Setting Priorities Effectively – Proactive vs. Reactive Tasks

By:Terry H Hill

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey identifies two types of tasks – proactive and reactive. The difference between these types of tasks, he says, is crucial to how we set priorities. In order to run a business or organization smoothly, you need a mix of proactive and reactive tasks in your daily list of things to do.

Proactive Tasks

Proactive tasks are those that relate to the big picture. These are things that don’t bring immediate results but rather long-term benefits, such as seeking out business opportunities, offering to help a colleague, updating your website, or posting content for backlinks. These are tasks you do regardless of outside circumstances or pressures.

Reactive Tasks

Reactive tasks are regular or routine tasks that need to be done. They’re necessary for the smooth and efficient running of your business. They may be things you do for clients or customers. They don’t bring long-term results, but they get the routine work done.

To state it as simply as possible, proactive tasks are those you want to do. Reactive tasks are those that other people want you to do, or that your business requires you to do. Reactive tasks come from outside of you.

Why It Matters

The reason it’s important to consider proactive vs. reactive tasks is that both are needed. You need the long-term benefits proactive tasks bring as well as the reactive tasks’ daily running of your operations. But when we get busy, the proactive tasks often get forgotten, and then their long-term benefits disappear.

Unlike reactive tasks, there are no negative consequences to not completing proactive tasks (at least not now). If you don’t seek out any new business opportunities this week, you’re not going to have an angry client or any other immediate problems as a result. Proactive tasks are easy to procrastinate because they don’t feel urgent. They also require more critical thinking, which may make them challenging.

Getting It All Done

When we make prioritized lists, we often list items based on urgency or negative consequences. Tasks that are urgent or that will cause negative consequences if not done usually go at the top. But since proactive tasks don’t fit this category, they often get forgotten.

So, it’s important to identify which tasks are proactive and which are reactive, and to make sure the proactive tasks are in your daily to-do lists. No matter how urgent certain tasks are, make sure that you devote some time each day to things that bring you long-term results.

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