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Insights — 6 months ago

On A Deadline

Four creatives share their thoughts on deadlines. 

 

More than any other month in the calendar, December can feel like being trapped in a ticking countdown clock. Between the pressure of Christmas, for those who observe, and that sense of another year coming to a close, it’s hard to escape the feeling of being on a fast-approaching deadline. 

 

It’s probably true to say that of all fields, deadlines loom largest in the creative industries. Right from the outset of most creative careers, whether it’s university, internships or early commissions, deadlines will be there, hovering over almost every piece of work or project that you do. But for all that they’re there, they’re not something we tend to think about that much.

 

Do deadlines stifle creativity, or does the pressure produce results? Would work be better without deadlines, or do we just need an endpoint sometimes? Do we get better at deadlines as we move through careers, or is it the case that some people can do them, and some can’t?… We spoke to Rachel Denti, Zenon Records’ Tim Larner, Will Richards AKA ILLWOOKIE and Adam Stewart, of Green Man Festival, to find out their thoughts.

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Rachel Denti

​​Rachel Denti, is a Brazilian graphic designer, illustrator and art director based in Portland, OR.

How big a part of your working life are deadlines? And are they something you’ve gotten used to as you’ve moved through your career?

I don’t think there are many ways in life to be a designer without having deadlines play a big part in it. For me they’re a blessing and a curse. I probably wouldn’t have accomplished much without them, but I don’t think I’ve said the word “deadline” with a happy face in my whole career. I think at this point I’ve learned to recognise them as this necessary evil, but we’re definitely not friends.

What are your strategies when it comes to coping with deadlines? 

My brain is a mess and I cannot be trusted to keep dates, so I have learned to be extremely organized with a calendar and to-do lists for rigorously documenting everything I do. I use this method in my favor because nothing beats the dopamine high from checking something out of a list on its due date. My full-time job and freelance work deadlines sit alongside my house chores on my lists and they all receive equal respect. However, I’d be lying if I said I have never lost track or got overwhelmed. When that happens, I try my best to prioritise and learn to let go or be more flexible where I can. I always remind myself that at the end of the day I’m just a designer, not an EMT, and (hopefully) no one will die if I don’t turn in something the exact day it’s due.

For me they’re a blessing and a curse

Do you always meet your deadlines? 

I will not give evidence against myself! (ᴺᵒᵗ ᵃˡʷᵃʸˢ)

Do you think your work would be better without a deadline, or do you find the pressure, and the need to have an end point, useful?

At least for me, unfortunately, deadlines are much needed. Even when I’m working on personal projects I will normally pretend I am my own client and put a deadline on myself, or else they will just never be done — as nothing will ever feel finished or perfect if there is no set boundary. A finish line forces me to let go and move onto the next thing, as I’m just too good at making excuses for myself if I want to.

What’s been your most memorable deadline, and why?

Gives me the shivers just to think of it, but my undergraduate final project. I had twelve whole months before the deadline, but I convinced myself I was very busy doing research and concepting (I wasn’t) for almost 11 months of it. When the 30 day countdown until final deadline started, I obviously panicked as I hadn’t created a single thing at that point, and in complete desperation I had the brilliant idea to make this project about my procrastination instead — as for that I had literally 11 months worth of material in the form of pointless internet searches, unrelated reads, mindless notes and doodles, etc. I turned in my project the day of, and got a 10. 

Tim Larner, Zenon Records

Tim Larner runs Zenon Records, an electronic music label specialising in ‘deep, intelligent and psychedelic music for the dance floor’.

How big a part of your working life are deadlines? And are they something you’ve gotten used to as you’ve moved through your career?

In my 20 years in the electronic music business, I’ve had different phases. Starting out as purely a music producer/live performer, the deadlines were more self-imposed and based around trying to finish the new track I’m working on in time for the next gig. In this case, I think a deadline can hurt the creative process as the temptation was there to try and push things through as fast as possible because I really want to drop the fresh banger at the next gig. I’m sure sometimes this was detrimental to the final result (unfortunately!)

Now that I’m more focused on being a business owner and label manager it’s mostly about ensuring the people I’m working with are meeting deadlines for me. I have a pretty constant release schedule, usually one EP or album per fortnight, so it can be quite a juggle ensuring all the different deadlines are met on time from the various musicians and designers that I work with.

What are your strategies when it comes to coping with deadlines? 

As the record label has grown I’ve needed to become much more organised, and so I use an online calendar to keep track of everything. Also, as I work from a home office, it’s really important to have good work habits: specific times and places for working, and keeping a clear head which is free from too much of the outside information that we are constantly bombarded with these days.

I can’t actually imagine working without a deadline

Do you always meet your deadlines? 

