The Working With… Podcast

How To Shift To A Proactive State, Anytime.

September 30, 2019

What state do you find yourself in most days? Reactive or proactive? That’s the topic of this week’s question on the Working With Podcast.


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Episode 102

Hello and welcome to episode 102 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we are talking about your state and the state you find yourself working in most days. This is not something I find a lot of people think about much. Instead, most people try to get through the day as best they can hoping to survive without having too many issues erupt. Yet, it does not really have to be like that and this week I will explain why.

But before we get to that…

Don’t forget, if you want to gain access to some of my shorter courses, you can on the Skillshare platform. 

If you are not familiar with Skillshare, Skillshare is a subscription-based learning centre where you pay a monthly subscription and have access to thousands of shortish courses. I learnt Adobe Indesign and iPhoneography on Skillshare a couple of years ago. It’s a fantastic place to learn about so many amazing things from coding, productivity, creativity and photography. It’s well worth a subscription. 

And, if you use the link in the show notes you can get yourself 2 months of FREE access to Skillshare’s classes. You could learn a lot in 2 months and by signing up using the link here, you help me too. Now that sounds like an awesome deal. 

So whatever it is you want to learn, Skillshare will have courses for you. Take a look and if you see something you like use the link in the show notes to get yourself two months of premium courses for free.

Okay It’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Rachael. Rachael asks, Hi Carl, I’m one of those people who reads everything they can about being more organised and efficient. The problem I have is I always feel I am behind and never on top of all my work and commitments. Is this normal or is there something I am not doing quite right? 

Hi Rachael, thank you for your question. 

I don’t think you are doing anything wrong at all. What is likely to be happening is you are finding out that no matter what you do, the work, commitments, decisions and interruptions never stop. That’s just the world we live in today. There’s always something else. I say “the world we live in today”, but in reality, all these commitments, decisions and interruptions have always been there. The difference today is it is difficult to compartmentalise them. 

What I mean by that is before we were connected to the always-on world via our smartphones, tablets and laptops, work email could only be dealt with when we were at the office, so when we left the office for the day, that was it. Work was over and we could turn our attention to our personal lives. That does not happen today. Instead, today we are exposed to a constant stream of notifications, interruptions, news and requests and unless you set yourself some barriers, you will feel stressed out, over-worked and out of control. 

If you do feel you are always behind, that is often a symptom of not being fully aware of the big picture of what’s going on in your world. One of the biggest benefits of taking some time each week to step back and really look at what you have going on in your life is you get to see where you are on the journey. How you are doing with the projects you are committed to at work and in your own personal life and how you are doing with your goals and objectives. This is what most people are not doing but if you are not doing that, how are you measuring your progress? How do you know where you are? Who’s controlling the timeline of your life? You or the many people you connect with personally and professionally? 

Without that knowledge—knowing where you are with your projects and goals—then you will not be making the right decisions about what to work on next. You will be working on the things that are the loudest and most urgent, and all that does is create more loud and urgent tasks coming your way every day because you are reacting to the work rather than making intelligent decisions about the work you do each day in a proactive way. 

Let me give you an example of this:

A reactive person waits for urgent email before taking action. The belief here is if it’s out of mind it’s out of sight. Now that may well be true, but while it is out of sight it is growing into a monster of a problem to deal with. Instead of a regular check-in on a project to make sure it is moving in the right direction and the right work is getting done, which would take five to ten minutes, you wait for the loud, urgent email screaming at you about how the customer is very unhappy because they are still waiting for their order to arrive. Now not only do you have to expedite the order—often costing a lot more money than had you processed the order in the normal way—you also have to deal with an angry customer, (and when you call them to explain, they can talk for a very long time) get everybody on your team working on this one crisis and your stress levels increase massively. 

In all, what could have taken a few minutes two or three times a week, has caused you and the entirety of your team to lose a whole morning, rushing around dealing with a crisis that could have been averted and creating more little monsters because you did not have time to check those. It becomes a vicious circle. You deal with one crisis and another appears and on it goes.

Instead, if you shift to a more proactive state, you make sure you are aware of what is going on within all your open projects. Problem projects are carefully monitored and potential crises anticipated and steps are taken to minimise their impact on your work. This shift in state does not take a lot of work or time, and when it is done consistently, it will save you a huge amount of time because you will have a lot fewer crises to deal with. 

So how do you make this shift in state? How do you go from being in a reactive state to a proactive state? 

Well, the first step is to get yourself organised. You need to know where everything is so you can access whatever you need when you need it quickly. If you are using multiple filing systems you are creating monsters. You won’t remember where everything is. Ideally, have one single storage system. Where possible use a cloud storage service such as Google Drive, Apple iCloud or Microsoft OneDrive. If your company insists you use their storage system that’s okay. All your work-related files, documents and or digital stuff goes there. You can then have a personal storage system for your personal stuff. 

Next up, start using your calendar properly. Make sure the calendar view you have contains all your commitments professional and personal. It is not very smart to try and run two entirely different calendars in the hope of creating a fictional separation of your work and personal life. You need to see your commitments and events for the whole day in one place. That way you will know if you will have the energy to perform all your commitments all day. If you see on your calendar that you are doing a workshop all day and you are the trainer, in the evening you plan to do two hours of cross-fit, you may find that you are asking a little too much of your body for one day. Instead, you could decide to drop the two-hour cross-fit session and do a one hour walk with your partner instead. The two-hour cross-fit session can be done on a different day in the week. Being in a proactive state allows you to see this kind of conflicts before they happen so you can take steps to reduce their impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Finally, do a process and review session before you close down the day. Process all the things you have collected that day, get them put into their rightful place and then review what you have scheduled and planned for tomorrow. Once you have done that, step back, relax and breathe. You know what you have to perform tomorrow, you know you have the time and you have the built-in flexibility to manage the unknown that will inevitably come up. 

How much time does it take to keep yourself in a proactive state? About thirty minutes each day. That’s all it takes. 

Those thirty minutes allow you enough time to review the important things, prevent little issues growing into uncontrollable monsters and helps you to stay focused on the important things—the things that will move you forward on your projects and your goals. Those thirty minutes allow you to stay in control of your time. 

It’s not difficult. But just having the knowledge is not enough. You have to commit yourself to make this a daily habit. It is like when on a diet, you know eating the bowel of carrots will help you to lose weight, but you eat the chocolate cake instead. You will never lose weight that way. You know that, but people still eat the chocolate cake. Knowing is not enough. You have to use that knowledge to make better decisions and take action.

I hope that has helped, Rachael. Thank you so much for your question.

And thank you to you too for listening. This podcast is for you and I hope you are getting a lot from it. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering, then just get in touch either by email, or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.