Many people like postponing challenging work tasks by completing the ones that don’t require much cognitive power first. Usually, they think it is better to fill in the time rather than stay idle when they procrastinate. At least, doing something means they are being productive. Does this situation happen to you often in the workplace? If yes, you’ve already fallen into the trap of mistaking the two kinds of tasks: “reactive” and “proactive”.
Reactive tasks are those tasks that are somewhat urgent and maybe even important but don’t have a high long-term value. Proactive tasks are those that we know we should do, that have a high long-term value but are often blocked by procrastination and reactive tasks.
Examples of reactive tasks and productive tasks at work
There are plenty of reactive tasks that need to be done at work, like replying to email, documentation and and repetitive tasks that maintain the operation of your company. But that doesn’t mean you should always use them as an excuse to postpone your proactive tasks, like coming up with new ideas for an upcoming project, thinking ways to improve the performance of your company’s products in the market, improving the communication and cooperation with other colleagues etc.
Typically, we spend 80% of our time on reactive tasks and only 20% of our time on proactive tasks. That explains why most of us are only busy but not genuinely productive at work.
To reverse the situation, first you need to clearly know where you are by taking the following actions:
1. Look at your to-do list and count the number of proactive versus reactive tasks
2. Calculate your ratio
- Count the number of tasks (for example, 20 reactive and 5 proactive for a total of 25)
- Divide by 100 (0.25 for our example)
- Divide the number of reactive tasks by that number (eg. 20/.25 = 80%)
- Subtract that percentage from 100 to find your proactive ratio (eg. 100% – 80% = 20%)
How to shift the ratio to make time spend on the right tasks
- Reduce the number of reactive tasks : Are they all that important that they really need to be done? If not, take them away.
- Create more proactive tasks : Think of the things you’re passionate about and the goals you want to complete. Add those things to your to-do list, regardless of whether or not you feel they’re urgent. It’s the things that are important, but don’t have a deadline that will make all the difference in our lives.
- Learn to say “NO”! : Knowing when to say no to someone is a powerful thing. Remember that every “yes” is a drain on your time and energy and it keeps you from being able to say yes to something else – like your dreams!
Takeaway: Keep in mind that reactive tasks only keep you busy and distract you from genuine productivity. To ensure your time is fully well-spent, you shouldn’t shy away from doing more proactive tasks. Good luck!