Are Your Deadlines Killing Your Creative Spirit

Can you still be creative when you're up against the clock?

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Photo by James Pond on Unsplash
Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

The big hour hand on your wristwatch slowly lurches forward, telling you that its work time. So you sit down at your office desk, you boot up that old, dusty Mac Book and, just to mentally prepare yourself, you even pour some fuel into your coffee mug and then. . .

On your marks. . . Get set. . . Go!

And then you’re off. Typing away, faster than the speed of light. Smoke is blowing off your keyboard. The clock is rapidly ticking. Your mind is running at 100mph, chasing, hunting down that deadline.

Will you catch it in time? That’s the million dollar question. . .

Alright. Let me stop you there. Switch that stopwatch off for a minute. You and I need to have a word.

I firmly believe that creativity should never be rushed. It took Leonardo Da Vinci more than four years to paint the Mona Lisa masterpiece that sits comfortably in the Louvre Museum today. J.R.R. Tolkien spent twelve years writing the Lord of The Ring series.

Do you see the recurring pattern here?

Creativity thrives with thoughtful patience, not quick-fire deadlines. We perform at our best when we learn to trust in slowness, as Niklas Göke put it.

Wait For the Blinking Lights

Imagine, for a moment, that your mind was a pitch-black cave. Every now and then, the faintest kindles of light would blink in the gloom of that cave. Now, imagine that those snippets of blinking lights are your ‘Ideas’.

Two lights may blink after a while of thinking. And then maybe a dozen more would follow soon after. Dare I say, you might even count up to one hundred blinking lights, all burning brighter than fireflies at night-time.

The thing is this: you don’t know when those lights will start blinking. You don’t know when your ideas will come.

Your ideas could arrive thirty minutes after you open up that blank, white page on your MacBook. It could be two hours. Six hours. You might even be twiddling your thumbs for longer than that. There’s not a time frame for creativity.

What you shouldn’t do is try to rush the creative process. Creativity requires patience. You and I know this, but sometimes the determination to catch up to tight deadlines can make us too impatient. We can become so focused on the clock that we forget to focus on the quality of the work we produce.

I’m new to this whole blogging business. I’ve only been in the game for a month so far. I’m still learning the ropes. On my fifth day of writing on Medium, I created my writing schedule. One of the tasks on my schedule was to publish at least one article per day. Five days a week. No excuses. No mercy on the laptop keyboard.

That was my deadline, and I vowed to follow it. It worked for a while. I was certainly more productive than a workhorse. But, there was one slight problem:

Although I didn’t view it this way at the time, I was producing rubbish content.

I wasn’t writing from the heart: I was writing to meet deadlines. It wasn’t until I shifted to a lower gear, and decided to start taking my time more, that I started to see the promising signs of improvement. Once I booted deadlines out of the equation, I allowed myself more time to deconstruct and to delve deeper into my ideas. And let me tell you: one of the best ways you can fuel creativity is by playing around with the building blocks of your ideas.

As John Cleese said:

‘If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.’

Learn To Take Your Time In A Hurry

Wyatt Earp was an American Old West lawman and gambler. He was famously known for the 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: a thirty-second shootout between lawmen and a band of outlaws. Here is a dose of wisdom from the man himself:

‘Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gunfight . . . You need to take your time in a hurry.’

‘Take your time in a hurry.’ Although we’re not discussing gun fights here, this same rule can apply to us creatives.

Some of us are full-time writers; I can appreciate that. Some of us writer so that we can pay our bills, and keep a roof over our heads. Sometimes we need the discipline and routine that comes from deadlines.

When it comes down to it, deadlines do have their advantages. Deadlines can push us to become more consistent, for one.

Setting deadlines for yourself is fine, but just remember one thing:

When facing urgent deadlines, it is best that you learn how to take your time in a hurry. What this means is that even though you might be working quickly to a deadline, you’re focused enough to not lose sight of the quality of your work.

This is, of course, easier said than done.

But once you work at your craft for long enough you’ll eventually find it easy to produce great results quickly. This is the reason why professional writers can spend twenty minutes writing up a brilliant piece that would take an amateur writer five hours to even think of.

Final note:

When it comes down to it, deadlines only kill your creativity if you allow them to. Believe it or not, there is a way for you to hit all of your deadlines and still produce great work.

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