The best-selling author and entrepreneur shares her back-to-nature approach to productivity
Kate Northrup knows a thing or two about being productive. But she also knows what it’s like to be addicted to busyness, and how much of an enemy this can be to productivity. As an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and mother, Kate supports ambitious, motivated, and successful women to light up the world without burning themselves out in the process.
Her second book, Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms, is already empowering women entrepreneurs to create their most successful businesses while navigating motherhood. To celebrate Women’s Equality Day, we sat down with Kate to learn more about her holistic approach to productivity and the data-driven and soul-driven time and energy management practices she teaches, that result in saving time, making more money, and experiencing less stress.
The concepts of productivity, and work in general, have been traditionally dominated by Western ideas of masculinity. What are the disadvantages of this? What can a feminine perspective teach us about productivity?
The disadvantage of looking at productivity exclusively through the lens of Western ideas of masculinity is that, in a world of beautiful diversity in work styles, brain styles, and creativity, looking at it through only one lens is profoundly limiting. It limits our innovation, it limits our possibilities, it limits our solutions, and it certainly limits our ability to work in a way that fuels us, that’s sustainable, and that also produces incredible results. (The Western idea of masculinity focuses on results over process, linear growth rather than cycles, and action over rest just as a few examples.)
All people have masculine and feminine energy – ways of doing things at different times of their lives, the year, the month, and even the day. So this is not a conversation about male or female, just to be clear.
The feminine honors that the process matters just as much, if not more, than the result, that many things can be true at the same time, that collaboration allows everyone to win, and that rest is a growth strategy (among other things.)
When we build in cycles of action and rest, when we acknowledge that how we do something matters, and when we look at how everyone affected by a situation could thrive as part of the solution, we get more sustainable solutions. We’re at a time in history where we are waking up to the fact that the systems that have gotten us here, (corporate greed, divisive politics, violence, oppression) will not get us where we want to go. Working in new ways and embracing new perspectives will.
When we build in cycles of action and rest, when we acknowledge that how we do something matters, and when we look at how everyone affected by a situation could thrive as part of the solution, we get more sustainable solutions.
How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day? What does it mean to “do less”? How much does technology distract you?
I organize my weeks rather than my days. As a mom of 2 little kids who also runs a company and is the primary breadwinner in my family, on any given day I really need the flexibility to be able to adjust to the needs of my company, my family, and myself.
I prioritize my focus for the week based on where I am in my menstrual cycle so that I know what I will have the mental and physical energy for. I line my tasks up with where I am in my cycle so I can capitalize on how I’m feeling at that time and make progress in whatever area lines up with the energy of the phase. (There are 4 phases of the menstrual cycle and they mimic the 4 seasons.)
I also prioritize what gets my time and attention based on the “rocks” I’ve set for each quarter in our company. I know what our priorities are in terms of our projects and I’m very clear not to start new projects until we’ve followed through on what we already have on our plate (or until we let go of something that we currently have on our plate.) I use a “one in, one out” rule so that if I’m adding something, something else has to go. This prevents overwhelm.
I have all notifications off on my computer and my phone so that text, email, or other notifications aren’t taking me out of my focused flow. I don’t want other people’s needs and priorities to get me off track from the more important work that I’ve already decided on based on our annual vision, our quarterly rocks, and my weekly focus.
What are some of the things you do to stay calm and focused on a daily basis? Do you have any routines, rituals, or processes that help you to get into a productive flow?
I always put my body first and my business second because I know that the source of my best, most focused work is my physical and mental energy. I wake up and drink a glass of warm water with 1tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar and a half a lemon so that my digestion is set up for success and I’m not distracted by a clogged system. I also have Bulletproof Coffee so that I have a nice uptick in energy bolstered by the energy reserves of healthy fat. I also use my Daily Energy Tracker which is a quick morning and evening practice that helps me locate where I am in my cycle, what’s going on with the energy of the planet and what my focus is for the day, plus what I actually feel like doing. Then I track how I felt throughout the day so that I can make adjustments to how I organize my time incrementally, each day becoming more and more in tune of my own needs so that I can support them, which then supports optimal work and productivity.
I always put my body first and my business second because I know that the source of my best, most focused work is my physical and mental energy.
What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?
