Planning to Be Proactive Instead of Reactive

08/21/2017 07:21 pm ET

By: Catherine Plano

We all lead busy lives, and although technology promised to make our lives easier, most people would say they feel more stressed now than ever before. So what’s going on? And how can we make it better?

There’s a growing body of research that suggests that the first step to reclaiming time in our day is to not check devices first thing in the morning. For some people, this comes naturally. For others, not checking the moment they wake up is like kicking a hard drug. Most of us fall into this category. Recent surveys suggest that an alarming number of people actually sleep next to their devices so they can check it before they go to sleep and then again first thing in the morning.

With a technology-powered world, we can be plugged into a global network 24/7. We’re wired and we’re addicted. Our health is suffering. Stress levels are the highest they’ve been in some years, and we’re burning ourselves out physically, emotionally, and mentally because we’ve forgotten how to take a break.

Did you know that when we’re stressed, our prefrontal cortex — an important part of our brain which, amongst other things, is responsible for helping us to regulate our own behavior — actually just shuts down? When this happens, it inhibits our ability to:

  • Focus
  • Solve problems
  • Think clearly
  • Be creative
  • Reflect and use imagination
  • Form strategies
  • Control intense emotions
  • Control inappropriate behavior

Don’t you wish you had more hours in your day? You can — and it’s as simple as not checking in with emails, social media, or text messages first thing in the morning.

If the way you start your day is reactive, then it’s only natural that the rest of the day will follow in much of the same way because you are simply responding, as opposed to creating. When we live and work in a reactive environment, it starts to affect the way we feel and behave, leading us to: 

  • Think negatively
  • Be more anxious
  • Criticize more
  • Be more of a victim
  • Be unfocused at times
  • Experience anger and frustration
  • Blame others more

The trick is to plan your day. Be proactive and delegate to get back more time.

When you plan your day, you’ll see gaps where you can invest your time in engaging with your people, being more approachable, and connecting and collaborating with your team.

When you design your day — including allocated time to respond to emails and other communications — you’ll feel more in control, and you’ll make clearer decisions about what needs your attention, what you can do later, or what you can pass on to someone else. Then you can find time to reflect, ponder, and think about the bigger picture, which is where leaders should be focusing most of their time.

The Global Push for More Time

In some ways it’s a sad indictment of the state we’ve got ourselves into when big global corporations start to encourage — and in some cases mandate — their employees to take more time off. The good news is that these companies are concerned about the wellbeing of their workers.

Some of these global organizations encourage employees to:

Take breaks every 90 minutes. This is based on ensuring the human body and brain can perform at their best. Humans operate in 90-minute cycles known as the ultradian rhythms. If we want to get more done in less time, then we need to renew our energy levels every 90 minutes. This can be as simple as taking a five minute break to walk away from our desks and out into the sun or fresh air, to stretch, talk to a colleague, or sit quietly in another room for a few moments and just "be."

Stop sitting down. Some health professionals are now saying that sitting down for long periods is the new cancer because of the damage that we do to our bodies when we do not move regularly. Moving physically also has an impact on us emotionally and mentally.

Power nap. Some organizations are installing sleeping pods, quiet dark spaces where employees can nap, meditate or listen to music in headphones. The results are incredible. Productivity and creativity have increased exponentially, because when we need a rest, our bodies send us clear signals — and it might be simply a loss of focus. Most of the time we push through and carry on regardless. When we listen to what we need, we become far more effective.

The important message here is to plan time for being productive and to plan time for taking breaks. One simple change can have a massive impact on your working hours. Unless you start changing the way you operate, you will remain reactive and feel like work is controlling you, rather than the other way around.

While some habits are hard to break, this 21-day course-for-change will help you to retrain your neural pathways, and get you behaving differently:

  • Don't check emails before you get to work.
  • Take 5-10 minutes daily to plan the day ahead, set goals, intentions and timeframes for getting things done.
  • Practice delegation.
  • Plan time to respond to emails and communication at certain periods in the day. Don’t always react to your inbox.
  • Take a break every 90 minutes.

As a leader, you possess important skills and attributes that you can pass on to your team members. When you delegate, you’re developing your team and assigning responsibility and accountability. When you’re approachable and engaging, you might hear something on the office floor which helps you to solve a problem you’ve been wrestling with. And when you create time to reflect, you can consider the future, which is what leaders are primarily supposed to do.

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Catherine Plano is an International Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach, Leadership Development Professional, Queen of Transformation, a Creative Soul Adventurer, a Theorist and Provocateur of Change, and an Agent of Philosophy.

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.

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