Creative Constraints Are Good For You

Michelle Mac
3 min readSep 6, 2021

We all need constraints to operate effectively. In the world of creators, creative constraints allow us to focus our energy and concentration in the right place.

Without creative constraints, we become overwhelmed by all the potential choices and decisions we could make. We develop paralysis by analysis and become unable to do anything.

“True Freedom is Healthy Constraints” — Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative

Imagine This Scenario

You are about to start a new web project at work. Your boss hands you the project brief from the client.

It reads: “Build a good website”.

This leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s hard to know where to start.

Should you build an e-commerce site or a static site?

Should the website be red, green, or blue?

How many pages should the website have?

Now imagine this scenario.

You’re starting a new web project at work.

Your boss hands you the project brief from the client.

It reads:

  • I want a website for my new startup.
  • The startup centers around Bitcoin.
  • The website should have 5 pages, here are the pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • The website should have a green color palette to match our branding.

Now you can actually start doing your work:

  • The website should provide information about this Bitcoin-related start-up. This will influence the copy, the design, and the imagery you use.
  • Now that you know the website contains 5 pages, you can work on creating mockups for those pages.
  • The website should have a green color palette to match the company’s branding. You can now create a color palette using the company logo as a base.

Sure, this is a simplistic example, but it illustrates the point that creative constraints allow you to work more effectively.

Constraints show you where the goalposts are so you know where to aim your efforts.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations” — Orson Welles

Applying Constraints

You can apply constraints to almost any part of your life to work with more focus:

Adding time constraints to your work will help you concentrate on each task for a defined period of time.

  • Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available.
  • Setting time constraints on your tasks allows you to get more done.
  • Work to the Pomodoro Technique and measure your tasks in how many Pomodoros they’ll take to complete.
  • Time constraints also give you a sense of urgency to work on each task instead of procrastinating.

Practice building things using creative constraints to build your creativity muscle.

You can also add constraints to your daily life.

  • Don’t use your phone on weekdays.
  • Only check social media once a day for 15 minutes.
  • Only do work in the office, only watch TV in the living room, only eat in the kitchen.

This article was originally published on my website: Creative Constraints Are Good For You

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Michelle Mac

The *heavily edited* ramblings of a technical writer & frontend dev. I write about creativity, design, and productivity. Start here: