Deadlines can be a great motivator – they force you to get on with the job and make progress. But they’re also known to kill creativity. While we talk about needing time off from tasks to step back and get creative, deadlines have the opposite effect – they create stress, force you to rush, and eliminate all other options.
Why We Have Deadlines
We live in a culture with ever-changing demands and expectations – new technologies, new creative skills, new habits, new tastes. Deadlines are supposed to keep us on track, but they also have the unintended side effect of stifling our creativity.
Related: Is Creativity a Skill: Answered
How Deadlines Are Set
Depending on how deadlines are set, they can be a motivation or vice versa. If you feel like a tight deadline is preventing you from being creative, there are some questions you should ask yourself.
Who Gave You the Deadline?
If it’s someone you don’t like, like your project manager, then your relationship with that person will affect how motivated you’re and how much time you’ll spend on meeting deadlines.
Instead of focusing on business creativity and giving 110% effort, you may think that your project manager doesn’t like you and therefore you should go out of your way for him. That doesn’t exactly lead to creative thinking.
If it’s someone who likes and supports you and has been behind every one of your projects so far, then a strict deadline will give you the motivation to finish your creative work and make it as perfect as possible before you turn it in, even if that means working overtime.
When Is Your Deadline For
If you need to get a big project done, you should try to break it into smaller tasks with shorter deadlines. This way you can let your creativity run wild and still have your goal in mind.
However, if you’ve been given an unrealistic deadline, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to meet the deadline with the most innovative ideas, no matter how great your creative skills and creative efforts.
Why Do You Have a Deadline?
Forcing yourself to be creative for a task that doesn’t interest you is like trying to get a child to eat broccoli even though he doesn’t like the taste.
If you’re interested in the project, creativity shouldn’t be a problem, but when it comes to a paying job or a school project, we’re sometimes asked to be creative for something we don’t think is important.
The way to make it relevant is to find reasons you may not have been given.
For example, if you’re asked to organize a communication campaign for a toothpaste brand on a short deadline, you may not be interested in toothpaste at all, but you may be more interested in health or esthetics, trends, etc.
A topic never comes alone, that’s what creativity is all about: “thinking outside the box”.
Creativity isn’t about inventing something out of nothing. It’s about finding meaning in something that someone else has already given you.
What Is Your Personality Type?
It’s important to know our personality type, especially when it comes to deadlines.
If you’re a high achiever, you may be an “early bird” and not understand why someone who’s an “owl” would struggle with deadlines. If you’re a perfectionist, you may think all deadlines are arbitrary deadlines and don’t care about time pressure because your creative work has to be perfect.
If you’re an epicure, you may feel that a tight deadline is ruining what’s “most important” to you, enjoying your free time, time that makes creatives more efficient.
The solution to this conundrum is to understand that arbitrary deadlines aren’t an option in certain circumstances. Managers usually impose a tight deadline based on external factors such as market needs or supply chain commitments.
When we understand this, we can better plan how things need to get done and collaborate with others who may not share our perspectives.
Understanding how your personality type affects how you handle deadlines can help you ensure they’re met and try new approaches when they aren’t.
There are also cases where managers don’t understand how a creative person’s intrinsic motivation works and set an unrealistic deadline that then prevents any possible creative output.
Managers should also study the social psychology of personality types if they want their employees to put in creative output and come up with great innovative ideas.
Maybe you’ve had the experience of failing at deadlines, and since then you’ve had a block every time you’re given a strict deadline.
Take it as a chance to overcome your fear. At worst, you’ll fail again, but you’ll learn something new about yourself and get better with each attempt.
Trying something and failing is a normal part of the creative process. We often think that if we just try harder, we’ll succeed. We often push our limits to achieve what we want. In fact, many great creative projects started with something that went wrong.
Mistakes can be inspiring and in the end, it’s always better to try than to feel like you’re failing without trying.
How a Deadline Can Boost Creativity
It Sets Expectations
When you have a deadline for something, it’s easier to identify what’s urgent and what’s not.
Urgency is useful when it comes to creativity because it forces you to make decisions and focus on what’s most important.
It Helps You Focus
Sometimes it can be hard to have creative ideas, or they come too quickly. A deadline helps you focus on an idea and gives you a goal so you don’t get distracted by other things.
It Gives You Discipline
When you have a deadline for something, it means that the project should be finished on time when you do the daily tasks. This creates good habits for people who often put off or delay projects because they don’t see the point in working on them early.”
How Deadlines Can Destroy Creativity
Pressure and Stress
We tend to perceive deadlines as stressful because they put us under pressure. When we’re stressed, our brains are flooded with cortisol (the stress hormone). This makes it harder to concentrate and think clearly. It also leads to fatigue, which makes us less creative.
Lack of time
We don’t always have time to be creative. We’re too busy trying to meet our deadlines. And when we finally have time to be creative, we may not be in the right mood or inspired enough to come up with innovative ideas.
When you have a lot of options and information in front of you, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start or how to begin when you have a lot to absorb in a short amount of time. Too much information and short deadlines can actually make it difficult for us to come up with creative ideas.
Are Deadlines a Creative Advantage or a Creative Blocker?
There’s much debate about the advantages and disadvantages of deadlines for original ideas.
Some argue that deadlines are good for improving your creative work: they give you motivation, a sense of urgency, and help you focus on what’s important. Others argue that deadlines can be a great source of stress and anxiety, leading to procrastination and even preventing you from doing your best creative work because they distract you with time pressure.
When you’re working for yourself, you need to set deadlines. Deadlines can help your productivity and achieve your goal.
Deadlines are part of the creative process, they’re part of the original idea, they’re part of the idea itself.
The Approach To Take When Working With Deadlines
Deadlines are one of the most common goals that people set. We all have them, but they aren’t always helpful.
A strict deadline can be a good motivator to get going, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to meet the deadline. Some deadlines cause you to hurry and sacrifice quality or quantity to get something done.
Trying to meet deadlines is like trying to do everything right. You can either try and fail or not try at all. Either way, there’s no guarantee of success.
Many people think that their work is only good if it’s completed under pressure, but this is wrong.
If you rush your work, you’ll just end up with less time to correct your mistakes, and the end result won’t be nearly as good as if you take more time at the beginning and make sure you get it right the first time.
If you have a specific deadline for your project, it may be worth taking a little extra time and planning exactly what you need to do to get everything done by the deadline so you can get the best possible result for yourself.
When it comes to deadlines, the real problem isn’t really creative, but time management.
- “Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and creative skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells.” – Teresa Amabile
- “My mental space is when I get to a place of creativity, and I can just be myself while I am writing and connecting with the material.” Jennifer Juliette
- “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer
- “I have a good idea every two years. Give me a topic, I will give you the idea!” – Fritz Zwicky
- “The new idea either finds a champion or it dies. No ordinary involvement with a new idea provides the energy required to cope with the indifference and resistance that change provokes.” – Tom Peters