Reactive v. Proactive

My mother used to tell me that she, as well as almost everyone else, would “have to get up before breakfast to stay ahead of me.” For readers of this post who are unfamiliar with, as Mom used to say “old South Carolina sayings,” this means that, all things considered, I work and move at a pretty fast pace, such that most people have difficulty keeping up with me. One reason I am able to get things done quickly is that I am organized. I know what to do, how to do it, and how long it will take. Another reason for my speed is that I take a proactive approach to living my life. When it comes to work, I plan ahead, I see what needs to be done, and more important, I do it. I don’t sit around, idly staring into space, procrastinating, until the time comes for my work to be completed. A clear example of my proactive approach to life is these posts David and I write. On days when I have free time at work, I often spend 30 minutes or an hour writing several posts. I review the list of topics (which now numbers over 600), then I write as many as I can in the time I have available. This means that, at any given moment, I have 10 to 20 posts that are ready for David to add his part to them. I never, ever, need any prompting to write posts on an immediate basis (due to the fact we are out of things to post) because mine are already done. My proactivity often conflicts with other people’s reactive approach to life. Many people, to quote Mom and her funny expressions, “sit around and wait for the cows to eat them up.” (I haven’t ever heard of a cow eating anyone, but I heard Mom use this expression on countless occasions.) “Sitting around waiting for the cows to eat them up” means procrastinating, waiting until the last minute, then hurrying to complete a task that, with proper planning, could have been completed long ago. Many of Magnus’ clients fall into this category. They ask for my help, then I wait and wait, then wait some more for them to provide me with the materials I need to provide them the help they have requested. Sometimes, they wait so long that I am unable to help them. (Although I work pretty fast, there are limits to my ability to complete complex tasks at the last minute.) Most people are either proactive or reactive, with others falling someplace in between, depending on the task that needs to be performed. Word of advice: If you are a reactive personality type, please be prepared to move out of my way. I’m coming through, fast!

I don’t think of the proactive/reactive dichotomy as just an issue of speed, but of priorities.  And, in fairness to our clients (attorneys), many reactive behaviors are a part of the job.  They must react to rulings by the court, motions or pleadings by the other side, client demands, etc.  It is not just attorneys, many professions are reactive, think police and firefighters.  Despite the work done in both areas, for example, a fire inspector who looks for ways to prevent fires, most of a firefighter’s job is relating to an emergency, something unexpected.  I have noticed this has to do with maintenance work as well, whether hi tech or low tech.  Not maintaining one’s house, automobile, or appliances until they break is reactive.  Fixing things before a catastrophic break is proactive.  One area where I’ve noticed an evolution in this regard is computer/IT management.  It used to be that once something went, to use a technical term, “haywire,” the IT expert paid a visit and hopefully, put things back in order.  Now our computers are monitored remotely, using some monitoring software that alerts when there is a problem.  Most “fixes” are handled remotely; I rarely see the IT guys.  That is quite a contrast with the old days of maybe 10 years ago when the IT guy was like a firefighter showing up at a fire.  Certainly it is helpful that both Melissa and I are proactive when possible.  Many times clients ask “what about this?” “what about that?” and our response is “we’ve got it.”  It helps that we have had enough experience to be proactive, we have less to react to these days, i.e., things we’ve not seen before.  That said, the other part of being reactive is, as we’ve written before, don’t let “them” (clients especially) see you sweat, or panic.  Being proactive, staying ahead of the game, is less stressful than being reactive in work, and life.  Even though there are many things we can’t control, trial dates for example, looking ahead at what is coming weeks or months out is helpful in avoiding being caught off guard.


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