Acting or Reacting? What’s the Difference?
Just for clarity’s sake, let’s define these two ideas:
- Reacting is simply that. You respond to whatever is happening around you without any forethought. Your phone beeps or vibrates; you have a new message, so you check it immediately.
- Acting is behaving in a manner that shows some thought ahead of time. For instance, my phone has all notifications turned off. I check my messages on my terms.
Why You Want to Act Instead of React
Imagine the day ahead of you. It’s morning and you’re just getting up.
How soon before you check your phone?
And then what do you do after you check it?
And by the way, how much time are you spending on your phone “just checking”?
Have you taken a shower yet? Gotten dressed? Had breakfast? Have you even gotten out of bed at this point?
If this is the way you live your life (and by the way, it isn’t just your phone competing for your attention – there are lots of things that are), by reacting to whatever happens in the moment, you really aren’t getting a lot done. (Note: small children do not apply in this scenario. If they need you, you react. Done.)
You might think you’re being productive – you certainly feel busy and maybe even a bit frazzled – but you’re not.
Contrast that morning to this one:
You just woke up. You shower and get dressed in the clothes that you laid out the night before (or over the weekend).
You go into the kitchen to make breakfast and pick up your phone. You don’t keep it in the bedroom because the blue light it emits can disturb your sleep and cause insomnia.
You check your messages and emails while you eat. Barring a major disaster, you will answer everything at the appointed time that you have set. This lets you get on with your morning. In all, you’ve spent maybe a couple of minutes on your phone.
The rest of the day proceeds just as smoothly.
You have goals: big ones for the year, and smaller monthly and weekly goals, all laid out in your planner.
Emails and messages get answered twice a day, based on your schedule. You have an automated reply to each email letting the sender know when to expect your reply. Phone calls can be treated in a similar manner for the most part.
You spend some time over the weekend assessing last week’s progress, made notes on things that didn’t get done or need attention, and planned the following week.
You have your 3 most important tasks set for the day, and they take priority. You do your most important work when you know that you are at your best mentally. You save other tasks for when you’re not at 100%.
Can you see that this way you will actually get things done, and they will be things that are important to you? That you will be making real progress, and directing your day rather than letting it direct you?
Sure, you may miss a few things here and there – some silly posts on Facebook or the latest joke or gossip – but what are you really missing?
Where to Begin
This is a big subject, worthy of it’s own post.
But let’s start small.
What’s one thing that seems to run your life? (Your kids really don’t count.)
I bet for a lot of us it’s our phone.
Now I set a goal this year to be one of those people who lived by their phone. I did this because I recognized that so much of what we do and need can be stored and accessed on our phone. We really can get a lot done with it.
But the key here is to do it on your terms.
- Start by turning off your notifications. All of them. If you can’t do that – maybe your kids use messaging to let you know they are OK – then leave that one on, and check it when it beeps, but only read it if it’s important. Come on. You know you can do better with this.
- Set up certain times – say two or three times a day – to check your email. Say early morning, mid to late afternoon, and maybe just before you leave work.
- Now set up times to respond to those emails. That might be noon for the morning ones, 4:00 ish for the afternoon ones, and early the next day for the late ones.
- Set up an autoresponder in your email that immediately responds to an incoming email with an idea of when they might hear from you.
- Set 2-3 priorities for the day. Write them down in your calendar or planner or phone, if that’s what you use. (And if you use your phone as your planner – and you really, really use it – please let me know. I’d love to know your system.)
- Those priorities are your main goals for the day. Estimate how long they will take and block time off for them. And while you’re blocking time, block in your email plan too.
- Now you have a good idea of what your day looks like. You need to allow some time for unexpected things that you have no control over – like the boss stopping by – but you still have a good idea of what time you have left and what you can get done.
Now you’re on your way to acting instead of reacting, and that’s a good thing.
More to come.