Creating time in a world where this is none

—Edelman’s Michelle Lee says the unceasing drive for faster is leading to burnout. A slow strategy, she says, can lead to both perspective and clarity.—

Scrolling, tweeting, skimming, liking, sharing, skipping, clicking—life speeds along at a unrelenting pace.

And while everyone feels this tempo, I’d argue that strategists feel it even more acutely; our livelihood demands that we stay on top of everything from the latest on System 1 research, to the effect of zero sum budgeting on effectiveness, to how to apply yet another cognitive bias to advertising—not to mention farm to plane dining, forest bathing and pet parenting.

And while all incredibly stimulating, trying to keep up with everything is incredibly exhausting.

So exhausting, in fact, that an alarming number of strategists want to leave agency life, according to WARC’s 2019 Future of Strategy Report. They are tired of the long hours, and feeling spent by the demands for quick turnarounds. They are, in essence, burnt out.

Close on the heels of this report, the Account Planning Group in the U.K. penned a pledge which they have since asked strategy leaders and agencies across London to commit to. The Right to Disconnect is a “call to arms to disconnect because one major trigger and accelerator to mental ill health is our 24/7 ‘always on’ work culture.”

It’s a pledge to send emails only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., to fixed and flex working hours (fixed office hours and allowing workers to flex around them), to actual vacation time (without wifi), and to leaving loudly when it’s time to go home.

Here at Edelman we have a dusk to dawn email policy—no emails between these hours. But since a more comprehensive and broad-reaching pledge like the Right to Disconnect does not currently exist within our industry in Canada, I believe we must make our own pledge. We must make a pledge to Slow Strategy:

1. Slow sets limits because it knows that boundaries actually promote, rather than hinder, creativity. This means saying no to always doing. And no to always being singularly focused on getting it done.

2. Slow delights in boredom, because it acknowledges that forcing distance between oneself and the problem leads to perspective—which in turn leads to clarity. This means emptying our minds instead of always trying to fill them.

3. Slow actively seeks out distraction, because it understands that innovation comes from forcing seemingly disparate things together. This means finding time to watch bad TV shows (which are awesome) and making time to listen to seemingly trivial podcasts (which have admittedly been the source of some of my best ideas).

4. Slow finds comfort in letting go, because it recognizes that chasing perfection is almost always futile. This means, in the words of Brene Brown, taking off that 20-ton shield of perfection.

Most important of all, slow gives ourselves permission to do all of this without a single ounce of guilt.

Despite a world that is moving so fast, I seek slow because I am no stranger to burn out. I am intimately acquainted with trying to do too much, to thinking I can do it all without any repercussions. I’ve come to realize I can’t. And so I’ve decided I won’t.

I won’t because slow makes me happier. Slow makes me better.

Slow allows me to be present so I can listen to my own instincts. Slow allows me to be creative so I can provide less obvious solutions to complex problems. Slow allows ideas to take shape, to flourish and grow. Slow helps me keep up because I do it on my terms instead of someone else’s.

Slow has permeated almost every industry: slow food, slow fashion, or slow travel. And for good reason. It celebrates the enjoyment of what you’re doing and promotes the intention of how you’re doing it.

So as many of us prepare to relax over the holidays (at least in theory), perhaps it’s worth considering the immense benefits of slow. Slow creates time in a world where there is none.

Michelle Lee is the new VP head of strategic planning at Edelman. She is a recovering over-achiever and is looking forward to enjoying a slow holiday with her notifications turned (mostly) off.