Proactivity Over Reactivity

We hear all the time to be proactive with our lives.  It’s great to say we’ll tackle our days in a proactive manner.  The problem is we live in a world that doesn’t always conspire the way we hope it does.  We must ask ourselves, “how do we stay proactive when we’re pulled in a million directions?”.

I’m going to explore this concept through an email interface.  Don’t get too excited!

The World According to your Email

Imagine one evening you achieved the pinnacle of greatness, you cleared your email inbox.  Congratulations!  Before logging off you type up (or write down) what you want to accomplish the following day.

All is well when you wake up the following morning.  You have every intention to complete the projects you’ve set out to tackle for the day.  When you open your email inbox what do you see?

I’ll tell you what you see.  You notice your inbox has piled up from the previous night.  Without giving it much thought you start going through your unread emails.  Three hours later you once again clear your inbox, only to realize you haven’t accomplished much of anything.  Sob.

Anti-Email Checking

In this scenario, think of the unread emails as reactive tasks.  If Joe Shmoe has emailed you asking to schedule a call, you’re in essence agreeing to reactively accept a call.  From Joe Shmoe’s perspective, requesting a call was a proactive task.  He took the initiative to email you.

If you reply to emails all day, you’re passively accepting the demands of others.  Where does that leave you with your proactive tasks?  Scheduling calls and answering other people’s questions won’t necessarily help you achieve your daily goals.

Bigger Picture

Think of your email as a metaphor for your life.  Simply put: we can either proactively do things we’ve committed to doing or we can reactively address matters called upon by others.  It’s critical to ensure enough time is allocated to proactive tasks, or else we spend our days being in a reactive state.

Some of you reading this may have lives too demanding to get from a reactive to a proactive state.  I may not know your life well enough to remedy this problem, though I have one important idea to point out.  By being strategically proactive, you can limit the number of reactive situations you must attend to.  See a few examples below:

  • Proactively do your laundry to avoid reactively scavenging for a clean pair of underwear
  • Proactively plan your day to avoid reactively checking your email
  • Proactively eat healthy to avoid reactively addressing health issues


We should always strive to spend time being proactive.  While it’s great to embody a proactive mindset, it’s inevitable reactive moments arise unannounced.  At any moment your boss could ask you to finalize a report in the next 30 minutes, the fire alarm in your house could go off,  or your sibling could call pleading for your Netflix login credentials.

Regardless of what life throws at you, you should always ask yourself how much of what you’re doing is proactive versus reactive.  At this very moment I’m proactively drafting this blog post instead of reactively checking my unread text messages.

Don’t fall victim to the convenience of reactivity.  Instead be proactive.  Proactivity leads to moments of creation, accomplishment, and joy.  You run the day or the day runs you.

Now get off your email (unless I emailed you).

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