Stuck with the freethinking creatives with little concept of time?

If you find yourself getting frustrated with the apparent inability your creative talent has to stick to a timeline and meet deadlines, don’t waste your time looking for a replacement that is good at both! They probably don’t exist. You’re better off trying to work with them to create their own deadlines and holding them to them and keeping the clients informed all along the way. Quality creative talent is hard to find and trying to  teach them to march in lockstep with your project timeline is simply not going to work. The blog post below from Bridged Design offers some great points:

effective time management

Oil and water, cats and dogs, Dems and Pubs, toothpaste and orange juice…creative people and time reasoning. What are “Things That Don’t Go Well Together” for $1000, Alex.

When I began working at Bridged, it was my first taste of project management involving “creative professionals”. Coming from a management environment that depended on automation and engineering, I was all too used to a structured process where I could set my watch to the output. Leaving that systemized world behind and stepping into this new imaginative one, I quickly learned that my watch was as useful as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. My best designers were the worst with estimating their billable time. I reached out to a mentor for advice, who suggested I give the clients false deadlines. If my designer estimates the project will take two weeks, tell the clients you’ll have it in three. This would provide me a cushion to work with, but it still didn’t seem like a solution. Why can’t they just work within their own deadlines?!


You’re probably familiar with the concept of right-brain/left-brain psychology. Creativity, as I’m using the word, is a characteristic found mostly in right-brained individuals. While right-brainers tend to be beautifully intuitive, visual and artistic, they frequently have trouble with deadlines, are easily distracted, and lack a refined sense of time. They often see the “completed whole” before considering the details that go into the act of creation. This helps to explain their relative inability to accurately estimate how long they will spend on a project. When working in an industry where deadlines matter above most, managing a team of right-brainers can be maddening to PM’s and clients, alike.

What Can Be Done?

You could always avoid self-imposed deadlines, but often times, clients simply need to know when to expect delivery. The best solution I’ve seen thus far is an obvious one: organization. If your creative team isn’t achieving it themselves, it must be encouraged (or forced) upon them. Structure, discipline, and habit are the tri-pod that holds organization up. In his book, “Time Management for Creative People” Mark McGuinness writes:

“While freedom, rule-breaking and inspiration are undoubtedly essential to the creative process, the popular image of creativity overlooks another aspect: examine the life of any great artist and you will find evidence of hard work, discipline and a hard-won knowledge of the rules and conventions of their medium.”

Hold them responsible for their own deadlines. However, there will still be times where you simply must prioritize for them. I know this sounds like hand-holding, but elite talent is hard to find and they’re the ones that are ultimately driving your brand and your sales. In a perfect world, we could engineer a “complete brain” thinker, where creativity and rigid discipline for time walked hand-and-hand. Until that day, we’re stuck with the freethinking creatives with little concept of time.

Source: Creative People and Time Estimation: An Exercise in Futility – Bridged Design