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How To Inspire Creativity On A Deadline

There is something ethereal and energetic about setting time frames, you become more productive and things get done.

In the 1860s, a deadline was a line drawn around the prison grounds in the USA. If prisoners took a step out of that line, they were shot. 

By the middle of the 20th century, this word became well established as time-related, rather than shoot-a-person-for-crossing-a-line one.

There are the normal deadlines which as citizens of society we have to adhere to, such as tax returns, exam entries and job applications. These are dry, boring, tedious, administrational and simply require time available. Neither talent nor creativity is required to complete these; they could even be done by someone else and no one would be any wiser.

We have no worthiness or self-esteem issues around completing these.

It’s a different ballgame when attempting to inspire a creative outlet alongside a completion date?

We might experience this as the dreaded moment looming ever closer, filling us with intense pressure, stress and anxiety, which reawaken the petulant child disguised as procrastination, creating a recipe for stalemate.

Do you feel crushed by the weight of a deadline?

If you do, you might have a ton of overthinking about the end result, making it overwhelming and unmanageable. Resistance then arises and tasks are left until the last minute. I find that it’s not the actual date of completion that is the issue, but the overthinking that accompanies it. 

The dialogue sitting alongside most deadlines might be the following;

Is it perfect enough? Does it impress others? Will I be liked? Could someone else have done better? It’s not good enough.. And on it goes.

This is like attempting to drive on a road whilst continuing to press your foot on the brakes.

It’s no wonder that attempting to inspire a smidgen of creativity on a deadline feels like a gargantuan task.

If you shift your mindset and think about deadlines as simply a timeline keeping you accountable by setting an end date for completion, it can be seen as a friend helping you with the task. Rather than the headteacher standing over you, ruler in hand waiting for you to mess up.

Coming up with a creative endeavour with a completion date looming over you might feel inconceivable. 

Is it really possible to order creativity on the go, in the same way you order a take out when you fancy it? Instantaneously appearing on schedule.

In my experience, it’s totally possible.

I attended a writers retreat a year ago, and within our group of writers, I was amazed at two participants who were the fastest at completing each creative writing task that was set.

They were the journalists.

Both of these journalists who wrote for different international newspapers had this incredible habit of coming up with a writing pitch within a very short space of time. I was shocked by the speed at which they came up with creative ideas, stories and pitches. They delivered consistently in a creative, smart and immediate fashion.

This was a great lesson to behold. Deadline orientated journalists needed no prod or motivation. They have to be creative on tap.

They don’t have time to deliberate if a story is good enough or whether their boss is impressed by them. When there is a breaking news story that needs reporting it has to be done. Pronto.

How many times have you been given a period of time in which to pay your mortgage, and you have to find creative ways to come up with the funds? Or someone is really sick, needs life-changing treatment with a few days, and you come up with creative ways to raise money.

The truth is that creative people need structure and timelines.

Try writing a book, scheduling a podcast series or developing an online programme without a deadline.

I challenge you.

If you’ve heard people say that ‘one day’ they will write that book, what they mean is that there is no structure or timeline set, therefore good luck with seeing them proudly showing off their published work.

How do you inspire creativity on a deadline?

You just have to decide what you want to create and go for it.

Start by concentrating more on process than on outcome.

The outcome will happen either way, but pay attention to what is in front of you, sit down and make yourself do it. That’s the difference between a professional and an amateur.

Being at the mercy of whether you feel like it or not just doesn’t help in getting things completed. This is where creativity becomes warped. Without a completion date, your brain can wonder and become easily distracted. 

It’s important to know what makes your creativity flourish, by observing your creative process. Do you work more productively when you are alongside someone else where you can externalise your thoughts, brainstorm and develop the seed of an idea? Or are you better left to your own devices.

This will help you work using your natural way of being, rather than against your natural flow.

What helps you function at your optimum state?

I personally create differently when I’m on holiday than when I’m at home.

I publish a weekly article (this is a self-imposed deadline I set myself) and write daily for the first hour in the morning. This is how I get to publish an article each week. Regardless of whether I feel creative or not.

Is each article perfectly written and composed?

It no longer matters to me, as long as I know the article is adding value to my readers.

But if it did matter, I would only publish one article every 6 months rather than weekly.

The articles I write when I’m on holiday, are totally different to what gets created whilst I’m at home. Totally different.

None of the articles are better than another, but the content and the energy is just different. We can’t always be travelling, relaxed, with a laptop resting on our knees whilst staring at a beach view in front of us.

We often have to come up with the goods at short notice, but often what gets in the way of meeting a deadline is the amount of overthinking we have about what we are about to embark on.

A few years ago, I met Steve Chandler, who is a wonderful international Coach, Speaker and Author.

During this time, I had been yearning to write a book but had convinced myself that I was too old to do so (a story that had no substance whatsoever). When I met Steve, he shared that he had written his first book at 49 years old (and has successfully written over 30 books since).

I had just turned 49, and endeavoured to write a book before I became 50. I created a deadline and told myself that if Steve had achieved this, so could I.

This meant writing the manuscript, finding an editor, publisher and getting it published on Amazon before turning 50 (a mere 9 months away).

This deadline was driven by the inspiration I felt for the way Steve has changed peoples lives through his books, this was the engine that drove me through this time.

I didn’t feel pressure to create a New York Times bestseller, I just felt so excited that at 49 years old I could continue to create, and told myself ‘wouldn’t it be fun to create a book before I turn 50,’ rather than ‘I have to publish a best seller.’

I decided I would complete the first draft in 30 days.

I wrote daily and made sure I had support to help me achieve this. I removed distractions to increase my focus, cut down on my social arrangements, took long walks, swimming and enrolled accountability partners.

There was nothing dead about that deadline — It was alive and kicking.

Exactly 8 months later, my book was published on Amazon.

The best creativity comes from working with the most structure you can impose on yourself. You might think it will take away from spontaneity, but it doesn’t. It allows you to clear away all that isn’t part of the project or mission you’re on, as there is no time to entertain these.

There is something ethereal and energetic about setting time frames, you become more productive and things get done. The movement and momentum awaken inspiration, rather than being at the mercy of what you feel like or don’t feel like doing. 

The deadline becomes your invisible accountability partner which make you more productive and creative, it then shifts from a deadline into a lifeline.

If this article resonated with you, you can read more chapters like these in my latest book ‘Look Inside: Stop Seeking Start Living’ available now on Amazon.

If you want to connect with me to share insights from this article, I would love to hear from you. Send an e-mail to [email protected] 

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