How Do You Produce Great Creative Work Under Pressure?
The poet T.S. Eliot once said, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” A novel thought, but a difficult one to grasp once you’re entrenched in the creative process with an impending deadline looming. With an ever-increasing demand for content with limited resources to work with, the question, “How do you produce great creative work under pressure?” feels more relevant now than ever before.
With that in mind, V reached out to some of the top creative talents across the industry and beyond to find out how they tackle this very question.
Their responses range from the practical (“Go for a walk”), to the straight-forward (“Don’t work with assholes”), to the spiritual (“Create a quiet, focused mind”). Read and learn from their coping mechanisms below:
Justin Ruben, Group Creative Director, Droga5
“When it comes to creating under pressure—the pressure of a fast-approaching deadline—there are a few things I do.
I try to focus on the project, maybe go for a walk, grab a coffee, and try not to think about the impending deadline. Instead, I turn my mind to other things, things that don’t have the words, ‘impending deadline’ in them.
While trying not to think about the impending deadline, I realize that some of the best work out there has been produced with an impending deadline, so there is no reason I can’t do it again. After this realization, I get to work.
For context, I was asked to give this quote with an impending deadline for authenticity.”
Jackie Jantos, VP, Brand and Creative, Spotify
“I used to love the expression, ‘you can have it fast, good, or cheap—pick two.’ But we need to do all three—and often in collaboration. You need a sharp point of view on what you’re trying to create. And then you need to know when to lead and when to get out of the way.”
Dabs Myla, husband and wife artist duo, Dabs Myla
“We are both always thinking about our art and work but when we are under a little more pressure I think that we just naturally step into overdrive and our creative muscles start to flex… so in these moments of pressure we find ourselves creating some of our best work!”
Cheryl Family, SVP, Brand Strategy + Creative, Viacom Catalyst
“Oftentimes pressure comes because there’s not enough time. But that can also be a blessing in disguise. When there’s no time, you can’t overthink it, and there’s no time for others to meddle and water it down. It allows for clarity of vision.”
Marc Levy, SVP, Insights and Creative Catalyst, Ketchum
“’The more stressful the situation, the more quiet the mind must be.’ Siddhartha Buddha, I’m guessing, probably?
Whenever I’m under-the-gun in that ridiculous turnaround/need-it-ASAP situation, my most important tool is a quiet, focused mind. It allows me to shut out the distractions and focus—focus on the challenge, focus on the need, focus on the possibilities. The ability to focus on those things to narrow your thinking and direct your solutions to the task at hand is key. When they’re beating down your door, texting and emailing incessantly, and even (gasp!) calling you—take 15 minutes. Meditate. Quiet your mind. Then get to work.”
Steve Babcock, Chief Creative Officer, VaynerMedia
“Under pressure all you really think about is the negative—limitations like time, resources, and budget. There’s always opportunity, no matter the restriction. I like to say the smaller the box, the bigger the idea. So, change your mindset, be open to collaboration, and be 100 percent comfortable not doing it the way you’ve always done before.”
“Inspiration neutralizes pressure. This is important in TV production as TV production moves rapidly.”
Andrew Day, Fashion Photographer
“When I’m backstage at Fashion Week and it’s crazy busy, I try and smile and be patient. Everyone is being pulled in three different directions so I try and make it fun. I find that in chaos, with a good attitude—there are more opportunities to make others’ days better and I love that.”
Gabriel Araujo, VP Executive Creative Director, Ketchum
“I have 5 pieces of advice that can help creatives who find themselves under pressure:
1. Don’t work for assholes. And most importantly don’t be an asshole.
2. Great things never came from comfort zones.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail, take risks.
4. Never let a great idea die.
5. Add love in everything you create.
Under pressure is where you prove you can be the best person for the job, or the worst one. There is good and bad pressure: the good pressure inspires you to go out of your comfort zone and make the innovation happen; the bad pressure will make you feel totally stuck.”