In the modern workscape, creativity is a calculated act. Copywriters are hired to deliver a set number of words by a specific date. Designers work with a client on an incremented timeline. Performers must master the choreography before the curtain call. Developers must solve coding hiccups before the site launches.
Anyone who has been involved in a creative project knows the pressure of an approaching deadline. The notion of endless creative time is romantic, and we can all agree that deadlines are a necessary evil. Some even argue deadlines actually spur creativity, sharing their stories of feverish 11th-hour work that transforms a disjointed draft into a piece of art with five minutes to spare. But research tells a different story.
In a study reported in Harvard Business Review, researchers found that time-pressure scenarios diminished creative thinking. What’s more, following a deadline, participants also experienced “pressure hangovers” lasting as much as three months. During this time, they sustained diminished levels of creativity. The pressure of tight deadlines can also increase levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, known to have devastating long-term effects on everything from cardiovascular health to our digestive systems.
How do you stay productive without killing creativity? It starts with recognizing that the modern definition of productivity is often at war with creativity. There are ways to hit your deadlines without the negative emotional, mental, and physical effects of cramming. Start with the ones listed below, and then consider the three case studies of people who manage to get it all done while keeping their standards of creativity high.
1. Redefine Productivity
The simplistic definition of productivity is “doing.” But productivity is also resting, learning, observing, and being. The obsession with doing often lures us into meaningless tasks like inbox zero and this-could-have-been-an-email meetings. They’re tangible things we can point to and say, “Look at all I did today.” Yet true productivity is that which pushes us closer to our big-picture goals. Keep that top of mind as you go into your next workday. See how many extraneous tasks you can eliminate.
2. Schedule Time to Do Nothing
No, sleeping doesn’t count. Treat this time as you would a client meeting. Take a long walk; soak in a hot tub with candles and some instrumental music; lie in a hammock in your backyard and stare at the sky. Think of the act of creativity as your mind juggling dozens of pieces of information; you need time and space to find the rhythm between each piece.
3. Understand Your Limits
The collective obsession with efficiency and productivity suffocates creativity. It also has the power to make us, ironically, less efficient. When we try to organize our days into unforgiving blocks of laser-focused time, our brains are overloaded. Try this rule of thumb: For every 40 minutes of productivity, take 10 minutes of downtime. Even lifting your eyes from the screen for 30 seconds can provide long-lasting benefits….