Setting Your Priorities Effectively: Proactive vs. Reactive Tasks

Are you completing your proactive tasks?

It wasn’t until college that I learned the importance of setting priorities.

You see, I joined ROTC. Why? Because I wanted to ride in a helicopter!

Well, after I rode in the helicopter, and had to take the class, I realized that I wasn’t making very good choices. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

My priorities were not appropriate, because everything they asked me to do, my response was “no, I don’t do that.” As a result, at the end of that year, I was rated at the bottom of my class by my peers.

Well, as you can imagine, that hurt my feelings! I met with one of our senior leaders and he simply told me that my priorities weren’t aligned and I wasn’t following through on my tasks.

At that point I made a decision to use my leadership in the right way. And the next year I went from being the last cadet to the number one cadet!

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 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.

Once I realized the difference, I was much more effective in setting my priorities and completing tasks. To run a business or organization smoothly, you need a mix of proactive and reactive tasks in your daily list of things to do.

Proactive tasks are those that relate to the big picture. These are things that don’t bring immediate results but rather long-term benefits, such as seeking out business opportunities, offering to help a colleague, updating your website, or posting content for your blog. These are tasks you do regardless of outside circumstances or pressures.

Reactive tasks are regular or routine tasks that need to be done. They’re necessary for the smooth and efficient running of your business. They may be things you do for clients or customers. They don’t bring long-term results, but they get the routine work done.

Let me put it this way, proactive tasks are those you want to do. Reactive tasks are those that other people want you to do, or that your business requires you to do. Reactive tasks come from outside of you.

Tt’s important to consider proactive vs. reactive tasks because 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, many times the proactive tasks are forgotten, and then their long-term benefits disappear.

Unlike reactive tasks, there are no immediate negative consequences to not completing proactive tasks.

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.

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.

Are you completing your proactive tasks?

Your friend,

Dr. Kim Moore, guiding YOU to lead with confidence!

Dr. Kim Moore

Kim d. moore

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