Are Deadlines Good For Creativity? Of Course They Are

are deadlines good for creativity
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One Project a Day Challenge was a blog by Valeri Potchekailov. It ended about a year ago, with the Belgian graphic designer having completed, that’s right, one project every day for a year. In the sidebar she says a half hour was about what she was aiming for. And while that much work is inspirational and shows how Potchekailov was able to stick to her plan, it also shows what some people call “The grace of the deadline.”

Oftentimes there is nothing worse than looking at the calendar and seeing that you only have a couple days to finish a project (or worse, a couple hours). Your stress levels go through the roof, you feel like you could puke and you know that finally this is the time where everything is going to fall apart.

But that deadline was also the thing that pushed you to throw away all of your doubts and just get it done. The problem isn’t that you have deadlines – it’s that you don’t have enough of them.

Stefan Sagmeister is a critically acclaimed graphic designer known for his work with Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, the Guggenheim Museum and David Byrne. Some of his work is massive, requiring massive brainstorming, preparation, trial and error. And yet, something Sagmeister likes to do is put on a record in the morning and try to finish an entire new layout before the record is over.

The kind of snap decisions that you have to make when a deadline begins at the first song puts you more in tune with your taste and gut instincts. When you don’t have time to second guess yourself and are forced to go with what your brain is handing you that day, you’ll wind up with something you would have never created if given more time.

So how do you “stay in shape” creatively, as Potchekailov puts it? Find that time in every day and don’t work on a big thing and don’t try to make it more than it is. Just finish one small thing. But, and this is where the true grace of the deadline comes in, make sure you can barely finish it. If you’re writing a song with no issues in twenty-five minutes then what about twenty? If you can write a 250-word story in a half hour, then push yourself to do it in half that time. Give yourself that jolt every time. Make your synapses go into overdrive. Then you’ll really start seeing some surprising results.

A creative project can be a marathon. It can require infinite patience and constant revisions. But you don’t run a marathon every day, and a nice sprint can do wonders.

Shane Mehling FOLLOW >

Shane Mehling is a freelance writer and editor who plays in noiserock bands.