Learning how to become a proactive person is one of the hardest workplace skills to acquire. Unlike with productivity or time management, there’s no online tool that can help you anticipate problems before they arise. Instead, being proactive is a matter of intuition and outlook that takes time and experience to develop.
One you’re there, however, proactivity is a huge productivity boost. By making preparations before problems become apparent, you’ll save time and avoid all kinds of difficulties. On a related note, a proven record of proactivity will help you stand out and secure promotions in just about any business.
To that end, here are a few steps you can take to become more proactive in your workday. However, there are no easy tricks or simple solutions. Instead, remain patient, and try to incorporate these tips into your routine over time.
It’s impossible to worry about the future if you don’t have your life in order. The first challenge in learning how to become a proactive person is getting organized. By taking simple measures to organize your daily life, you’ll be able to predict future issues with ease.
Before you do anything else, understand what you’re working for. Making long-term plans will help motivate you in your daily work day. Ultimately, it’s this sense of motivation that will drive your proactive mindset.
Ideally, your goal should be something that you can achieve within a realistic timeframe. “Retire before I’m 60” is a great ideal to shoot for, but it might be hard to apply that drive to your daily life. Instead, work toward promotions, vacations, and other goals that you can meet within a couple of years.
Once you have a long-term goal, it’s time to start setting smaller daily goals for yourself. Simple, easily-achievable milestones will give you the motivation you need to remain alert and satisfied throughout the day. Don’t neglect social accomplishments either: “I’m going to do something nice for a coworker” is a great daily goal.
Just as important as motivation is organization. If you’re going to work ahead and develop a proactive mindset, you’ll need to meet your current deadlines. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to help you develop this skill.
The best way to get better at deadlines is to plan ahead. Figure out how fast you can work without feeling miserable and plan your projects around that. Break larger tasks into smaller parts, and don’t hesitate to work ahead if you get a good opportunity. Above all, avoid turning any important project in before getting a second opinion on your work and revising as necessary.
Once you’ve started hitting your goals and deadlines consistently, it’s time to start working ahead. This is the trickiest element of learning how to become a proactive person: understanding how to prioritize and assess difficult situations. Fortunately, there are a few approaches that, once adopted, will make the process much easier.
Many times, getting ahead is simply about being in the right place at the right time. Even the most brilliant executives and entrepreneurs benefit from circumstances. Wondering how to become a proactive person in this regard? The trick is putting yourself in a situation where you can notice and respond to positive events as they arise.
That means keeping a close eye on your professional contacts. If you hear that a new method or tool is working out for someone else, don’t just listen to them. Research it on your own and try to incorporate it into your work. The same goes for new openings in new businesses and sectors—you won’t apply to every startup, but you’ll be able to take advantage of truly great opportunities as they arise.
Finally, never pass up on the chance to learn a skill relevant to your trade. It can be tempting to let specialized tasks fall to the same people every time. Instead, ask around your office for help with areas that you’re unfamiliar with.
By doing so, you’ll be able to predict potential problems and opportunities arising from those areas in the future. As a bonus, having experience in specialized skills will be highly attractive to future employers.
The other side to evaluating opportunities is evaluating risks. This is especially relevant to project managers who have a lot of freedom in how they go about their business, but everyone in a business takes risks. Being able to weigh those risks against the advantages they represent is the mark of a proactive person.
The most obvious example here is any kind of financial investment. However, the same logic also applies to projects that represent a time investment. Even if taking on a new project doesn’t “cost” you anything, the time you or other employees spend on that project presents a risk. Consider carefully if that isn’t time that would be better spent elsewhere.
Of course, that’s not to say you should never take on risky projects or ventures. On the contrary: many of the greatest success stories are built on taking responsible risks. The key, however, is to be aware of what you stand to lose before you commit your resources. If a project seems unlikely to pan out, it might be best to cut your losses and reassign the individuals working on it elsewhere.
Finally, a lot of being proactive is learning which tasks are most important. Completing important projects early will give you more time to react to complications that arise, allowing you to make the most difficult deadlines. In extreme circumstances, this can even mean missing unimportant projects in order to get a head start on more important work.
