Time Management Styles: Proactive vs. Reactive

There are two time management styles: One is to primarily react to external events or inputs. The other is to proactively manage your time and consciously plan your activities to achieve your personal goals.

Two time management styles

The concept of being proactive vs. reactive has been made popular by Steven R. Covey in his book “7 habits of highly effective people”. Despite its age, it is quite an insightful book and still highly recommended. The title is a bit misleading, though. The book focuses not on what is today commonly understood as habits but more on principles, values, and behaviors.

When your time management style is reactive, you are reacting to external events. The world and the people in it cause you to act. Your actions are not primarily determined by your own aspirations, but rather by necessity. You might have some freedom in determining how or when to do it, but it usually is rather short-term. You worry about how to get things done this week, rather than how to achieve your goals over the coming months.

When your time management style is proactive, then you are in control. You consciously make plans and execute them. You decide what is important to you and make sure that your time is spent in a way that maximizes your desired outcomes. You do this early so that your hand is not forced by external events.

I case it hasn’t already been clear enough: When choosing time management styles, go for being proactive! It will empower you. It will help you achieve your goals (see also: goal setting). And most importantly: It feels better. You no longer feel helpless, overwhelmed, or at the mercy of others.

Dealing with constraints: Covey’s Circles of Concern and Influence

Of course, there will still be constraints on your actions. Being proactive does not mean you can do whatever you want. You still have a boss. There will still be deadlines forced upon you. But by being proactive you take control of what you can control. Covey introduced the concept of the circles of influence and concern to illustrate the relationship between things you can influence, and things you can not:

Even if you start out with very little influence, adopting a proactive time management style will enable you to steadily increase that influence. Focus on what you can change, not on what you can not.

Tools for a proactive time management style

First and foremost, being proactive is something that comes from within, not from a tool. Focus on your mindset. Still, some time management tools can make this change easier.


Our time management app, Focality, makes you more proactive by letting you deliberately plan your day, week, month, and year. Define what you want to achieve and make sure that you do something towards your goals every day. Never again lose track of what’s important to you.

Focality also helps you to constantly improve yourself. Frequently reflect on your approach and learn from data-driven insights. Make sure that you keep practicing the right one of the two time management styles. Stay proactive.

Focus Trainer

All time management styles benefit greatly from the ability to focus your attention. If you want to be proactive, this is even more critical. There will always be a task, a colleague, or any number of other distractions that tuck at your attention. You need to be able to execute your plans without getting distracted. Getting distracted is a very reactive thing to do though. Learn how to improve focus and follow through with your plan.

Focus Trainer will help you to do just that. It features a focus timer with gradually increasing session lengths. Focus timers work by setting a small goal for yourself - the time that you want to focus for. You set the timer to the desired time (not too long!) and don’t allow yourself to be distracted until the timer runs out. Focus Trainer auto-adjusts that time so that you can gradually improve your focus times. That way you can easily improve your attention span from that of a goldfish to that of a zen monk.