How to Stay Creative When Facing a Deadline

Deadlines are notorious creativity saps. All the steady, measured progress we’ve made on a project suddenly seems inadequate when we’re faced with a looming deadline. If multitasking is typically a series of threads we follow throughout our day, now we’re looking at a Gordian knot. We start to panic. And that anxiety fills up all the available space our creativity once inhabited. At least, that’s how it feels.

It’s an all-too-common experience. People in creative fields often face the challenge of how to maintain their creativity and handle the pressure of meeting due dates.

Here are some ideas to combat or sidestep your anxiety and to realign your mind with your creative flow.

Tackle the hardest thing first. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. If you start your day by completing the difficult task you dread the most, you will free up the rest of your time for more creative thinking, because you’ll be more relaxed.

Shift into hyper-focus mode. Shifting into hyper-focus mode does require intense dedication—but only in short bursts. Set a timer, clear all distractions, lock your door if possible, put on your headphones, and work on your deadline task as fast as you can for a solid 20 minutes. No emails, no social media, no interruptions—and no editing! After 20 minutes, take a deep breath and a step back. Go get some coffee, chat with a coworker, or take a walk around your building. Then return to your desk and see how much you accomplished in those 20 minutes…chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even if the ideas are in rough draft form, you can work with that. What you can’t do is edit a blank page. Repeat these hyper-focused sprints at intervals, every few hours, throughout the days leading up to your deadline.

Go for a walk. Even five minutes of fresh air can inspire fresh ideas and generate better creative flow. Your mind can wander wherever it wants, although focusing on your breathing helps reduce blood pressure and stress. Check out this study that shows how a walk in nature positively impacts a person’s mental health.

Reward yourself. Sure, meeting a deadline should be a reward in itself, but if you need that extra push, reward yourself. Taking time to “restock the creative well” is crucial after meeting a stressful deadline. Choose a reward that not only makes you feel good, but offers the kind of stimulation that helps you restock that inner reserve of creativity, so you’ll be fresh for the next project.

Need more inspiration for ways to stay creative in the face of a deadline? You’ll appreciate these supportive recommendations.