Thriving In Sustained Ambiguity

The consensus seems to be that many of us are going to be trapped in our bunkers for a while longer. Some tips to help manage the ongoing uncertainty.

As a strategist, I am very comfortable with ambiguity. After all, ambiguity is intrinsic to strategy development and execution. Uncertainty is the norm.

Thus, I’ve been surprised by how challenging it has been for me to manage the pervasive uncertainty in today’s world. It seems as if ambiguity has taken over my life. My clients tell me the same thing.

Like everyone else, my environment has changed. While I’ve been working from home and remotely for years, I was accustomed to doing that alone. Now, my office is alive with family members – all the time. Further, our home space is used in many different ways simultaneously. In the early days of the pandemic, we cleaned out closets, bought home fitness tools, nurtured a garden and started several home projects. That’s been both helpful and not. It feels like we have “stuff” everywhere, fewer boundaries and more chaos.

So what do we do when ambiguity takes over? Here are three things I’ve learned:

1) Tackle the chaos you can.

Managing uncertainty starts with knowing what’s important, what you can control, and what you can’t. Having the mental space to work, think, and refresh is hugely important to our family. Our physical space wasn’t helping. So, we configured dedicated work spaces and moved the bags of donations into a single room (and out of my office). Last weekend we brought order to our yard. It was remarkably satisfying to stack bags of yard debris at the curb. Tackle the chaos you can.

2) Schedule three intensive work sessions daily.

The executives I work with tell me that the cadence and flow of their day is completely different. The same is true for me. Plus, with everyone home, it’s harder to separate the varied hats I wear – executive, advisor, parent, spouse. To counter the amplified distractions, I now deliberately chunk up my time. I try to schedule three or four intensive work sessions daily, where I dedicate 45-60 minutes each to work on a specific outcome. No multi-tasking. No email. No phone calls. It is surprisingly harder to do than it sounds – yet when I’m successful, it dramatically improves my productivity.

3) Change the view.

Pre-pandemic, I regularly networked, met with clients or worked out of a local coffee shop to change the view. Lately, I’ve been treating my office like a bunker. I retreat from the cacophony of five people operating on completely different schedules, sharing spaces and trying to work/study/connect productively via video and phone. Like my clients, I’m not even walking to the water cooler regularly. I feel trapped. The bunker mentality robs me of the perspective I—and my clients—value. (See my related articles here and here.) Simply taking a walk or working in a different room or at the kitchen counter helps to change the view.

The systemic nature of the pandemic means everything is impacted. Uncertainty is no longer confined to business. It has invaded our sense of health and safety, family life, social structures and the myriad small things we do to get around or manage our households. Rather than allowing ambiguity to take over, I’m taking specific steps to manage the uncertainty. Tackling the chaos I can, I’m restoring order to a specific thing each week. I will spend less time in my office, taking calls outside, and scheduling deliberate breaks in my day.

I cannot change the ambiguity. But I can change how I confront it.

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