Sometimes I wasn't able to check my email for three to four days, and by then, hundreds of new emails awaited me. I knew that catching up would take at least several hours, so I'd procrastinate to avoid it--which of course made the problem worse. And that's when my anxiety would kick in.
I've found that the solution to both my anxiety and my burgeoning inbox is to take a proactive approach, using Gmail's label function and managing my to-do list through ActiveInbox, a Gmail extension.
When I move emails over to an organized to-do list, I feel less anxious about tackling my inbox when it's bursting at the seams. Taking these active steps to combat a nagging problem makes me feel more in control.
Yet despite the obvious benefits of proactivity, it isn't our default setting as humans. Instead, we tend to procrastinate. To avoid falling victim to procrastination, business leaders should cultivate a proactive mindset by adopting these three thought processes:
1. Spot future problems by learning from past ones.
You're likely familiar with the idea that history tends to repeat itself, and that saying certainly holds true in the business world. As an entrepreneur, I quickly learned the importance of taking time to analyze the last move I made to influence the next step I'd take.
So dedicate some time now to reflect on that initiative that didn't work out and see what lessons you can glean from it. Better yet, take a page from agile development's playbook and make project post-mortems a routine part of your process. After every project, gather the relevant team members to discuss what went well and what didn't.
To make these meetings as productive as possible, have participants answer a pre-meeting questionnaire to identify successes, pinpoint problem areas, and get everyone thinking about causes and solutions. In the hands of a skilled facilitator armed with a clear agenda, a project post-mortem can help you leverage your successes and head off future problems at the pass.
2. Choose to play offense over defense.
I'm a big believer in increasing your team members' autonomy, encouraging them to focus on producing the best work and experience for clients. This mindset helps your team play offense, reaching out to your customers rather than waiting until they reach out to you -- often with a complaint.
Fang Cheng, CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, advocates a more proactive stance: "Most customer service agendas reside in defense mode, cleaning up problems with a tight deadline. Customer care, however, relies on being proactive by providing value-added, meaningful assistance for consumers at every stage of their purchasing journey."
Methods for offering this assistance are almost limitless, from chatbots that can answer routine customer questions 24/7 to an in-home customer advisor program a la Best Buy. Glossier, a cosmetics brand, takes proactivity one step further by involving its customers' voice in product development. The company initiates conversations with customers and uses their feedback (including, yes, prior complaints) to create products its fans are sure to love.
If you start by carrying the ball to your customer's end of the field, you're less likely to find yourself playing defense.
3. Don't wait for perfection.
If you require perfection before launching a new product or initiative, your business will go nowhere.
As LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late." As an entrepreneur, I know that to be successful, I need to hit the ground running instead of waiting for perfect timing or the perfect idea.
While business leaders should do their due diligence on any newly proposed initiative, that shouldn't prevent a promising idea from moving forward because it isn't fully fleshed out. Instead, consider the idea's fledgling status an invitation to get to work. You'll need to research your target market, prototype the product or service, consider how you'll fund it, how you'll produce it, and so on.
To encourage your team's ideas while keeping an eye on feasibility, develop a checklist that any new company initiative has to pass before it can enter the pipeline to become a reality. Having an established standard to meet can help you keep your perfectionist tendencies at bay in the moment.
Proactive leaders can turn a struggling business around or make a good business great, while leaders who are prone to procrastination can hamstring even the most successful business. No matter what industry you're in, prioritize a proactive approach on a daily basis, and you might be surprised by what you can accomplish.