Are Deadlines Bad for Creative Work?

by Kenneth Lange  

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Creative work is a journey.

When an artist creates a sketch (or draft or prototype), she takes a step down a creative path, which will reveal new paths she can choose to explore by making new sketches. She will continue exploring new paths until she finds the one she feels happy about and then turn it into the final painting.

If she works under a deadline that is too tight, her explorations will be cut short and she may feel pressured into taking a “good enough” sketch and turn it into the final painting.

But in creative work (as oppose to industrial work) quality is no longer just a hygiene factor, but it’s the very essence of the output. We don’t judge artists by the number of paintings they produce, but by the quality of their paintings.

I mean we don’t say that Leonardo Da Vinci was a poor artist, because he produced so few paintings. Or that Apple is a poor company because they have so few products in their portfolio.

So am I saying that deadlines are bad for creative work?

No, I think self-imposed deadlines are a great tool to ensure we allocate serious chunks of time for our most creative work instead of just feeding it with whatever leftovers there might be when all the urgent activities have taken their bite.

But instead of setting a deadline for the final version, set a deadline for the first version, and then iterate over that until you discover something wonderful that makes you feel really proud!

In this way, you get the focused productivity of the deadline, but still got the opportunity to discover new and better paths compared to the one you originally envisioned.

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