Kate Northrup on Cyclical Productivity for Peak Performance
January 17, 2023
As an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and mother, Kate Northrup has built a multimedia digital platform called The Origin Company that reaches hundreds of thousands globally.

She’s committed to supporting ambitious women to light up the world without burning themselves out. Kate teaches data and soul-driven time and energy management practices that result in saving time, making more money, and experiencing less stress. She’s the author of Money: A Love Story and Do Less and the creator of the Do Less Planner System. Kate’s work has been featured by Oprah Daily, The Today Show, Yahoo! Finance, Women’s Health, Glamour, The NY Times, Harvard Business Review, and more. She lives with her husband and their daughters in Miami.

What is Cyclical Productivity?

I wrote this book called, Do less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Ambitious Women. I'm going to share some of that with you today.

The big revelation I had came when my baby was 13 months old. I was still nursing her at the time, but my period came back. And for the first time in my adult life, I was actually really excited about it. Because after nine months of being a physical house for this child, and then 13 months of nursing her and being her primary form of sustenance, my period coming back felt like this signal of a return to myself, of having a little more energy and nourishment and resource, enough to return to fertility. So even though I didn't want to go and get pregnant right away, it felt like such a signal of a return to myself. And at the time, I got so excited about it. I don't know why. I was actually raised by an OBGYN who tried to tell me about the wisdom of the menstrual cycle my entire life. And I was super not interested in that. I thought she was very weird.

It took me until I was 33, struggling still with anxiety as a new mom, struggling with feeling out of control, struggling with my identity, wondering, again still, who am I now that I'm not only a business owner, not only an author, but also this mom? And I'm struggling with it. And so I started to learn about my cyclical nature because tracking my menstrual cycle, when it came back, became this life raft for me in a sea of my life feeling so profoundly out of control. My anxiety being so high, all of a sudden, there was something predictable happening where every month, I had this predictable experience of having my period. And then I learned about these four phases that the menstrual cycle has. And I learned that these four phases have to do with the seasons. And it's four very distinct kinds of energy. I went on this deep dive, and I'm going to share how you can apply this today.

Menstration and Work Productivity

I was shocked when I realized that women and people who menstruate experience time in a cyclical way over a period of 28 days. We have a very predictable experience of time over 28 days. Testosterone dominant people, men mostly, have an experience of time that is a hormonal cycle that's 24 hours.

There's about 50% of the population, slightly higher than 50% of the population, who experience time in a very predictable way with a hormonal cycle that lasts 28 days, give or take. But we are living in a world that is set up for a 24 hour cycle. It is no wonder that those of us who've tried every productivity system under the sun feel like we are failing. And there's something wrong with us. Because every productivity system I've studied was designed by a white, highly successful cisgender straight male. He does not live in a body that does the things that my body does. So when I realized this, I was like, Oh my God, wait, if I stopped expecting myself to reset and be exactly this same every 24 hours and ideally a little more peppy, ideally a little more productive than yesterday, ideally a little more enthusiastic, more go-getter, if I stopped expecting myself to experience time and life the way somebody does who does not live in a body that does the things that my body does, maybe I would have a deeper, more abundant experience of my creativity and my productivity. And that's exactly what happened very shortly after I started implementing what I'm going to share with you today.

We had our first seven figure year as a company, which was a desire that I had had for years and years and years, and just couldn't manage to make happen. And we have subsequently hit that every year and kept our profitability extremely high and kept growing it. So it works.

Here's what's really cool. And here's what I want to tell you about your own productive capacity, and your own creative capacity for high performance. There are four phases of everything that you need to get done. And these four phases account for every single element of a project. This applies to any project you're working on, your month.

What's really important to realize is that we are nature.

And while the business world and our academic experiences and all of the ways that we need to show up make us feel as though we're basically heads on sticks and it's all about our brain, we need to realize that our bodies are actually animals. They are governed by the same principles that govern the tides, that make the trees blossom in April, that make the snow fall in December, that make the crops come up in August, and are harvested. We are nature. We can use the fact that we are nature to optimize how we approach our productivity on a micro and macro level. It's really important to remember that.

Utilizing Nature to Get Productive

How we do it is what we get. This is one of my favorite quotes from my grandfather, and he would always say, how we do it is what we get. We are in a time, I think, of reckoning, especially for women, but as a whole culture, around our relationship with work. And certainly, in the very early days of the pandemic, we were questioning a lot of things and now things are back to, in some places, back to normal, whatever that means. And maybe we've forgotten, but I believe and I'm here to be one of the leaders in the conversation around reimagining work, and reimagining what might be possible if we actually worked in concert with what our bodies are guiding us to do, as opposed to working in opposition and thinking that our bodies are obstacles to doing our best work. In fact, our bodies can be our greatest assets for doing our best work. So the healing that I'm here to do is to show people that how we do the work is what we get. We get to show up every day, from a perspective of the kind of world we want to be in, the kind of world we want to live in. And that's why I talk about what I talk about.

There's a Cycle for Everything.

