For most of my adult life, I have been in a position that was far more reactive-based than proactive. I started my career in law enforcement at 21 years old - an "industry" that by nature reacts to the situation presented.
A crime was committed, I was called, I assessed and responded to the situation, interviewed subjects and witnesses, took people to jail, and filed reports about the evidence of what had already happened. On the occasions that a "proactive" investigation was developed, it was still based in knowledge and information that had transpired, with the aim of catching criminals during future unlawful acts.
Fast-forward to 2011, and I began to volunteer for the band Megadeth as a Facebook moderator. While I was eventually able to be creatively proactive with contests, campaign ideas, and the overall social media strategy - the bulk of my time was spent deleting spam and belligerent comments and reacting to the never ending flood hateful interweb trolls.
Now as a small business owner working from home, I create my workflow and services for clients in the way that I choose. While my business allows me to be very proactive in creating what I am offering for sale - if I'm not careful I can easily slip into the daily minutiae of reacting to how the day unfolds.
Maintaining my productive creativity, while getting administrative tasks done, requires a level of mindfulness, tools, and accountability.
Here are the ways in which most small business owners (including myself) spiral into reactive-mode:
- Checking email first thing in the morning.
- Responding to emails immediately.
- Having audible or obvious phone notifications.
- Checking your phone every 5 minutes to see if you have notifications.
- Checking social media platforms (ahem...Facebook) constantly.
- Not taking restorative breaks during the day.
- Taking phone calls that are not scheduled.
- Not knowing what the day's priorities are.
- Having distractions such as music or TV during mental tasks.
Ok, so does the above list hit home for you? If I really sat here and thought about it, I could probably come up with several more examples - but I think you get the picture.
You are reactive if you are led through your day without purpose or mindfulness in your work.
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Since I am never going to give you a problem without a solution, here is a list of the ways in which I am proactive with my day and my business:
- I start with writing out the top 3 priorities for the day.
- I only check email first thing to see if there are any immediate client needs (it is a rare occasion that a client request cannot wait) - all other emails wait.
- I work through my daily social media engagement checklist for myself and clients.
- I work through my blog checklist to promote my latest blog.
- I take regular breaks where I stand up and get my blood moving and stretch.
- I take a 20-minute nap almost every day.
- I eat lunch away from my computer.
- I have scheduled times that I respond to emails.
- I have scheduled days that I meet with current and prospective clients.
- With rare exception, I do not take phone calls from clients unless they are scheduled.
- I regularly take the time to read and educate myself for pleasure and for work.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
Schedules and checklists, schedules and checklists.
This might seem super constrictive and neurotic to you, but let me explain a little further...
I do not time block my calendar (as in, every day at 9 am I check email) - I find that to be too much and life inevitably gets in the way.
A system that is doomed to fall off the tracks will make you give it up entirely, knocking you back to square one.
My "schedule" for the day consists of any appointments first, administrative tasks second, proactive project work third, and education/reading fourth. On days I have no appointments, I can get my tasks done quickly and have the bulk of the day for projects and education. Does that make sense?
The checklists I have for daily and weekly tasks to maintain my business and provide for my clients are designed to make my time efficient and purposeful. How many times have you gotten on Facebook to post something relating to your business, only to be distracted immediately?
As a social media strategist, it is doubly hard for me to stay on track as I HAVE to be on social media for work. With my checklist, I am in and out without getting sidetracked, and my personal social media time is done during breaks or after work.
The more I fine-tune and reevaluate my systems, the better they work. Life changes constantly, so making sure your system still fits your evolving business needs is essential.
I would love to hear your tips and tricks for maintaining a proactive state with your small business. Tell me in the comments below!