The vast majority of people are surprised when the unexpected happens, become stressed out when the inevitable ‘issue’ arrives in their morning email and are always behind with their projects and tasks. Why is that?
A reactive state is not the normal state to be in. It is a result of our always-on, modern way of life. If we go back hundreds of thousands of years — when life was much simpler — when we began the day we had two objectives. To find food and survive. We might not know where we would get food from, but our planning was always based on being in, or near to, a place where there was likely to be food and water and be a safe place to rest. It’s how we survived and how we thrived.
Today, most people are no longer forward-thinking. They have become backward thinking. Always looking for excuses as to why they did not do something, missed a deadline or failed to achieve a milestone or goal. The difference today is that if we do not achieve our daily objectives the consequences are not big. Thousands of years ago if we did not meet our daily objectives, our very survival was on the line.
This reactive state has become the human default and yet it is not a natural state for us to be in. In our overly complex lives, we are living in an unnatural state and that causes stress, illness and a lot of unhappiness.
So how do we put ourselves back into our natural proactive state?
First, get organised. Now, this does not mean going through all your stuff and applying some Kon Marie tidying methodology. What is does mean is know where everything is. Instead of having all your documents in a multiple number of drives and cloud storage services, pick one, pay for the necessary amount of space and create a file structure system that you understand. Something as simple as “Work” and “Personal” will always work. The simpler the better. Then make sure you have access to this drive from all your devices.
Start using your calendar.
It amazes me how many people are not using their calendars effectively. Your calendar is your most powerful time management tool. You do not have to spend money on buying a calendar — a calendar app comes built into all computer operating systems whether it’s Google Calendar, Apple Calendar or Microsoft’s Outlook.
Your calendar will tell you where you need to be and when. Who you are meeting, for how long and when, and it tells you when you have free time. To-do list managers and fully-featured note-taking apps are never going to do that for you. So before you do anything else, get your calendar fixed first.
When you start using your calendar effectively you start to move towards the proactive scale of life. All you need do is spend ten to twenty minutes at the end of each day, look at your calendar for tomorrow and see where you need to be, what meetings you have and where you have free time. During this period you can schedule exercise time, meeting prep time, block off time so you can focus on work that needs doing and get a grasp of what you have going on tomorrow.
Doing this at the end of your day prepares you for tomorrow, puts you into a proactive state where you engage your subconscious mind to help develop creative ideas for getting your work done and reduces stress because you know what you are going to be doing and how you are going to get it done.
Now once you have your stuff organised and are using your calendar anything else you might use to help keep you organised is a bonus. Not everyone needs a to-do list manager or a highly complex digital notebook. Being in a proactive state is about knowing what you have to do when you are going to do it and making sure you are ready for anything being thrown at you. It does not mean you have a highly complex system of organising your projects, to-dos and notes. Often these complex systems are the cause of you being in a reactive state because you are spending far too much time maintaining these systems and not enough time doing the actual work.
Once you know what you have to do and when and how you are going to do it, when the unexpected does get thrown at you you can absorb it into your system. In a sense, you become like water. Neither over or under-reacting to sudden unexpected events. That’s what being in a proactive state means.
The mindset of a proactive person is simply being ready for tomorrow, today.
It’s about knowing when you finish today, you finish knowing where your food will come from and that where you stopped is safe from time predators and if you are unfortunate and a time predator does come along, you have sufficient resources available to deal with it effectively.
So keep the way you organise your work simple, give yourself ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan for tomorrow and make sure you use your calendar effectively. Do that, and you are well on your way to shifting yourself from a reactive to a proactive state.
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