During the day, for example, we have morning, afternoon, evening and nighttime. We have these four distinct moments during the day. And in the morning, that energy is very similar to the energy of springtime. It's an energy of new beginnings. Mid-day is the energy of summertime. It's that energy of full bloom. And then afternoon, as we as we turn and the sun starts to get lower on the horizon, that's the energy more of coming into autumn energy and slowing things down. Then nighttime is the energy of winter. So that's how this works on just a day to day basis. Now, for people who have a 24 hour hormonal cycle, their testosterone is the highest between 6am and 2pm. So between 6am and 2pm is the time when they will be the most focused. It's also the best time for workouts and for having sex and doing all your work. It's like those are your prime hours if you are a testosterone dominant person. So depending on what's your gender expression, or your organs, so mostly, this is men. So that's how it works on a daily basis. Now on a month basis for somebody who is having a menstrual cycle, which is not medicated. Each month, we have a personal winter, a personal springtime, a personal summer, and a personal autumn.

We're, hormonally speaking, we are primed for a different kind of productivity.

There are actually four distinct flavors of productivity, which we will experience over the course of the month. Either they're in concert with our menstrual cycle or in concert with the lunar cycle, depending on what's going on with your menstrual cycle. And the great news about this is it gives us the opportunity to lean into the kind of productivity that we are poised for at any given time of the month, and get a bigger bang for our buck by focusing on the flavor or productivity for the phase we're in. The fact that we are predictably different over the course of a month, basically a little bit different each week, is actually our superpower because each of these phases lends itself to a particular element that every great creative project requires in order to bring it to its fullest, most juicy, most robust fruition. The thing is, in our culture, we have a hyper masculine leaning culture, meaning we are hyper masculine identified, very young culture.

We, especially in the work world, have a focus on springtime energy and summertime energy. The energy of springtime and summertime here. So morning energy, midday energy, where it's all about starting things and then launching things. In the business world, we start and then we launch, and then we start, and then we launch, and then we start the next thing. And then we launch the next thing. And then we start the next thing. And then we launch the next thing. And we go through back from spring, summer, spring, summer, spring, summer, spring summer. But the wisdom of Mother Nature teaches us that there's two other whole phases. One of them is the autumn energy, where we bring things to completion. And then the next one is the winter energy, where we actually rest, reflect, research, and pause. So no wonder burnout is at such an all time high. And what happens is, when you're only in spring, summer, spring, summer, spring summer, all the time, from a productivity perspective, over time your work becomes shaky. You might have a lot of things that are going out, but they lose their depth. And over time, your energy wanes, and your ideas become less and less interesting, and you lose interest, versus if you bring in the energy of the autumn and the winter time. That energy of actually completing what you started and wrapping up all the loose ends.

Coming into a pause where you're not actually ramping up to launch something, what happens is, you get fewer harvests but more plentiful ones. The depth of your ideas, the impact of your projects, goes so much further because you're following the model of nature, you're following the model that made your body, you're following the model that is governing the cycles within you. And of course, it is therefore governing the cycles of your own life force, and your own creativity, and your own ability to make work visible in the world. You're able to build in a richness and an abundance that's not available when you're in the hypermasculine spring, summer, spring, summer, spring summer. I'm going to just take you around and talk about these four different phases and these four different energies.

The first phase and opportunity and productivity energy is the menstrual energy, which is the same energy as the new moon. And in the land of project management, I call it the fertile void. It is the time in between, it's the pause. It's a time of rest and reflection. It is the most misunderstood energy in our work world because it's the time when it looks like nothing is happening but a lot is happening. Some of the peak performers actually talk about how important it is for them to schedule in something like think weeks. Bill Gates talks about how he schedules in time for think weeks, time for staring out the window, time for reading, time for being able to sit. In my world, we talk about CEO days, time where you don't take any appointments, and you're able to look at the big picture of your business or your work life. This energy is critical. And it is frowned upon in our work world because we've been deluded into thinking that when we pause, we're being lazy and we're not getting anything done.

But what's actually true is if you give your work some space, it can blossom in the way it was meant to blossom.

When we pause, we actually give our nervous system the ability to reset and become available, and for our creativity to become available to possibilities and ideas that would not have been possible if we had our scheduled back to back, back to back, back to back. At the very least, schedule one day a month. One day a month. It could be the day you get your period, it could be the new moon, it could be just the first of the month, it could be whatever. One day a month where it is a workday where you don't take appointments, where you give yourself a pause to reflect and look at the bigger picture. The decisions you make during that time will set you up for so much more success than being in constant reactivity mode and not being able to catch your breath.

Interestingly enough, if you are somebody who has an unmedicated regular menstrual cycle, when you have your period, your left hemisphere and right hemisphere of your brain are the most interconnected, meaning they have the most cross wiring during this time. And it makes us the most available for intuitive guidance. You will be the most intuitive during this time of the month, during your menstrual cycle. Or if you don't have a menstrual cycle, during the new moon. It's a great time to make decisions. It's a great time to sit with the big questions. And you'll be able to make decisions on things you've been wondering about or thinking about for months, that the answer will just come through super quickly for you. It's a great time for research, rest journaling, asking yourself the big questions, making high leverage decisions, going within and checking in with your gut, absorbing new content, reading books, reading articles, watching YouTube videos that are relevant, connecting intuitively with your ideal customer avatar and their needs and their journey. Beautiful time for all of those activities that are huge needle movers in your work.

