Thursday, April 5, 2012

Be More Proactive Using These Four Tips

"Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!" - Proverbs 14:23

Earlier this week, I had a lively discussion with a co-worker about how she was managing a project I'm involved in. It started, for me, with some ambiguities in her reports. In an effort to seek clarification, I asked her a series of questions both during and after her presentation in hopes of understanding the big picture. Somewhere in the discussion, she turned my lack of understanding back on me. "You're late!" she explained. "You have had opportunities to insert your authority but let those opportunities pass you by. I'm not going to wait for you to get it together because I have work to do and value to create."

The conversation lasted about an hour and it involved plenty of verbal arm wrestling. My goal was to uncover the "secret recipe" and better understand the rules of engagement for the project she's leading. Her goal, based on the conversation, was to get stuff done by any means necessary, even if that meant taking advantage of people's passive behavior. Not that I'm against that tactic, I just wanted her to verbalize the strategy be open about it.

By the end of our discussion, my mind raced over the conversation. Specifically, I replayed those comments that seemed to attack my actions (or in her case, my inactivity). Was she right about me? Does she see something in me that I don't or have I failed to acknowledge my own weaknesses?

Given a day to ponder over the details, I concluded that we weren't at odds with one another. In fact, her tactic is one that I've adopted many times in both my career and personal life. My line of questioning wasn't to disagree, but to understand. I imagine that she took it as an attack and retaliated with some well placed defensive shots. Many of those shots were misses and a valiant effort to ward off my passionate inquiry. However, there were a couple of comments that highlighted a known weakness. Some call it passivity, I call it procrastination. Whatever you call it, the solution in my mind is being proactive with a focus on achieving results.

How To Be More Proactive

In the following section, I share some tips on developing a proactive habit and a tool to help track your achievements.

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.

Note: These tips were first mentioned in Be Proactive And Take Control Of Your Life.

Follow Your Achievements With iDoneThis
It's good to think about your upcoming tasks, but the secret for success falls under your ability to actually complete them. 

Just over a year ago, I found a service named iDoneThis. The free web-based tool provides a place to list all of your daily accomplishments and then uses those achievements to inspire you. At the very least, iDoneThis is an excuse to evaluate the productivity of your day. Are you doing busy work or completing meaningful tasks?

Recently, the company rolled out a shared list that you and your team can use. I have one for my  web developers and another one for people trying to complete their dissertation. It's been helpful.

To get more information about iDoneThis or sign up for a free personal account, follow this link.

Closing Thought

What initially started out as a lively discussion about process turned into an opportunity for exploring my own weaknesses. As much as I hate to admit it, arguments, complaints, and personal attacks are often valuable ways to identify areas of improvements. In this article, we looked at ways to create a proactive habit and track daily achievements.

In the comment section below, I would love to hear your story. How do you stay proactive in your life? What tools do you use?

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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