How to revitalise creativity when you have deadlines

work deadlines

Deadlines. They can really thwart creativity, can’t they? The feeling of time ticking down, imposing a very real cut off, can hinder work flow, and in fact make it harder to meet the deadline in the first place!

It’s interesting how rising stress levels attributed to deadlines can often work against us. However, this needn’t always be the case – in fact, here at Calmer, we’re encouraging freelancers, co-workers, and entrepreneurs to take some time away from their workload and improve their productivity through regular check-ins with their mental health and wellbeing. Our strategies and support often result in an increased level of work efficiency, and better approaches to difficult tasks.

So, if you’re looking for a spark of inspiration (despite the timer ticking away), read on for our best tips on how to proceed smartly and revitalise your creativity when working to a deadline:

1. Make a list of everything you need to do

While to-do lists aren’t the most creative activity, they do help in freeing up creativity.  By writing out everything you’re thinking about doing, you’ll be able to see exactly what you’re planning, and work out what’s really possible.

A to-do list will also help you to work out what isn’t practical in your allotted work time – this will give you the ability to free yourself from that specific burden for the day, and pick it back up when you can.

Finally, a to-do list will also help you to check-over your work more efficiently, rather than submitting it without proof-reading or censor checking. You’ll feel more confident, and begin to create a track-record of reliable working!

2. Prioritise what needs to get done, for when

Now that your to-do list is written out, you can rank each task in order of their priority. This is something many creative studios do – they even have specific teams to sort this, called traffic management. By putting the most urgent projects first, as well as allocating the right amount of time to each, you’ll reach maximum efficiency.

3. Get into a flow state

Now, onto the work itself. You’ve removed any surplus tasks from your to-do list, and with it, hopefully freed up some mental space for concentrating on each task on your list, which you can work through one by one.

In order to really boost your productivity, look into increasing the factors that lead to a state of flow. Flow, or the flow state, is a psychological phenomena reported to increase how quickly the brain takes in information and improves how deeply it processes that information too. Factors that can enable the flow state include:


–    Feeling trusted and responsible for the success or failure of a project

–    Experiencing novelty and new ways of working

–    Feeling challenged in your work, at a level which you can learn and master

–    Using multiple senses at once – such as sight, sound, and smell


All of these factors contribute to bringing you into the present as you work, into the ultimate state of flow. It’s why so many blue chip businesses are encouraging mindfulness at work too – the practice of bringing your mind into the present on a regular basis.

4. Take periodic breaks

While the state of flow can increase your creativity five-fold, it’s elusive, and exhaustive too. In order to best increase your productivity, it’s worth taking a number of breaks through the day.

While the legal minimum break on a 6-hour shift is just 20 minutes, many studies report that short, hourly breaks increase productivity overall. And what you do on that break is equally important too. To really make the most of a break, and get creative on your return, try:


–    Going for a walk outdoors

–    Take a tea break (and mini-meditation)

–    Exercise lightly

–    Switch off screens and read a book


All of these activities engage different senses and different parts of the brain to the ones you’ve been working so hard while at your desk, so you’ll come back feeling refreshed and potentially ready with new ideas for your project.

5. Communicate problems and share the workload

If your project is seemingly becoming more and more burdensome, it’s time to let people know. If you work for yourself, you may wish to reach out to a client ahead of your agreed deadline, and ask if it’s possible for an extension. And if you’re working in a team, speak to anyone else tasked with the same project. You may be able to share the workload, and make the deadline after all.

6. Book in a feedback session

And finally – when the project is finished, make sure to book in a feedback session with everyone involved, and especially your manager or client.

If you’ve found the project to be difficult, causing you to miss breaks or work extra hours, you may wish to raise this. This is often a dicey topic – in the West, we have a tendency to work longer hours and extra days without question. For many, asking for time off in lieu (TOIL) or additional payment can feel taboo, especially if it was their decision to work late.

However, it’s crucial to understand the value of your work as a whole – and alongside your training and expertise, your time comes into that. You’re not being rude for asking to be fairly compensated for going above and beyond to make a deadline.

In order to negotiate this in a friendly, and non-confrontational way, approach your boss, employer, or client for a project feedback session. This could be as informal as you choose, but be sure to highlight how much more effort you had to put in to meet the deadline, and that this isn’t something you can do on a regular basis without certain factors changing, such as the project’s timeline, or the project’s cost. Depending on their reaction, you could ask for:


–    Time off in lieu (TOIL)

–    Additional pay for the extra hours worked

–    Extended time to work for similar projects in the future

–    Additional support from another team member for similar projects in the future

–    Clearer briefs, more feedback sessions, or other activities to increase efficiency


At the very least, highlighting the pressure you felt during this project will make your manager aware that you need things to change for you to feel comfortable, and motivated with similar work in the future. This in itself, when put into action, will make you feel more trusted, and valued, potentially increasing your creativity too!

About Calmer

Calmer is a leading UK organisation empowering entrepreneurs and purposeful business teams to nurture good mental health and wellbeing. They provide digital courses, workplace training, events, workshops and 1:1 sessions, in addition to their membership platform, The Calmer Community, to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business owners. They believe a happy mind makes for a happy business.


Find them at their website, join the Calmer Community, or follow on Twitter and Instagram.