Back in my cubicle days, I was introduced to the Franklin Covey planning system. As I tried to embrace this system of time management and setting priorities, I read “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In it Stephen Covey identifies two types of tasks – proactive and reactive. The difference between these types of tasks, he says, is crucial to how we set priorities. In order to run a business or organization smoothly, you need a mix of proactive and reactive tasks in your daily list of things to do. Over ten years later, I still try to set my tasks in terms of priority. It isn’t always easy to balance out proactive and reactive tasks, but it is important to be sure to make progress for long term success. I’m still mastering this idea for my own business and it made so much sense, I had to share it with you.
Proactive tasks are those that relate to your bigger goals. These are things that don’t bring immediate results but rather long-term benefits for your business. Tasks like seeking out business opportunities, helping a colleague, updating your website, or posting content on social media. These are tasks you do regardless of outside circumstances or pressures.
Reactive tasks are routine tasks that are essential. They’re necessary for the smooth and efficient running of your business. They may be things you do for clients. They don’t bring long-term results, but they get the work done that likely results in payments to you.
To state it as simply as possible, proactive tasks are those you want to do. Reactive tasks are those that other people want you to do, or that are required for your business. Reactive tasks come from outside of you.
Why It Matters
The reason it’s important to consider proactive vs. reactive tasks is that both are needed. You need the long-term benefits proactive tasks bring as well as the reactive tasks’ daily running of your operations. But when we get busy, the proactive tasks often get forgotten, and then their long-term benefits disappear.
Unlike reactive tasks, there are no negative consequences to not completing proactive tasks (at least not now). If you don’t seek out any new business opportunities this week, you’re not going to have an angry client or any other immediate problems as a result. Proactive tasks are easy to procrastinate because they don’t feel urgent. They also require more critical thinking, which may make them challenging.
Getting It All Done
When we make prioritized lists, we often list items based on urgency or negative consequences. Tasks that are urgent or that will cause negative consequences if not done usually go at the top. But since proactive tasks don’t fit this category, they often get forgotten.
So, it’s important to identify which tasks are proactive and which are reactive, and to make sure the proactive tasks are in your daily to-do lists. No matter how urgent certain tasks are, make sure that you devote some time each day to things that bring you long-term results. Sometimes I fall into this constant ‘fire-fight’ of doing urgent reactive tasks for weeks on end. Then my blog suffers or my sales pipeline starts to dry up. It isn’t a good feeling at all. Sometimes it can be a matter of procrastination. A common problem for entrepreneurs and business owners. But that’s a blog post for another day …
I know it can be a struggle, but when you make some time for proactive tasks, the payoff is always huge. At the end of it, there’s always a feeling of satisfaction as we take care of the immediate needs of our customers while making plans to keep our business flourishing in the future.