Creativity has a habit of either being sparked or getting blocked. Different environments, circumstances, and people can play a role in how creative we feel and actually are. One of the most influential factors in determining our ability to be creative is time. 

While some workers feel they need the luxury of time to get their creative juices flowing, others enjoy the pressure of a quickly approaching deadline and feel it brings out the best in them. However, feeling creative and actually producing creative ideas don’t always correlate. Personal preferences of time pressure aren’t necessarily indicative of creative production. 

Through studies and research, the same general conclusion has been confirmed: We work more creatively without extreme time-pressure. However, there’s more to the story of creativity besides time that requires further examination, including what else plays a role in creativity levels and how leaders can best support their teams’ creativity when the luxury of time is, and isn’t, available.

Let’s Get The Facts

Teresa Amabile, a Baker Foundation Professor and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School, conducted an extensive research study on time pressure and creativity in which 26 creative teams across three industries and seven companies were examined. In a 2017 Harvard Business School podcast, Amabile reveals the “punchline” finding of the study, “People were most creative most of the time when they were under low to moderate time pressure.” While we are generally more creative when we have more time, other factors play a role. 

One finding of the study explains the disparities in feeling creative and being creative. According to the study, workers felt very productive and very creative on high time-pressured days. While workers may have been accomplishing a lot, the irony is that they were actually less likely to conceive innovative thoughts and solve problems creatively. Instead, much of their time was devoted to less important tasks that arose throughout the workday. Workers’ feelings of creativity, according to Amabile, can be attributed to the adrenaline they felt while accomplishing less important tasks quickly while under pressure.

Under low time pressure, Amabile found that constantly working in a large group is not a conducive environment for creativity. Workers need breaks and solo time to develop new ideas. The best setting for creativity has both low time pressure and opportunities for workers to have alone time or to work one-on-one with just one other collaborator. 

The one instance when workers proved to be creative while under high time pressure was when workers understood the purpose of the project and the need for time pressure. When workers value the deadline and the meaning behind the project, they’re able to become deeply immersed and feel driven to produce creatively. Under such circumstances, creativity can flourish.

How Leaders Can Help

The best way for leaders to help spark creativity in their teams is to build a suitable environment. We now know that workers need enough time to complete their work. Set a deadline for each project, but carefully consider the scope of the project, the necessary steps, and time for creative contemplation. Harvard Business Review suggests, “Don’t be fooled into thinking that time pressure will, in itself, spur creativity. That’s a powerful illusion but an illusion nonetheless.” Instead, set time limits while also factoring in blank space for team members to process and play with their ideas each day. 

No matter the deadline, workers need to understand the purpose of their work. If they are invested and feel a purpose, they’re more likely to stay focused, limit distractions, and get creative. 

Knowing that independent time is important for creativity, make sure to structure alone time for team members each day. Working in groups doesn’t need to be abandoned as long as individuals have designated time for solo work. 

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Creativity cannot be forced or expected to perform on a cue. It has a mind of its own and operates on its own schedule. While we may not be able to control when we or others get creative, we can certainly control outside factors that support creative production. 

Knowted values individual creativity, working with a purpose, and building environments where innovation can thrive. Check out Knowted’s products and services for a closer look at how we can best serve you or your company. 

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