Do Tight Deadlines Make You Less Creative?

In fact there’s been a lot of research on this topic.  For the most part, I’ve cited a study by Teresa Amabile of Harvard showing that when people feel more time pressure, they are less creative.  Now I’ve read a new study* by Marcus Baer and Greg Oldham, that extends this finding.  One difference is that they examine a special kind of time pressure: “creative time pressure” which is, specifically, how much time pressure you feel when engaging in the more creative tasks at work–in contrast to deadline pressure for a more ordinary, non-creative task.  A second difference is that they separate employees into two personality groups: one that is high in openness to experience (which suggests they will have a broader repertoire of ideas and concepts) and one that is low; and, they separate employee context into “high support for creativity” and “low support for creativity.”

Consistent with prior studies, they found that as creative time pressure increases, the employees became less creative (as measured by their supervisors).  There was one exception: the group of employees that was HIGH in openness to experience, and also HIGH in support for creativity.  For that group, the relation between time pressure and creativity was not linear; instead, it was an inverted U shape.  That means that they were maximally creative with an intermediate level of time pressure; then, they became less creative with more time pressure but also with less time pressure.

Their recommendations: supervisors should try to identify the intermediate level of time pressure that is the sweet spot for creativity.  And they should make sure to assign people who are high in openness to experience to those conditions.  And finally, all managers should make sure that the environment is supportive of creativity and that employees perceive that to be the case.

*Baer and Oldham, 2006, “The curvilinear relation between experienced creative time pressure and creativity.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 963-970.