On pushing through ambiguity

Ambiguity makes simple tasks hard. It often occurs when:

  • You don’t know what’s required (at all), and don’t know how to find out
  • You know who could tell you but can’t contact them
  • The information you have is incomplete
  • The information you have is unclear
  • The information appears complete but you have reasons (experience, competing information, rumour) not to trust it

These kinds of ambiguity can turn completing even a simple task into a foggy, circuitous slog. They cost you time as you flail in the mist looking for something solid. They cost you money and stress as you take punts on things that might be the wrong option. They drain your reserves of willpower and emotional energy as you turn circles, give up, then return to the mire only to give up again having made little or no progress.

The only way is to push through – try one avenue after another until you can rule it out. Don’t stop until you’ve made one piece of concrete progress.

Relatively small amounts of money risked on an uncertain solutions that fail may be well spent if it helps you eliminate options and build forward momentum.

Time on and time off

With these things in mind it helps to set aside regular amounts of time (half an hour a day?) to focus on tasks like this that you can’t resolve in a single sitting. The frequency helps you to keep your decisions and next steps at top of mind.* More important is the flip-side of setting a clear time-frame for morale-sapping tasks: by dedicating half an hour to them you are also ring-fencing twenty-three-and-a-half hours where you can leave the frustration behind.

*Of course, you could always write them down. Why do we so rarely write our decisions down?

2 Replies to “On pushing through ambiguity”

  1. Really helpful. One reason I don’t always write things down is the lack of a system to log and then find my notes! I have apps, Evernote, paper, post-its, diaries. And I’m quite an organised person! Any advice gratefully received. I definitely think the small chunks of time to work on this is wise and helpful – sometimes things take time to coalesce and for clarity to emerge. But an active waiting/testing rather than a passive ‘let’s see what happens’ if I do nothing. Great stuff!

    1. Thanks! I’ve still never found _the_ to do list that works for me consistently. I think I’d like some version of an enormous Kanban board with lots of space for extra information but that’s not very portable… and I haven’t found an electronic one that does what I need!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...