Summer and other ambiguous territory

Today is my least favorite day of the year – the last day of school. The day that all the systems we’ve put in place suddenly vaporize, leaving a vast, yawning pit of ambiguity in their place. In past years, I’ve fought for weeks to regain control of the schedule, household tasks and habits of my children. (Seriously, how much TV would you watch if left to your own devices?) But now I have a series of steps I take to help me get my arms around the beast that is summer.

When you’re dealing with a changing or ambiguous environment, the best thing you can do for yourself is put some structure in place – any structure, even if it’s just a little. Here’s some thoughts about how to handle ambiguity:

  • Make a schedule. I’m sure any parent who’s spent unscheduled time with their kids (or in their business) knows the feeling of coming to the end of a day with the realization that nothing really got accomplished. Where does the time go? Have a clear idea in your head of what activity will be allocated to each day so you’re not just staring inertly at a list of endless possibilities.
  • Set expectations. I do my kids a favor and tell them what I expect during the course of the day. What food is off-limits and what food constitutes a “free snack” they can consume at any time. How long the TV can be on. When to apply sunscreen. Do the same for your employees – it’s the best way to ensure your wishes will be met.
  • Create systems. While I’m open to input, I don’t just walk away and let my kids decide how to take care of the household chores. Each person signs up for what they will do and then we put the tasks on a schedule. Do the chores always get done? No, but it helps me keep track of who is to do what and helps me hold them accountable.
  • Document. No matter how often I show my daughter how to do the laundry, her teenaged brain immediately discards half of what I’ve told her the minute I walk away. That’s why I leave instructions in a waterproof slipsheet – how to sort the clothes, what temperature to set, how much detergent to use – it’s a relatively small effort on my part and it minimizes the potential for laundry disaster.

The main takeaway – don’t leave the situation to work itself out. It will rarely go the way you want it to.

During the course of this post, you may have jumped to the logical conclusion that my favorite day of the year is the first day of school. But that’s not the case. The beginning of the school year brings another set of challenges, and entirely different structural requirements. So we do it all again.

How do you handle ambiguity? Send your stories to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.