I pretty much do yes, I can’t remember a time recently where it all fell apart and I didn’t make a deadline or had to push it back. And if I didn’t meet one, then I’m sure it was the fault of one of my artists or designers and not mine haha!

Do you think your work would be better without a deadline, or do you find the pressure, and the need to have an endpoint, useful?

I definitely think we need deadlines to keep things streamlined and focused, I want that pressure to keep me motivated and organised. I can’t actually imagine working without a deadline – is that a thing?!

Will Richards/ILLWOOKIE

Will Richards a.k.a Illwookie is a graphic artist based in Brighton who specialises in iconography, branding & clothing design.

How big a part of your working life are deadlines? And are they something you’ve gotten used to as you’ve moved through your career?

As a freelance illustrator, I deal with deadlines on a daily basis. I’ve found that clients will generally give a long enough lead time on a project, but of course there is always a job that comes along that requires a quick turnaround and therefore some shuffling with my schedule to ensure that everything is done on time. Working with multiple clients globally can get a little confusing at times, but it certainly keeps things interesting!

What are your strategies when it comes to coping with deadlines? 

I am always sure to ask the client before we begin what deadline they are working to, and to let them know if that will work for me. There was a time when I would take on as much work as I possibly could, but it ended up just getting quite stressful. These days I take on a comfortable amount and I am sure to let a client know if I can’t start working on their project for a week or so to leave myself enough time to finish up whatever I’m working on. Stretching yourself too thin can have a negative impact on the work you create, so it’s important to try and find that balance.

Do you always meet your deadlines? 

I don’t recall missing a deadline in recent memory. I’m the kind of guy who always shows up 10 minutes early for everything, as I hate being late, so that probably has something to do with it…

Having all the time in the world can mean you overwork it

Do you think your work would be better without a deadline, or do you find the pressure, and the need to have an end point, useful?

I think it absolutely helps to have a deadline, so much of my personal work never gets finished because I don’t take the deadlines that I give myself seriously. Having all the time in the world to work on something can be an enjoyable change of pace and can lead you to push your boundaries and create something outside of your comfort zone. However, it can also mean you overwork it, or get frustrated, and the piece never gets finished.

What’s been your most memorable deadline, and why?

Definitely 2019, for the biggest job I had worked on to date. I was designing some T-shirts for Nike to be sold at the US Olympic Track and Field Team Trials event in Portland, Oregon, and simultaneously visiting my girlfriend who was out in Palestine studying for a few months. 

It was her birthday that day, but it was also deadline day for the project and the internet reception was virtually non-existent. I thought this situation was stressful enough, but we had also just heard that Bethlehem, the next town over, had just been quarantined due to this new thing called COVID-19… If Ramallah was quarantined next we would have been stuck with no access to the airport and I would have missed my flight home. So we had to pack up and leave that evening through a quiet checkpoint into Jerusalem. We booked a last minute AirBnB in Haifa and I finally managed to get some internet to send it all off. Of course, the Olympics ended up getting postponed anyway so there was really no need to rush!

Adam Stewart, Green Man Festival

Adam Stewart is the marketing manager for Green Man Festival, an independent music festival held annually in the Brecon Beacons.

How big a part of your working life are deadlines? And are they something you’ve gotten used to as you’ve moved through your career?

I’d say almost every aspect of my work is tied to a deadline, one way or another. Working for an annual music festival means there’s a whole ecosystem of deadlines that have to be hit, whether that’s a ticket launch, line-up release, new website unveiling or the actual festival itself. 

What are your strategies when it comes to coping with deadlines? 

Working backwards from the date of the deadline is always a great place to start. From there you can work out milestones and key deliverables at each step of the way, which makes it appear far more manageable. Most of the projects and campaigns I work on can’t be crammed in last minute, so forward planning is vital!

Do you always meet your deadlines? 

Yes, I can’t really not! When setting deadlines for myself or others, I usually factor in some buffer time for any delays we may hit, which gives some breathing space…

In the right context, deadlines for me are a great motivator

Do you think your work would be better without a deadline, or do you find the pressure, and the need to have an end point, useful?

In the right context, deadlines for me are a great motivator. As long as there’s that sweet spot in terms of the amount of time until the deadline. Too long a deadline and deliberation and iterations become recurrent, but too short a deadline and creativity and ideas can be stifled. Deadlines are brilliant for enforcing a decision, and I’ve usually found that the initial instinct or first idea is normally the one to run with.

What’s been your most memorable deadline, and why?

I’ll never forget the summer just gone. Due to the pandemic the festival was only given the green light to go ahead with about 5 weeks to go; that was a quickfire deadline like none I’ve ever known. Luckily we’ve an incredible team who rallied together and did everything they could to make it happen, but that definitely is a deadline I won’t forget in a hurry. 

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