Similarly, it’s important to focus on work that will actually help you grow as a person. You aren’t going to be working at the same company forever, and you’ll need new skills when you go back on the job market.
Once you’ve gotten good at opportunity and risk assessment, you’re well on your way to learning how to become a proactive person. Now all that’s left is to capitalize on the skills you’ve learned by applying them in your daily life. There are a few different ways to do so.
As you gain experience in your field, it’ll be easier to start finding times to get a head start on projects. For example, advertising firms who’ve been around for a while know how to develop mockups before they receive details from clients. The same applies to technology companies, which often begin development on solutions to issues that seem as though they’ll be widespread in the future.
Applying this mindset to future problems is difficult, but extremely rewarding. Keep in mind, however, that any work done in anticipation of a future circumstance involves a component of risk. Preparing for situations that never come to pass is a huge waste of time that could be spent making actual profits.
For that reason, it’s almost always a good idea to invest early in problems that consistently plague every business. For example, just about every company at some point experiences a surge in new hires and a lack of people available to train them. By starting early on a training plan, you can save time and avoid stress down the road.
The same goes for corporate policies. Upper-level managers should review the policies in their area on a frequent basis, looking for ways to revise them in response to new developments. Even lower-level employees can and should take note of policies that seem antiquated or likely to need revision. By diplomatically bringing those problems to the attention of higher management, you’ll mark yourself as an intelligent and self-motivated employee suited for a higher role.
Ultimately, proactive skills aren’t that helpful if you keep them to yourself. Instead, take an active role in guiding employees in your workplace. Don’t be afraid to offer advice on projects and tasks undertaken by your coworkers, even superiors. Good managers will quickly come to appreciate employees with foresight and a proactive mindset.
Of course, you have to be careful not to take it too far. Nobody appreciates a micro-manager, and it’s important to fulfill your own obligations before taking on those of others.
The best way to be taken seriously and to avoid condescension is to be specific. Explain that you’ve been in the situation that your coworker is in before, and that you dealt with it in a specific way.
Once you’ve learned how to become a proactive person, it’s time to reap the rewards. By that I don’t mean promotions or praise within your workplace (although those are more likely for proactive people). Instead, I’m talking about the fulfillment of living a proactive lifestyle at work and at home.
Once you get used to working ahead, you’ll quickly find that you have a more regular schedule. Although you might work just as much or more than before, planning ahead will enable you to achieve consistency in your monthly routine. So don’t hesitate to take advantage of that consistency by planning around it.
For example, one of the best ways to use consistent blocks of free time is daily exercise. The gym industry is experiencing a boom right now, and it should be easy to find one that’s open when you’re least busy.
By getting into a healthy workout routine, you’ll feel better, and have more energy during the working day.
Finally, don’t be afraid to cut loose a little bit. There’s no sense in learning how to become a proactive person if it doesn’t allow you to lead a happier, more fulfilled life.
There’s a stereotype that proactive, driven people live to work, but that isn’t necessarily true. It’s also not very healthy. Knowing when to take time for yourself is an essential part to both being a good employee and, more importantly, a happy person.
Countless studies have shown that regular vacations improve both morale and overall productivity. They also make great medium-term goals, and ways of rewarding yourself for hard work. So plan ahead, and take advantage of your newly consistent schedule to plot out your vacations far in advance.
Similarly, you can find ways to relax in the midst of your daily routine. Taking the occasional five to fifteen-minute break to walk or meditate can help you refocus and de-stress. Likewise, try to socialize with your coworkers throughout the day. While it’s clearly possible to overdo it, a network of healthy office relationships can make your day to day life that much more enjoyable.
Finally, don’t neglect your health. In addition to regular exercise, it’s important to find time to eat healthy and keep up regular doctor’s appointments.
In other words, you should try to be as proactive when it comes to your health as you are at work. The exact same skills apply in both areas: avoid pointless risks and try to tackle problems before they become unsolvable.
If you’re still wondering how to become a proactive person, don’t worry. More than anything else, proactivity is a matter of taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. If you adopt a consistent, responsive approach to your daily work, you’ll find yourself getting ahead slowly over time.
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LAWYER & ONLINE ENTREPRENEUR
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.