The next phase is the follicular phase. In your menstrual cycle, if we're talking about the menstrual cycle, this is the time when your period ends, and it's about the six days after your period ends. It is a time that's like springtime energy. And it's the same energy as the waxing moon. And in the field of productivity, I call it emergence. It's the time when you're planning and initiating and planting seeds. You can optimize this in your calendar by, during your follicular phase, taking action and initiating new projects. But you can also look at it from the perspective of a project overall having an emergence phase. So when you are beginning a project, you're brainstorming, you're mapping it out, you're doing planning, you're getting it started, you're taking action, you're bringing in key players. That is an energy that every project has. But it's also an energy that you will have every single month. And if you're somebody who has trouble getting going on things and has trouble getting into momentum, you really want to lean in on this week and know, okay, this is the time that I'm going to double down on initiation because my body will be supporting me to do so hormonally.

The next phase is ovulation. It's the same energy as the full moon, and I call it visibility when it relates to projects. This is the time to connect and be visible when we're ovulating. We are the most fertile literally. But we are also the most fertile metaphorically. This is the time when you're the most verbally fluent. This is the time when you're the most magnetic. When you go to the party, when you go to the networking event, when you go to the conference, and you're just feeling it, you know? Your pheromones are actually the highest during this time. It is a wonderful time to launch, ship things, to put things out there, to do outreach.

When I'm ovulating, I often have this feeling to reach out to certain people. And I trust that because my ovulation energy is here for cross pollination. So I trust what kind of cross pollination I am feeling like doing at that time. I'll send out a million different pieces of outreach and get those cross connections going. It's a time to reach out. It's a time to be social. It's a time to make connections. Go to events. Be in your magnetism and radiance. Attract your desires, batch podcast episodes, videos, etc. Do pitches, reach out to your network, do sales calls. Do speaking gigs, not that you can ever actually schedule a speaking gig around my menstrual cycle, but just to know that for the things that I do have the capacity to reorganize, I lean heavily on what kind of energy is going on in my body this week. And how can I optimize this so I can get the best bang for my buck with this flavor of productivity that I am biologically primed to experience at this time of the month.

If your follicular phase is like five to six days after a period, ovulation is the day you ovulate and then the two to three days before and after. Many people think you ovulate on day 14. That is not always the case.

It's fascinating to know the day you ovulate because it's your most ignited day of the month. And you'll have really high energy during your follicular phase and during your ovulation phase, so you really want to go for it on getting things going and cross pollinating during those times.

And then you move into your luteal phase. So your luteal phase is the same energy as the waning moon. It's the same energy as autumn. I call it culmination when it comes to a project. So every project in my company has a culmination phase. Instead of getting a project going and then launching it and then getting right going on the next project, we make sure that we take time to culminate and focus and complete. Some culmination activities or during your luteal phase, which is the 10 to 14 days before you get your period, and I'll talk about the luteal phase a little bit more in a minute from a menstrual perspective, but the tasks that you're primed for during this time, you're the most focused. Your brain is the most wired for being hyper focused during this time. This is the time to close your office door, not have a lot of meetings, and give yourself the time to complete all of the things that are outstanding that you started at the beginning of this cycle. Not all of them, but the ones that you can, right. This is the time for analysis, looking at what's working and what's not working. Looking at your analytics, what's bringing in customers, what's bringing you revenue, gathering customer experience surveys, wrapping things up, tying up loose ends, cleaning out your inbox, sitting alone and writing. I find I do my best writing during my luteal phase because the cool thing about the luteal phase, it gets a bad rap because we have such a prevalence of hormone imbalance and so it gets a bad rap because we have PMS, very normal in our culture. But it doesn't mean that it has to be that way. PMS is a whole other conversation. And if you are struggling with that, I can share some resources and some people that I would follow and learn from.

But we have a negativity bias during our luteal phase, which is great. It means I have less of a filter during my luteal phase. My writing is better and more powerful because I care less, right, we give fewer F's about what people think during this time which is such a benefit, especially for women who have a problem with being people pleasers. Sitting alone in writing, working on detail-oriented odds and ends, financials and bookkeeping, quality control, organizing, decluttering, editing, all of those things are wonderful to do during this time.

The luteal phase is the longest because we have the most get-things-done energy during this time. And it's the 10 to 14 days before we get our period. It takes not as long to get things going. But we know it takes longer to complete them. So our body has set us up hormonally in a beautiful way to prime us for being in that hunker down, focused energy for longer than any of the rest of the phases of the menstrual cycle.

I want to remind you of this beautiful quote, if you've never heard it before, that "nature never rushes, yet everything gets done." And when we really align ourselves and sync up with allowing the power of nature to lead us and our team's productivity, our work deepens. It becomes more abundant, there is more flow, we waste far less energy, we get into a very sweet momentum, and we are replenishing ourselves instead of extracting ourselves.



/*video overlay play button*/