Productivity gurus have us all believing that if we just manage our time effectively, we can get everything done. But time is really just relative. Instead, I focus on managing my energy and when I manage it well, I have enough time to do the things that really matter. Recently my husband was away on a business trip during a week with a lot of deliverables in our company. To manage my time, I made sure to be really mindful about what my plans were for the week, I scheduled time to do the most important tasks in the morning, which is my optimal productivity time, and I asked my friend to come up and stay with me to help with the girls in the morning and evenings so I didn’t get burned out working a lot each day and then caring for my kids solo. When I prioritize the things I need to keep my energy stable and replenished, I get more done in less time and I’m way happier.
Paying attention to our breath is the easiest inroad to mindfulness that I’ve found. No matter what you’re doing, getting conscious of your breath, not even changing it, but just noticing it, will plant you directly in the present moment.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Kate Northrup. Katie is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and mother who supports ambitious, motivated, and successful women to light up the world without burning themselves out in the process.
Committed to empowering women entrepreneurs to create their most successful businesses while navigating motherhood, Kate is the founder of Origin® Collective, a monthly membership site where nearly 1,000 women all over the world gather to reclaim their time and energy and do less to have more. Her first book, Money: A Love Story, has been published in 5 languages and her second book, Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms, is available now.
Kate’s work has been featured by The Today Show, Yahoo! Finance, Women’s Health, Glamour, and The Huffington Post.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I got pregnant with my first daughter I was suddenly exhausted and it lasted the entire pregnancy. I was only able to work about half the amount of time per week that I’d previously worked in my adult life. I was scared that as a result our business would collapse (my husband and I run our company together) but instead, things remained steady. And even with an incredibly challenging first year of motherhood (which I hear I’m not the only one to experience) our business remained solid and actually grew a little. I realized then that there must be some underlying principles at play that I was utilizing, by accident, and I wondered what would happen if I used them on purpose. And thus, the work I do around teaching women to do less to have more was born.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
I don’t think it’s always been this way. I think rushing is a byproduct of first, the industrial age and second, the internet age. With the access we have to an infinite amount of information, we have a backlash of having an infinite number of things we could be doing at any given time. Coupled with our culture’s tendency to equate productivity with worth, it’s no wonder that we’re addicted to rushing. I think rushing comes from three things: 1. Lack of clarity around what the best use of our time is. 2. The fact that we’ve been programmed by our culture to think that the more hours we put in and the more we do, the more worthy we are. 3. A tendency to want to stay busy and rush as a numbing behavior so that we don’t feel things that are uncomfortable that come up when we slow down and find more stillness in our lives.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
The data shows that working a 49 hour work week (and 47 hours is the US average) is associated with poor mental health in women. Also, according to the Harvard Business Review, it’s not possible for us to focus on really important tasks that get us results for more than 4–5 hours a day. Even executives and managers have been found to be able to only spend 2–3 hours a day focused on the stuff that really matters. It turns out, the rest of our work day is mostly filler and distraction. So we sit in front of our screens way longer than necessary, simultaneously diminishing our physical health, our mental health, and our ability to make good decisions. (Stress from overworking has been shown to decrease the grey matter in the area of our brain related to self-control.) The average worker puts in plenty of hours, but the quality of those hours is really low so they’re not that productive. In places like Sweden they’re actually moving toward a 6-hour work day because they’ve seen an increase in productivity and worker happiness and health, which decreases sick time, decreases office drama, and saves the company time, energy, and money so it boosts their bottom line!
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
My philosophy around doing less to have more is not about doing nothing, it’s about being wise and mindful with the decisions of what we’re going to devote our precious time and energy to. The activities that pay off big time as far as improving our lives that we could do more of are meditation, movement, chewing our food more, spending time in nature, being present with the people we love, doing activities that stimulate a different area of our brain (like making art, playing, working on puzzles), and sleeping. These activities allow us to slow down and find more space in our days which, in turn, improves our mental clarity and creativity, makes us more focused and productive during the hours we do work, and pays off big time in taking care of our bodies, which pays off big time in the long run because if our health goes, nothing else ends up mattering anyway.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Turn my phone on airplane mode at 8pm, plug it in downstairs when I go up to bed, and don’t turn it back on until 7am. Before I put this rule in place I would check my phone first thing in the morning when I woke up. I remember one time I got an email that upset me the minute I woke up while I was on vacation with my husband. My mood was thrown off and I couldn’t seem to regain my center or find my joy for the rest of the day. We were going on beautiful hikes and eating great food and had an opportunity to just be together, but the entire day was tainted by this email. I know if I’d given myself some space in the morning to set the tone of my day by meditating, taking a walk, or spending time with my family, I would have been able to read that email from a much more calm, grounded space and it would have registered as a blip on the screen instead of something that messed up my entire day.
- I write a weekly to do list instead of a daily one. Left to our own devices, we will always overestimate what we can get done in a day. And our to do lists end up as endless repositories for everything we wish we could get done, but when we look at them they end up making us feel like we’re not good enough because they just keep growing and growing. I nipped this in the bud by implementing a weekly planning practice where I write out what I need to do this week instead of each day. It’s allowed me to get much more realistic about what I can actually accomplish and, as a result, I’ve gotten much better at saying no to things because I’ve edged out other people’s priorities by making my priorities at the beginning of the week.
