The Problem with Reacting At Work


The pressure to react is ubiquitous. The reactionary nature of work is irrepressible.

We've been taught to react our whole lives.

Our consumer culture promotes reaction above all else as this is the behaviour that keeps it going. Impulse shopping? Walk into an IKEA store and see if you walk out with just what you intended. Walk into an H&M Store and see if you walk out with one item. (I fail miserably here). Why is fashion constantly evolving? It wants your reaction to buy. Do you really need so many clothes? Do you really need a new car every three years?

Media, marketing, advertising is on the forefront, pressing our buttons to react. Fashion, music, entertainment, news!

Financial decisions are often reactions out of fear. Banks and insurance companies love and capitalize on our well honed over-sensitive fear faculty. Credit card providers thrive on our ability to react as if on cue.

Schools teach us to react to the system. Do what they say and do it well like a good student. Take instructions and whoever completes, or reacts to, the task quickest is best.

In our working lives the pressure is remarkable. Be a hero and drop everything you are doing for someone else. Everybody loves a hero. Pander to a boss or the whim of a  customer. React to feedback. React to a performance review. React to last minute requests. React to a calling sales person. React to a free seminar. Meet another person you don't really need to meet.

Is this really the way to rock at work? Is this working for us? For you?

Almost all models of productivity and effectiveness state the opposite. Project Management, Business Cases, GTD, SDLC, PEP, Six Sigma, ITIL, the Gartner IT Maturity Model and more are tied together by the principle that we get more done and more of the right things done if we think before we act. Happy customer and happy you.

Plan vs. React. Long term over short term. Think it all through, compose a plan then commit to activity. Reduce waste.

At work there is this culture of busyness: being busy being busy. We are freakishly busy but not really getting much done. We're busy looking valuable but not really being valuable. We're filling our jar (our lives) with sand (the stuff that matters little) over the big rocks (the high priority important things) thereby squeezing out any chance of meaningful work. We are caught in the thick of thin things. It’s not just at work its happening its in our personal lives too.

At its core the problem with reaction is that its becomes a pattern and then you're always reacting and this means the chance of completing becomes ever harder. Like a dog with a tennis ball its fun in the moment but lacks meaning, purpose and long term value.

If reaction is your pattern, and be honest, then you'll be like a surfer who never leaves white water. To be the surfer who rides the wave you need to quit paddling all the time. Wait, observe, think and choose wisely and most importantly love the ride.

If we are going to make traction on things that matter stop reacting. Think....then act. Remain focused.

What are your thoughts on being reactive and how to stop the cycle? I'd love to know what you think. Please leave a comment, write a trackback or send me an email - karl [at] Please share on your favourite social networks. Thank you.