Creativity is a calculated act in the modern work landscape. Copywriters are hired to deliver a certain number of words by a certain date. Designers work with a client on an incremented timeline. The performers have to master their choreography in front of the curtain. Developers need to solve the coding problems before launching the website.
Anyone who thinks they're creative or has been involved in a creative project knows the pressures of an upcoming deadline. Without them, neither artists nor employers could accurately plan or plan their financial future. The concept of endless creative time is romantic, but we can all agree that deadlines are a necessary evil. Some even claim that the deadline actually spurs creativity, exchanging stories of frenzied 11th hour work that somehow turned a disjointed design into a work of art that had five minutes to spare. Romantic indeed. But research tells a different story.
In a study commissioned by Harvard Business Review, the researchers found that time pressure scenarios not only impaired creative thinking for the duration of the print (up to the deadline), but that participants also experienced “print hangovers” lasting up to three months. During this time they were less creative. With this pressure comes an increased level of the stress-related hormone cortisol, which has long had devastating long-term effects on everything from the cardiovascular system to the digestive system.
So how do you stay productive without sacrificing creativity? It starts with realizing that the modern definition of productivity is often at odds with creativity, but there are a few ways to meet your deadlines without the negative emotional, mental, and physical effects of cramming. Start with the ones below and look at the three case studies of people who manage to get everything done while maintaining their high standards of creativity.
1. Redefine productivity.
The simplified definition of productivity is "doing". But productivity is also about calm, learning, observing and being. The obsession with doing this often lures us into meaningless tasks like Inbox Zero and this could have been an email meeting. It's tangible things that we can point out and say, "Look at everything I've done today." True productivity is what brings us closer to the overall goal. Keep this in mind as you head into your next day at work. See how much you can eliminate.
2. Set aside time to do nothing.
No, sleeping doesn't count. Treat this time like a customer interview. Take a long walk in nature; Enjoy a hot tub with candles and instrumental music. Lie in a hammock in your yard and stare at the sky. Think of creativity as your mind juggling dozens of pieces of information. It takes time and space to find the rhythm between the individual pieces.
3. Understand your limits.
The collective obsession with efficiency and productivity stifles creativity. It also has the power, ironically, to make us less efficient. When we try to organize our days into unforgiving chunks of laser-focused time, our brains become overloaded. Try this rule of thumb: for every 40 minutes of productivity, take 10 minutes of downtime. Even lifting your eyes off the screen for 30 seconds can provide permanent benefits.
4. Avoid distractions.
In the study, what was mistakenly mistaken for timely creativity was an act of focus. When the deadlines are long, distractions are eliminated. We stow our phones, cancel frivolous meetings and ask that you remain undisturbed. "We are on the deadline." What if we apply the same focus before the fear-inducing deadline? Try it. See what happens.