There once was an aspiring tennis player who was determined to win his local championship. He practiced every day, for hours on end, using an electric ball machine to perfect the mechanics of his swing.
The machine would fire one ball after another at him, with ever-increasing velocity, from different angles and directions, and for the first few days, he was unable to return even a handful of volleys across the net.
But over time, he gradually perfected his motion and timing, and eventually was able to return each and every ball that was fired at him. He was finally ready for the tournament, and strode confidently onto the court for his opening match.
And he was soundly thrashed.
Why? Because his serve was lousy.
Sadly, that was because, in his ceaseless efforts to return each and every mechanical volley hit to him, he neglected to take the time to develop his own serve.
In other words, his practice sessions were 100% reactive….and never proactive.
Sound like your typical work day?
Being able to smack every ball that gets hit your way in the course of a typical day is a great skill to have.
But being proactive and strategizing, planning….and just plain thinking….is something we often neglect. If you’re not able to put the ball in play, you’re only playing half the game.
In sales, this is especially critical. Sitting back and waiting for prospects to return calls is a losing game. Being proactive is all about making those calls, of course, but also taking the time to prepare—scheduling your time, building your lists, working on your approach, and giving yourself the uninterrupted “think time” to come up with new and potentially more productive strategies and messages.
Reacting to the dozens (hundreds? millions?) of decision points thrown at us every day is obviously a huge part of our jobs. New communication technology gives us information, and poses questions and challenges for us, on a non-stop basis. And studies have shown that once an interruption breaks your flow, it can take an average of two hours to get back to what you were trying to do.
It’s up to us to create a work style that empowers us to shut off the fire hose and shift into proactive mode.
Free time is never going to magically appear. We have to carve it out. It’s essential in your daily work plan to allow time for creativity; it’s the only way you’re going to move forward.
There’s no sin in silencing your ringer and logging out of email for a few minutes. And if you’re lucky enough to have a door on your office, use it. Schedule your proactive time like you would a meeting—and adhere to it just as strictly as if someone were depending on you for it.
Because in a way—you are. Consider it a defense mechanism, maybe even a survival technique.
Work on your serve—and become a complete player.
Because when the time comes for the big game, you won’t be playing a ball machine.
Grow Big or Go Home!