Proactivity vs reactivity – a new year’s resolution

This is about how you begin every day.

One morning last week, I got up, drank some water, pulled a tarot card, and took Billie out for a walk. Then I got home, made coffee, and sat down at my computer. There was something I wanted to do.

But I didn’t do it.

Why? Because instead I checked Bloglovin and Twitter and my emails and all of these things gave me a different list of tasks and sent me off in different directions.


Ten of Wands, from the Kitty Kahane Tarot

An hour went by and I’d replied to some Tweets, read some interesting blog posts, dealt with some emails and scribbled a quick to-do list arising from stuff in the emails…which dictated the rest of my day.

And that thing I was going to do? It never got done.

I’m not one for sucking up business-speak or blathering on with the latest solo-preneurial jargon (ha) and seriously, any mention of ‘productivity’ makes me want to throw myself in the canal.

(In case that isn’t clear: do not tweet me productivity tips.)

BUT there are a couple of business-type principles which really make sense to me, and which I find really helpful when I apply them to my own work.

One is ‘underpromise, overdeliver’. You can probably work that one out for yourself. Since I started doing that my life as a freelancer got so much more joyful. More on this some other time perhaps.

The other is ‘be proactive, not reactive’.

Oh my – this is good advice. If you have ideas, plans, projects, if you’re someone who gets stuff done – or wants to – it is really worth understanding the difference between these two approaches – especially at the start of your day.


Ace of Wands, from the Kitty Kahane Tarot

The morning I described above, I was totally reactive. Before I did anything for myself, before I made a decision or started a project or worked on something of my own, I had opened up a whole bunch of portals to other people’s work, and reacted. I’d let them dictate my morning – probably my entire day.

But if I’d been proactive?

I could have had a totally different morning. I could have got those course handouts all made, or written a mini-series for my blog, or photographed my new products or written a letter to my faraway love or brainstormed that new tarot reading or explored that new deck or any number of things that develop and improve my own work.

And then I coulda checked my emails later on, happily knowing that I’d taken care of my own needs first and was now ready to deal with clients and enquiries and crises and whatever else that is so damn important that it can steal your whole day from you.

It’s also about not feeling chaotic.

I freelanced for an organisation this year who I absolutely love. Brilliant people, women-led, awesome work, DIY ethos and dog-friendly – aww yeah. My kind of place.

But oh my god the way they worked! They’d be getting on with tasks, and then an email would come in and they’d drop everything to answer it immediately. Or someone would need something from someone else so they’d ask and that person would stop what they were working on to provide the answer. It was expected that I’d have my inbox open the whole time so that I would immediately know and react as soon as anyone had an enquiry.

Yet everyone was constantly doing ten things at once and nothing much seemed to be getting finished and everyone was stressed and in firefighting mode and and and…



Two of Pentacles, from the Kitty Kahane Tarot

It didn’t used to make me so mad. I thought that was a totally acceptable way to work (and I’ve worked at a local authority, so, y’know.) It was only after I started to identify the differences that I realised how stressful, hellish and unproductive reactivity is, and how satisfying, productive and self-nurturing proactivity can be.

You know what though?

Reactivity is easier.

Reactivity means not having to think too much for yourself.

Reactivity means you can let other people tell you what to do.

Reactivity means you don’t have to create.

Reactivity is the lazy answer to creative block.

Browsing through Twitter (or Facebook or Tumblr or wherever it is that you hang out online) or opening your emails or reading blogs excuses you from setting your own agenda. It releases you from the neccessity that you do your own work. Anyone currently procrastinating their college work will get this. Setting your own agenda is hard! Reacting to others is easy!

But ultimately, which one is going to move you forwards? Which one is going to help you achieve your goals or get your business off the ground or make that project happen or… you know… fulfil you?


Three of Wands, from the Kitty Kahane Tarot

So that’s my new year’s resolution.

To be more proactive. Less reactive. To teach people not to expect immediate – or even same-day – replies to their emails. To put aside the first few hours of each day to do something from my personal to-do list (or something I just feel like doing, dammit) before I let anyone else dictate my agenda. I already work this way most of the time – in 2015 I want it to be unflinchingly, unassuageably me.


Eight of Pentacles, from the Kitty Kahane Tarot

What about you? Which things distract you most in the morning? How do you ensure proactivity trumps reactivity – if at all?

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  1. Ellen says:

    Great post Beth. I try to be proactive and respond to a situation rather than react. I find that youtube and online shopping are making me drool like a pavlov doggy 😀 You show it to me often enough and I want it. Instead I want to be able to assess on my own what I need and what I want before I get influenced by the media

    • Beth says:

      I love the distinction between responding and reacting Ellen – another thing I learned recently (Seth Godin mentioned this on his blog a couple of days ago). I know what you mean about wanting to reclaim your own ideas about ‘needs’ too – it’s so easy to be told by everyone else what we need, I guess that’s the first rule of selling!

  2. LAS MAGAS says:

    Totally agree! Checking and responding mails; reading blogs I follow; social media; news; and other interesting things to me in internet, distract me a lot. As your post inspires me, I go for the proactivity 🙂

  3. Elisabeth says:

    Fantastic, just fantastic! Great writing! This subject reminds me of a book I read called ‘Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Just Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain. In it she talks a lot about business stuff. The reactivity sounds a lot like an extrovert thing, whereas proactivity sounds a lot more introverted. I’m an introvert and work quite differently than most other people I’ve had to work with. It’s made having jobs really hard for me. That said I get shit done like nobody’s business when I’m allowed to work my own way and in my own space.

    • Beth says:

      Oooh, I hadn’t thought of it like that Elisabeth. I guess reactivity is very extroverted – it’s the need for motivation to come from outside of yourself.

  4. Celia says:

    This is such amazing advice! I have a tendency to grab my phone (to turn of my alarm) in the morning and then start catching up on instagram and tumblr… and here’s the thing, I allot about 30 mins each morning to use this as a “wake-up” time.
    I’ve started using this site called 750words (which I 10000% recommend) that tries to get writers to do their daily pages, 750 words a day. I had a 25 day streak going until last weekend when I kept putting off doing my pages until… oops! It was past midnight.

    Maybe I’ll set the note on my wake-up alarm to be ‘proactivity NOT reactivity, Cel’ and start my daily pages as a wake-up routine instead of getting on social media.
    I may just have to borrow your New Year’s resolution 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Oh gawd, I used to do that too…literally checking in with social media and things whilst still in bed. It’s fun sometimes but ugh, when it becomes your daily practice it’s probs worth getting it in check! I love that 750 words site – it’s like doing your morning pages on the computer right? Such a great ‘first thing’ routine. You should *totally* make that your NY resolution!

      Now I have Billie the dog it really helps me to ignore the virtual world at least until I’ve spend half an hour out with her, which is nice.

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