Boss Lady

The 7 proactive mindsets for a less reactive workplace


How often is your week thrown into disarray as some new urgent issue rears its head? How often are you pulled into last-minute meetings, or have meetings rescheduled at the last minute. How often do you leave something until the last minute and have to scramble to get it done?

When urgency is not moderated effectively in an organisation, it can easily lead to a reactive culture, where mistakes and rework are common, and stress levels and burnout run at unacceptable levels. The solution to this needs to be applied on two levels. At the organisational level, leaders need to make efforts to build proactive cultures.

But at the individual level, we can all take responsibility for creating a less reactive workplace by developing 7 proactive mindsets. Our mindsets inform our behaviour, and culture is just a set of group behaviours!

Mindset #1 – I plan ahead

As much as I find this old saying a bit twee, it is true: ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. To work proactively, your first focus should be on planning. We all know we should make time to plan, but most of us don’t spend enough time doing this. Or at least doing it at the right level.

Many of us plan at the organisational level, or the team level, or the project level. But few of us effectively link these big-picture plans with our day-to-day schedules. The irony is that we don’t make time for this personal planning because we are too busy to stop! This is such a false economy.

Mindset #2 – I am responsive, not reactive

Being responsive is very different from being reactive. People with reactive mindsets tend to be chaotic and stressful to work with. People with responsive mindsets are measured and organised, and usually a pleasure to work with. They don’t just react to everything; they deal with things in a timely way. When it is truly urgent they will be right on top of it, but when it’s not as time sensitive they will deal with it in a timely way without dropping other important priorities. Rather than simply reacting, we should pause for a moment, evaluate if the incoming work requires your attention, prioritise it against existing priorities and decide the best course of action. 

Mindset #3 – I pay it forward

In the movie Pay It Forward, a young boy takes an unusual approach to a school assignment. When tasked with thinking of something that will change the world and putting it into action, he decides to pay favours forward rather than paying favours back. Rather than reacting to an act of kindness, he gets on the front foot to commit acts of kindness to others.

Paying it forward is a key mindset when you are developing a proactive workstyle. It involves a more mindful approach that encourages you to think beyond your own needs, to the current and future needs of your colleagues. It involves thinking about how what you are doing may affect others and making sure you are working in a way that makes life easier for them.

Mindset #4 – I do it right the first time

How much time is wasted in our workplaces when things are rushed and mistakes are made, leading to unnecessary rework? We are far too distracted these days, and often trying to do many things at once. It’s time for us to slow down again and develop a mindset where we do it right first time.

An old builder’s adage is ‘measure twice, cut once’. It feels like we don’t have time to slow down, but in the long run we save time if we do this. I would prefer to get fewer things done in a day, but to do the few critical things well and get them right.

Mindset #5 – I prioritise by importance, not urgency

Much of our time can be caught up dealing with the urgent stuff, or the easy stuff, or the fun stuff. But a proactive mindset focuses on the important stuff first. I believe that people who consistently prioritise the important over the urgent not only survive, but actually thrive.

Mindset #6 – I minimise procrastination

There is an old saying that goes something like ‘Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today?’ This is an ideal designed to reduce procrastination. If you can do it today, you should. But I reckon many of us act with another strategy in mind — ‘Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? If it can wait, it should.’

I reckon both options are valid in today’s busy world. The key is putting off the right things until later and making sure you don’t procrastinate the important things.

Mindset #7 – I think several steps ahead

I still play soccer with my over 45’s soccer team, all of us held together by tape and Dencorub! While I am just an old hack, it is a pleasure to see some of my team who really know their way around a ball. One of the key differences between a great player and an ordinary one is the fact that great players tend to look several steps ahead. They look around before they receive a pass, and they know what their options are before they make a play. Your ability to ‘look up’ and anticipate in the workplace is also critical, and will be much appreciated by your colleagues.

Proactivity is a choice. We can choose to be victims in an urgent culture, or we can choose to take some control and change the culture from within.

About Dermot Crowley

Dermot Crowley is one of Australia’s leading productivity thought leaders, director of Adapt Productivity, and author of Urgent!, Smart Work and Smart Teams.  To learn more about the work that Dermot does with his clients, go to

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