Monday, February 21, 2011

Be Proactive And Take Control Of Your Life

Photo by tpower1978
Proactive defined: "serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one; to initiate change rather than reacting to events."

In both our professional and personal lives, people tend to fight over control. It might be control over how something is done, when it gets completed, or whom is responsible. If control is something you struggle with, I would like to share a few ideas on how to be more proactive and ultimately take command over your own life.

The Problem With Passivity
The act of being passive means that one waits for something or someone to inspire change. As it relates to control, being passive often leads to a loss of command over an issue or situation. For someone trying to master their life, being passive is definitely not a recommended strategy.

The problem with passivity is that one relies too much on others for personal and professional success. Allowing others to decide your fate in the office or at home means the outcome is the result of their planning, not yours. Later, when things don't turn out right, it becomes an uphill battle to change what has already been established.

Another problem with passivity is that it places you on the defensive. Imagine a game of tennis. You are on one side of the court and your opponent is on the other shooting balls in rapid succession. In order to keep up, you run back and forth returning the volley. Just as you hit the ball, another one immediately races toward you. This game is designed to keep you busy while your opponent stays rested.

Waiting for someone to shoot balls at you is a poor strategy. It means that you are always running around trying to put out fires without the time to plan ahead.

What are the priorities? What tasks or issues, once solved, will provide for a greater return on investment? When you get time to decide these answers, you ultimately get to drive the process. It is the difference between driving a car and riding in one. As a driver, you get to decide where the car goes. As a passenger, you have little to no control.

Tips For Developing A Proactive Habit
Now that you understand the problem with passivity, let's look at some ways to get out of the passenger's seat and behind the wheel.

Act decisively 
If you are currently in the passenger's seat, one of the first things you can do to take control over a situation is to make a decision. Proactive people make decisions.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter if the initial decision is right or wrong but rather that a decision was made. Remember, even the smartest people make mistakes so don't be afraid to step up and insert yourself. If you are wrong, admit it and adjust.

Lesson: To take control over a situation, start by making a decision.

Act now
If you see a problem or injustice, don't wait to address it later, act now. Not every problem requires your personal attention. Often, you can delegate this task to someone more qualified than you, but failure to act on a problem means the solution will most assuredly be outside your control. It is better to address an issue when you see it versus waiting for someone else to call attention to it.

Lesson: If you wait until someone tells you what to do, you have already lost control.

Stay organized
Once you have identified the problem and delegated the task, it is important to follow up regularly. One of the easiest ways to stay organized is through the use of a calendar. By adding important items to your schedule, you remind yourself to follow up. Allowing the problem to go unnoticed or unsolved for too long can be the difference between driving or riding.

Lesson: Use a calendar to remind yourself to follow up on issues.

Think ahead
Once you have taken control of the situation, you should now have time to get in front of other problems before they happen. I call this thinking ahead.

Thinking ahead requires an active mind that seeks to improve processes and correct that which is broken. While everything cannot be done at the same time, thinking ahead provides an opportunity to prioritize what is most important before someone else does it for you.

Lesson: Stay in front of the problem. Once it gets past you, someone else may end up taking the reigns.

Hopefully, these few ideas will help you take command over your life and its situations. If you have other ideas, please feel free to let me know.

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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