I use my Do Less Planner, a system I created to operationalize cyclical planning in a work environment, religiously. It has annual, monthly, seasonal, weekly, and daily practices that keep me calm, grounded, and productive.
I also have time limits set on apps like Instagram so that I don’t go down the dark hole of scrolling and I don’t have apps like Facebook on my phone at all. That way I have dedicated time for checking in on the groups that I lead, but I’m not distracted by anything that doesn’t actually bring me joy or an ROI on my time.
You’ve written about your own experiences of burnout and chronic overachievement. What was the turning point that made you realize you needed to make a change to the way you work?
Becoming a mother was the turning point when I realized that I was going to need to work in a new way with this new season of life where I had far less control over my time than I’d ever had before. I knew that if I wanted to continue to make an impact on the world I would need to set up boundaries, systems, routines, and structures in a way I had never done before.
I love leaving my computer and notebook at the office and knowing that when I come home I’m going to be fully present with my family and myself.
How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? What about when it’s time to disconnect – how do you create a space conducive to relaxation?
I recently got an office outside the home so the 5 minute drive to work is a really great transition from mom/wife life to work life. Same thing at the end of the day. I love leaving my computer and notebook at the office and knowing that when I come home I’m going to be fully present with my family and myself. I also often leave my phone in my purse until I do one quick check after I put my kids to bed so that when I’m home I’m really with them. I find if my phone is out on the kitchen counter or just around I’m tempted to grab it so I hide it from myself!
At work I wear blue light blocking glasses which helps my mental clarity and my sleep rhythms for overall productivity and focus. I also often diffuse essential oils that are uplifting which really helps my mood. I make sure to go outside and get my bare feet on the ground at least once a day during my work day which really helps me recharge and I always turn my face to the sun for a bit which I find really energizing and uplifting.
I barely ever work on the weekends and I often take email and Instagram off my phone on Friday night and then reinstall them on Sunday night when I’m prepping for the week doing my Weekly Planning Ritual with my Do Less Planner.
What activities do you do outside of your work routine to help you stay healthy, grounded, and productive?
I love working out, taking a dance class, and getting outside in nature. I love swimming in the ocean and going on hikes with my family and friends, as well as just hanging out sitting in our yard while the kids run around and we chat with our neighbors. I find the simpler the better when it comes to downtime because that way I can really focus on being where I am instead of needing to come up with an elaborate plan that exhausts us all and has us starting the week depleted.
Somewhere along the way the idea developed that our job as humans was to conquer nature instead of be part of nature and that’s where we got off track. Now more than ever we need to lean into what nature has to teach us and let it lead us.
Your ideas of productivity and wellbeing are centered on nature’s cycles. How do you think we got so far away from our natural rhythms in the first place, and how can we get back to being more tuned in to what our bodies need in order to do great work?
Somewhere along the way the idea developed that our job as humans was to conquer nature instead of be part of nature and that’s where we got off track. Biomimicry is the study of the natural world to look for solutions to our human problems and now more than ever we need to lean into what nature has to teach us and let it lead us. The entire world view that nature, whether it be our bodies or the microbiome or viome, is out to get us and that we need to fight it or obliterate it has gotten us into quite a health and environmental pickle and we’re going to need some dramatically new ways of doing things, guided by nature, to come back into balance and health.
What projects are you currently most excited about? You encourage “working on projects that make your heart expand 10 sizes” – What’s your own passion project?
My whole business is my passion project. I’m very blessed to do work that I feel called to do and that I love. Right now I have an idea for an app and a software that operationalizes the “Do Less” way so I’m loving dreaming into that these days.
What advice would you give to someone who feels the need to be constantly busy?
My advice would be to ask yourself: What are you trying to prove and to whom? When we begin to be able to source our work from a place of passion rather than proving, the world opens up and our work becomes more powerful, yet less frantic.
I’m doing everything I can to ensure that by the time my kids enter the workforce, the way we work is in sync with our bodies.
What positive changes in the way we think about work and productivity would you like to see by the time your own daughters enter the workforce?
I’m doing everything I can to ensure that by the time my kids enter the workforce, the way we work is in sync with our bodies and all of the other forms in which nature manifests. I dream of a world where my girls are working with their own energy and bodies and with the seasons and cycles of nature, led by the pulse of life itself.