Dealing with uncertainty – Part 2: Bringing clarity to the void

Grace Marshall — №30 with Derek Sivers

In the last issue of Productive! Magazine, I wrote about the void: the place of uncertainty between having an idea and making it happen.

It’s a place where you won’t know everything, a vast empty wild land of unchartered territory where there is nothing but the potential for everything. There is no right, you can create whatever you can imagine, and it is rife with decision fatigue. The void can be a playground or an assault course, a sanctuary or a prison. It all depends on what you bring in.

Are you living in the void right now? Are you working in a season of high uncertainty? Having just spent two months in the void, writing my book, here are five survival strategies I’ve found immensely helpful:

Give yourself a break

If you’re in a season of high uncertainty, honor the fact that your brain is doing some pretty taxing work and make some concessions. Let someone else choose what you have for dinner. Work out what you’re wearing at the beginning of the week. Let go of the unimportant decisions. So what if the kids want to change into their pyjamas at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon? Does it really matter which shade of blue you go for? And do you really need to buy something from the duty-free shop?

Pace yourself: limit the amount of high decision-making projects you have on the go. Maybe wait until you’ve finished the book before you start redecorating the bedroom…

Ask for help

Sometimes the simplest of decisions can appear impossible when we’re suffering from decision fatigue. So if you know you’re dealing with some mental heavy lifting, ask other people for their perspective and where possible, delegate your decisions. I called my boss the other day to ask for his opinion on something I normally could have figured out for myself. “I’m suffering from decision fatigue,” I told him. “What do I need to do here?” In about three minutes he’d worked it out and saved me hours of deliberating.

We all have times when we’re overloaded with decision fatigue, whether it’s because of a big creative project or a high season of change and unpredictability. The more we can recognise that in ourselves and in each other, the more we can help and ask for help.

Ask good questions

Questions like “What do I do?” “What if…” “What about…” and “Is this any good?” tend to send us round in circles. Whereas questions like “What’s the next step?” “What do I know already?” “What do I need to move forward?” “Who could I ask?” and “What would make this irresistible?” are more likely to give us answers we can use.

Lower the stakes

We all want to do our jobs well and to get things right (whether you feel like you’re doing your life’s work or just something to tide you over and keep a roof over your head). The fact that we care is what gives birth to our best work, but the pressure can also feed our performance anxiety. If looking at your deadline or your word count freaks you out, stop looking! Focus on whatever will give you enough motivation to keep going — the next hundred words, the next twenty minutes, the next conversation, the next meal you make, the next person you encourage, the next mile you run, the next staircase you walk, the next step you take…

Make it fun

When you forget about the crazy deadline or the high-stakes pressure and lose yourself in the process of creating, the void can actually be a pretty fun place. We can lose ourselves in the flow when we are unrestricted by expectation, free to charter new territory and make it up as we go along. The trick I’ve found is to time myself at the gate. Set the time when I arrive and the time when I have to pack up and leave the playground. Everything I do in between is free-flow. No expectations, no targets, just write. And trust — a heap-load of trust that what comes out at the other end will be something beautiful, whole, and real.

Grace is the author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff that Sucks Up Your Time. This article is adapted from her new book, due to be published by Pearson in Autumn 2015.

Photo: Flickr/ssoosay CC BY 2.0

Grace marshall

Grace Marshall

Grace Marshall is a naturally disorganised productivity coach, mom of two, and author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time. She is also a productivity ninja with Think Productive, one of the UK’s leading productivity training companies, helping organizations across the world survive information overload and get more done with less stress.

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