” which can help you get ahead of all the barriers, obstacles, and challenges that stand in the way of making things happen.
- Ineffective Time Management and Prioritization: You have just too much on your plate to do, so little time, and no idea where to start.
- Priorities: With so much on your plate, where do you even start?
- Lack of Focus: Trying to juggle too much at once, you lose your concentration.
- Procrastination: There are so many other things you’d rather be doing.
- Perfectionism: Waiting for everything to be “exactly right” and for the stars to be in alignment before taking action.
- Fear, Doubt, and/or Lack of Confidence: What if you do the wrong thing . . . or the right thing the wrong way?
- Waiting for Lightning to Strike or for the Muse to Come: A nice way of saying you’re waiting for a kick in the pants.
So what is the impact of all these constraints? Things don’t get done. Or at least the most urgent and important things don’t get done. But if you look at this list, what is the one thing that all these reasons have in common? They are all INTERNAL, and therefore all within our control.
Above is the simple-but-powerful model that we call “The 5 Levels of Proactivity”; it can help you take control by being more proactive. If you take a look at the model, working our way from the bottom up:
Level 1: INACTIVE. At this level, something happens, something is needed. . . and you do nothing. Absolutely nada. Zero. Zilch. For one of the reasons above, you take no action at all. Maybe the problem or request will just go away by itself. But probably not.
Level 2: REACTIVE. At this level, something is needed, and you respond. This is actually a good thing! So congratulations — you’ve put out the fire. The only problem is if you are constantly reacting, you are always at least a step behind. After a while, as the speed of needs and expectations increases, you may fall so far behind that you are unable to catch up. And then people are constantly waiting for you, getting frustrated and impatient . . . until they decide to look elsewhere for what they need.
Level 3: ACTIVE. When you are at this level, you are keeping up with demand, giving people what they want and need, when they need it, and meeting expectations. Things are going well. You are keeping up with the pace…. The only problem is that when you are just keeping pace, you are not getting ahead. And without that, there is no growth.
Level 4: PROACTIVE. Now we’re getting somewhere! At this level you are not only keeping up with the pace, but setting the pace and staying a step ahead. You are not just putting out fires, you’re preventing them. You are not just meeting expectations, you’re exceeding them. Anticipating others’ needs and expectations, you are thinking on your feet, doing your homework, looking down the road, putting yourself in the shoes of your customers, fostering an environment of growth and development for yourself and others . . . and taking action. Remember that the root word of “pro-act-ivity” is “act” – and you are ready and willing (and excited) to ACT!
Level 5: SUPER-PROACTIVE. Now you are leading! With a vision of the future, you are thinking not just one step ahead, but many steps ahead. This is where innovation happens, this is where paradigms shift, this is how you drive change and blow people away. This is where you develop your reputation as a guru, or as the go-to person for things. The leaders of the future are those who are able to meet the demands of today while consistently anticipating and exceeding the needs of tomorrow. You anticipate what people want and need before they even realize it. As the management guru Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
That’s the model in a nutshell. Now let’s bring it to life with a real-life example: Let’s say it’s February and you decide you want to get in shape for the summer.
If you’re INACTIVE, you don’t do anything about it. You procrastinate, you say, “It’s only February. . . . I can wait a few months to get started. But didn’t you just “decide” you were going to take action? That reminds me of the old riddle: There are five frogs sitting on a log, and one decides to jump in the water. How many frogs are now sitting on the log? The answer: Still five. One “decided” to jump in, but he didn’t actually DO it. It’s the “doing,” not the “deciding” that counts.
If you’re REACTIVE, you’ll work out if someone else drags you along to the gym, or you’ll eat better if someone else shops for healthier food, but you are not taking responsibility or driving the changes in behavior necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
If you’re ACTIVE, you’ll get off the couch and work out if the mood hits you, and you’ll have an occasional low-cal fruit juice or water rather than a soda. And you’ll replace that Big Mac with a salad. Your intentions are good, you’re taking baby steps, and you’re trying, but it’s sporadic and undisciplined, and you don’t really have a plan.
When you’re PROACTIVE, you make a plan. . . a structured, formalized, written plan, and you stick to it. You put a process in place and set a quantifiable goal of working out x days a week — no excuses. Your diet plan includes the sacrifices you’re willing to make. And you keep those commitments without fail. You follow through and you follow up. You make real behavior changes and track the results, with no excuses and no exceptions.
And what would being SUPER-PROACTIVE look like? It’s about having a longer-term time horizon and thinking steps ahead. It’s about imagining the possibilities and anticipating potential obstacles that may arise down the road. Perhaps thinking and planning beyond this summer, into the fall, winter, spring, and maybe even into next summer. Keeping the big picture and a vision of the future in mind.
So that’s just one example. How might YOU use this model to be more proactive in your personal life? To be less stressed? More productive? Happier? To take charge of your career? To get more things done? To impress your boss, or to better serve your (internal and external) customers?
It’s not easy, but the good news is that the decision to be more proactive is entirely up to you and completely within your control. And it’s never too late to get started. As Confucius said, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best time is today.”
And while being more proactive (and super-proactive) may involve making some radical changes and taking some risks, sometimes we just have to decide to go out on a limb . . .because that’s where the fruit is.
Next month, we’ll talk about some innovative ways to enhance your proactivity.