Why being proactive matters + 20 ideas on how to be proactive at work

Zane Franke 21.10.2022
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Being proactive is one of the best ways to improve your work life. But how to actually achieve it? In this article, we’ll look at what proactivity means, why being proactive is important, and provide some examples of how to be proactive at work.

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What does being proactive mean?

In order to better understand the meaning of proactivity, we also have to talk about its opposite — reactivity. In any context, being proactive means initiating an action in anticipation of future outcomes. In contrast, being reactive means dealing with the consequences of a situation in the aftermath of it. 

Proactivity over reactivity is considered a superior way to make decisions in many aspects of life. For example, a lot of people take a proactive approach when it comes to their health by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, or getting enough sleep in order to avoid health issues. A reactive approach to health would be making these decisions after some health issues have already appeared in an attempt to deal with the symptoms of an illness.

Why being proactive at work matters

Proactivity at work facilitates preparedness and confidence to take control of an anticipated situation. We can’t, of course, predict the future and always know what circumstances will occur, but we can, however, take active steps to avoid an unwanted outcome.

A man on a balancing board

Even if something distressing happens, having a proactive attitude enables us to make decisions in a mindful, well-informed way and grow from those experiences, rather than scrambling to put out unexpected fires.

Moreover, proactive people have a goal-oriented mindset that focuses on actions beneficial in the long run. In this way, work life can be less stressful and less likely to contribute to employee burnout

20 ideas on how to be proactive at work

We have put together twenty examples of how to implement proactivity at work that will help you improve your performance at work. Let’s take a look:

1. Respond promptly

An inbox full of unanswered emails that are awaiting your attention is a recipe for disaster for a multitude of reasons. Answering emails in a timely manner builds long-term trust between people working together and lets them know you value and respect their time.

2. Keep others in the loop

a meeting at work

But what to do if you can’t give a proper response right away? Even if you can’t answer immediately, it is valuable to keep people in the loop on where things are on your end. Awaiting a response can be stressful for many people, so in this way, others feel included in the process and can better plan their schedule while waiting for your response. 

3. Plan on checking in 

Perhaps you are the person who always responds in time, but successful communication goes both ways and you have to be proactive in the absence of it.

If there is an important deadline and you find yourself in a position of making a change, plan on checking in on others and making sure they are on top of completing their tasks in time. For example, instead of being frustrated about not getting any progress updates from others and potentially missing a deadline, check in and make sure whoever you are waiting on doesn’t have too much on their plate and they are still capable of delivering the results. If they do, you can act proactively and reassign the tasks to someone else who might have more time or resources.

4. Anticipate needing extra time before a deadline

The days leading up to a deadline can be overwhelming, so a proactive way of preparing for that period is scheduling extra time for completing last-minute tasks. Another thing you can do is letting others know when you will not be as available or responsive as you normally would be. Your future self will thank you for blocking off your calendar to prioritize meeting that deadline.

5. Ask for feedback

colleagues talking at work

Most people are willing to receive insightful feedback, but it takes a lot more to ask for it. When you receive unanticipated feedback, it can feel discouraging and make you question your job performance. A proactive way of going about feedback is actually asking for it and showing that you are eager to improve and willing to make the necessary changes.

6. Strive to improve your work process

Speaking of improvement, another way to be more proactive at work is to look for ways to advance your work process. It is important to understand how you spend your time at work and find ways to maximize your resources. It can, however, be difficult to measure it manually, so time tracking apps, such as DeskTime, come in handy.

7. Participate and ask questions

Staying informed and continuing to participate in the work of your company can contribute to your long-term success. If you want to be more proactive, don’t be afraid to actively participate in meetings, share ideas, and ask questions. 

8. Establish a routine

A good routine can help minimize stress and provide structure to your work day. While you can’t avoid uncertain situations, a well-established routine can be a useful way to stay in control of at least some parts of your day and master efficiency of completing the less important tasks. 

9. Manage your energy and time

a woman meditating

Proactively managing your energy and time will be a helpful strategy in order to create an effective routine. Determining when to tackle tasks that require deep work, or finding rituals that help you stay energized will be a game-changer.

10. Set long-term goals

Being proactive is all about long-term investment, including setting goals. The art of setting attainable long-term goals is about determining how to measure success, track progress, and break them down into multiple short-term goals. 

11. Create a realistic to-do list

Achieving long-term goals would be nothing without breaking them down into “bite-size” pieces. Getting into the habit of starting your day with creating a to-do list or ending it with creating one for the next day will help you anticipate what’s ahead and clearly visualize your tasks.

12. Prioritize tasks

writing a to-do list

Once you have a to-do list, prioritizing which tasks are more urgent than others will help you further structurize your work day and get to the most crucial items first. And the more you do it, the better you will get at estimating how much time certain tasks take. 

13. Manage your calendar

Similarly to a to-do list, a digital calendar can serve as a tool to be more proactive. Utilizing a calendar as a means for effective scheduling is a great way to see all of your meetings and events in one place and minimize chaos. 

14. Minimize trivial decisions

Thinking about what to eat for lunch that’s coming up in a few hours or choosing what to wear for the day can significantly impact your ability to focus on urgent tasks. Too many trivial decisions can lead to decision fatigue and take valuable time away from what matters more in the moment.

15. Be self-aware

self-aware smiling person

Ask yourself these questions – what are my strengths and how do I utilize those skills even more efficiently? What are my weaknesses and how do I improve them and the way I operate? Being aware of what you’re naturally good at and finding ways to improve your shortcomings can be helpful when it comes to taking proactive steps toward a better work life.

16. Be open to challenges

Taking on projects that are intimidating or you have less experience with can boost your ability to be flexible and deal with change. It can also give you an opportunity to develop new skills that can help you advance and be more prepared to deal with different challenges.

17. Prepare for problems

The essence of proactivity lies in the expectation of problems and addressing them as far in advance as possible. Therefore, being prepared to deal with problems and identifying strategies of how to mitigate the impact of them beforehand can go a long way. 

18. Know your limits 

sad person

Be aware of your abilities and how much work you can take on. Committing to more than you can handle can lead to missing deadlines and negatively impact your work performance. Communicate your abilities to your supervisors if you are getting assigned too much work, otherwise having too many commitments will negatively impact your ability to be proactive.

19. Learn about others

Not everyone on your team will perform equally, so learning on how to communicate with others on an individual level can really step up your proactivity game. If you understand the way others work on tasks, deal with deadlines, or solve problems, identifying how to overcome obstacles becomes much easier.

20. Be confident

Lastly, believe in your ability to deal with situations proactively. You can try to utilize all the strategies discussed above, but there won’t be much success unless you are confident in yourself. 

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Failure makes room for growth

There will not always be an opportunity to be proactive, and sometimes it is better to solve problems in a reactive way. While the consensus is that a proactive way is the most sensible way, work life can often be unpredictable. If a failure occurs, don’t panic, see it as an opportunity to learn from it and alter your behavior accordingly.

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