Reactive versus responsive

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 1st May 2017

Because so much of our work is driven by emails and other ‘instant’ communication tools, we now operate in a business environment where urgency and reactivity have become the default. This can keep many of my clients from getting to their most impactful work, so a lot of my time is spent helping people work more proactively – helping them to resist the urge to react every time a new piece of potential work shows up.  That’s why I recommend people turn off their email alerts and get into the habit of checking their emails proactively instead.

But turning off your alerts is not enough.  I believe it’s all about having a RESPONSIVE mindset, as opposed to a REACTIVE mindset.  I believe that a responsive mindset is much more productive.  So what’s the difference?  I reckon having a responsive mindset signifies a more balanced, timely and thoughtful approach to incoming work.  It’s about being importance-driven vs urgency-driven.  It’s measured vs knee-jerk.

Not everything should be classified as urgent.  Emergencies are urgent.  Catastrophes are urgent.  But what we determine is urgent should be the exception in today’s workplace, not the norm.  Way too often I see clients putting off their important work because of whatever drama has just shown up in their inbox.

The urge to react is in our DNA, from the days when we were cave men and woman. Fight or flight is what we were designed to do.  But now that we have taken off the loin clothes and put on the business suits, we need a more measured approach to work.  Our worlds are much more complex, and contain way too many inputs to allow reactivity to rule.  If reactivity rules we end up stressed, unfocused and ultimately unproductive.

Adopting a responsive mindset puts your priorities centre-stage, rather than getting caught up in less meaningful work.  Here are a few strategies you can implement to avoid unnecessary urgency:

  • Resist the temptation to jump every time something ‘urgent’ shows up.  Don’t accept urgency as the norm. Always question it. Is it actually urgent for you?
  • Measure the new input against what you are currently doing, or had planned to do. Remember, every time you say YES to something, you are saying NO to something else.
  • Consider this: Do you want every single working moment of your life to be driven by whatever email has just turned up in your inbox?  For most people, this is NOT the pathway to productivity.
  • Think of your Inbox as an organising system for everyone else’s priorities. Counterbalance this by using your daily plan as the organising system for your priorities. Balance your time across both.
  • Fight for your priorities and learn to negotiate with others.  Being assertive doesn’t mean you’re not a team player.  It simply shows that you are clear about your priorities and are willing to stand up for them.

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