- Scheduling cyclically. When I started studying the way women’s bodies work cyclically (every 28-ish days) and how our monthly cycle is mirrored by the lunar cycle and the four seasons, I realized that all creative projects have a cycle, as well. I created something called the Upward Cycle of Success to map the cycle of projects and it has 4 key phases that each have the same energetic quality of one of the 4 seasons. I do my best to schedule my tasks each week to favor the phase of my own monthly cycle I’m in and to favor the phase of the Upward Cycle of Success that my most important projects are in. For example, I’m currently in the springtime of the cycle of my next book project and I’ve already scheduled in time for the autumn and winter after this project (intentional time to wrap the project up and then to rest before I start the next big thing.) I’ve found that when we don’t schedule the autumn and winter phases of our projects, we go from starting something to launching to starting the next thing to launching and it’s a sure recipe for burnout or illness. Now I schedule the time in so that my body doesn’t have to force me to slow down by getting sick.
- Making sleep a priority. I have 2 young children (3.5 and 10 months old) so sleep is still a hot commodity in our house. The data shows that our performance decreases significantly when we don’t get enough, high quality sleep. It’s as though we’re trying to drive a car while stepping on the break and the gas at the same time. For example, the other night I had some tasks I needed to finish up for someone who was waiting on me. It was getting close to 9pm. I knew that I could push through and get the tasks done, but typing coherent sentences was beginning to take me longer and longer. I knew that if I stayed up to finish the task, my work wasn’t going to be that good and I’d likely need to revisit it and spend even more time fixing errors in the morning. Plus I would be tired and not bring my best self to the rest of my tasks that day. Instead I decided to call it a day, get a good night’s sleep, and then came back refreshed. What might have taken me 3 hours to get done ended up taking me less than hour because I’d slept well.
- Managing my energy instead of my time. Productivity gurus have us all believing that if we just manage our time effectively, we can get everything done. But time is really just relative. Instead, I focus on managing my energy and when I manage it well, I have enough time to do the things that really matter. Recently my husband was away on a business trip during a week with a lot of deliverables in our company. To manage my time, I made sure to be really mindful about what my plans were for the week, I scheduled time to do the most important tasks in the morning, which is my optimal productivity time, and I asked my friend to come up and stay with me to help with the girls in the morning and evenings so I didn’t get burned out working a lot each day and then caring for my kids solo. When I prioritize the things I need to keep my energy stable and replenished, I get more done in less time and I’m way happier.
- Saying no and setting boundaries. As a recovering people pleaser this continues to be a practice for me. For example, I was asked to give someone an endorsement for their book. While I wanted to please them by saying yes, I knew that the time it would take to read the book wasn’t time I wanted to give. I have stacks of books I really, really want to read already and I want to prioritize them in the limited time I have for reading. So I said no, even though I felt bad about it. I instantly felt relief, though, knowing that I’d just regained at least 3–4 hours of time that I could spend on something that’s a priority for me, instead of a priority for someone else. Sometimes people don’t like it when I say no, but I’d rather disappoint a few people every now and again than disappoint myself all the time by not honoring my own priorities.
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
Mindfulness is so simple. To me it’s being present exactly where I am. The other day I finished work and had a little bit of time before going to get my older daughter at childcare. My baby was with me and rather than set her up playing with something so I could get the kitchen cleaned up, finish up emails, and generally engage in the flurry of activity of working motherhood, I decided to sit on the rug with her and let her climb all over me. I didn’t bring my phone with me. I was mindfully spending time with her, focusing on the experience of enjoying her company. It felt so good and it calmed my nervous system down after a day of work. I carried that calm joy into the evening with my husband and my other daughter and went to bed feeling so fulfilled instead of drained.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
Paying attention to our breath is the easiest inroad to mindfulness that I’ve found. No matter what you’re doing, getting conscious of your breath, not even changing it, but just noticing it, will plant you directly in the present moment. The other practice I like is to pick one of my five senses to zoom in on and notice something that I’m seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, or tasting in that moment. It drops me right into the present moment and makes me wake up to what’s happening within me and in front of me.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
My weekly planning ritual that I do on Sunday nights is essentially a global mindfulness practice for my work life. I ask my body, mind, and soul what they need that week and make those things a priority. I schedule tasks around what’s going on with my cycle so that I can stay present with my body and not try to push her when she doesn’t want to be pushed. Then I look at what projects I’m working on and add tasks to my weekly list that will move the prioritized projects along while being mindful of not over scheduling or overdoing (because I don’t want to feel spent at the end of the week because my productivity and wellbeing will suffer.) I find this gives a sense of calm and focus to my weeks in a way that moving forward without a conscious plan never game me.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
I love going to Yin Yoga when I can and also doing Yoga Nidra (I love Tracee Stanley’s meditations and also Karen Brody’s book Daring to Rest.) I also really like the Calm app for meditation, though usually I simply sit with my eyes closed for 5 minutes and breathe on my own.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nature never rushes, yet everything gets done.” ~Lao Tsu
As a recovering rusher, this quote reminds me every day that what matters will always get done and that if it’s not getting done, it doesn’t matter! As a mom of two with a business I always have another thing that needs to get done, but I don’t want to be rushing and then end up missing the precious moments of my life (and my kids’ lives.) This quote reminds me that I am made of nature (we are animals, after all) so I can use Mother Nature as my guide and follow her lead by slowing down.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My movement is precisely what this interview is about: slowing down to get more done. I stand for women to be their most powerful and one of the ways we chip away at our own power the most is by rushing, by being scattered, and by being addicted to busyness. When we slow down we’re our best selves and I believe that when women are able to show up in the world completely lit up without burning out, the changes we so desperately need will be possible.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the Author:
After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.
Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12.
Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.
If you’d like to book Ashley for an inspiring speaking engagement, please click here.