We’ve all been handed a project last-minute and been expected to turn out a final product equal to those with days or weeks of research and preparation. The fact is, no matter what you do, this will always be a possible threat. But before you pull your hair out and go to the office kitchen to break things, here are a six steps to help you stay creative while on deadline.
- Accept your fate
Don’t fight the timeline unless you’re sure there is room for an extension. It will be much more efficient to start brainstorming right away instead of procrastinating and hoping for more time. Get to it.
- Get the hard stuff out of the way first
Research by Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, suggests that “it’s usually better to get the more difficult things done first and then indulge in the pleasurable ones.” Like eating your vegetables before the rest of your meal, getting the tough stuff out of the way first is a good move. Saving the most time-consuming part of your project for last is a mistake, even if you think it will be easy. Do a little of the challenging stuff each day and it will be much more enjoyable in the long-run.
- Research efficiently
In best-case scenarios, you will have days or weeks to devote to in-depth research. However, with tight deadlines you should be more concerned with finding relevant research right away. Usually, I like to search for all content related to the project and even some things that aren’t to see what inspires me. But when time is of the essence I try to limit my searches to sources with concise information related directly to the project subject matter. For instance, a recent campaign for The NAFEM (North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) Show provided us with plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with every aspect of the brand and its competitors. Because of this, we were able to take the brand to its extremes and do more experimentation before arriving at our final product. With far less time, we would have devoted our resources to coming up with the best solution as quickly as possible. I would focus on knowing the company and differentiating them from the competition, but not have taken as many creative risks.
- Maintain communication
This is key to any time-crunch project. Make sure you have as much material as possible from the project manager right away. This will help you focus on questions that will be more useful toward both of your goals. A creative brief is good for this. It outlines the purpose, timeline and deliverables and summarizes the goal. Once I’ve started, I like to maintain an open line of communication between the other people on the project to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. No one is a mind-reader. Just because your internal review of the project isn’t until tomorrow doesn’t mean you can’t run ideas or images by the account managers earlier than that. This will help stay on track and in most cases, project managers have already done a lot of helpful research that will benefit you as well. Take advantage of that and continue to collaborate for the best results.
- Create milestones
This is also a huge part of maintaining communication. Like with any project, breaking it into manageable pieces is easier than trying to solve for the bigger picture right away. Create regulated goals and keep your project lead cognizant of your work so they can steer you away from dead ends.
- Last but not least, be accountable
In the end, there is not much we as creatives can do about tight deadlines. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your all. It still falls on you to deliver a great product. Treating the timeline as an excuse is a mistake. It is a challenge, and one for which you are responsible.