Ours is a competitive and complex industry. To stay ahead of the pace, indeed, to set the pace, we need to constantly learn, constantly think, constantly be challenged. We need to integrate our work and lives. But sometimes, it all comes to a crashing halt if we don’t stop, rest and recharge.
There is a general level of anxiety that accompanies the idea of taking time off. If a problem occurs while we are off, we feel guilty about it. If we take too long off, we feel that we are dispensable and the organization can carry on without us.
These ideas are not only untrue and unhealthy, they limit our ability to function and deliver on a continuous basis and also constrain our ability to be creative.
Let’s start with the idea of feeling guilty about something going wrong while we are taking time off. In an agency environment, there is never a right time to take time off. Basically, something unexpected always happens. Something is always going wrong. You can’t avoid taking time off for the sake of avoiding problems. Your responsibility as a strategist is to make sure you have clearly identified individuals whose responsibility it is to address any issues in your absence. Be clear with lines of escalation and play out a couple of broad scenarios to make sure everyone is clear on what actions they should take if anything goes wrong.
Next, let’s address the issue of feeling dispensable. I believe that it is part of the role of the strategist to constantly work to make yourself dispensable. This is the only way to grow and scale your efforts. If you are central to every decision in the organization then it means you are constantly being pulled into the weeds and are ineffective as a strategist.
You simply have to take time off. Matthew Inman, writing as The Oatmeal summed it up perfectly when he wrote that Creativity Is Like Breathing. He writes that ‘when you make stuff, you’re exhaling. But you can’t exhale forever. Eventually you have to breathe in. Or you’ll be dead‘.
So how do we breathe in? That is what taking time off is about. But taking time off doesn’t mean stopping. It means focusing your energies and attention elsewhere, on other projects, other areas of interest. It means looking for inspiration. We often talk about the strategist as being responsible for inspiring team members. But we need inspiration. And this needs to come from areas far removed from our work. After all, if the only things we look at to draw inspiration from are other digital marketing practitioners and projects, how are we supposed to maintain a broad perspective? How are we supposed to have original ideas? Inspiration can come from travel, galleries and movies, books and friends. Just make sure it has nothing to do with your day to day responsibilities.
So build your support network. Take time off, guilt free. Use it to gain not just rest, but inspiration. Use it to breathe in.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.