Productivity advice doesn’t work for people who menstruate

Menstruation and hormonal cycles can affect your workflow, but understanding them can help you appreciate your body

Tilottama Barua
Published : 23 Jan 2023, 03:10 PM
Updated : 23 Jan 2023, 03:10 PM

The most common thing on productivity advice channels on YouTube is being consistent and doing the same thing every day. But what this does not take into account is the many ways that the ability to be productive every day is affected by physical health conditions and mental health struggles, family problems, lack of sleep, hormonal cycles, and many other things. 

One of the most crucial factors affecting the productivity level of people is hormone cycles. If you have pretty consistent hormonal activity day to day, it is a lot easier to achieve a consistent daily schedule of productivity than if you have a monthly menstrual cycle or some form of hormonal variation. The effect of hormones on your everyday productivity level is really, really important whether you menstruate or not because we're all hormonal, and the only difference is just that our hormones function in different ways than others. Moreover, even if you don’t menstruate you might know people who menstruate, and the more that we can understand how we operate, the more compassion we can have for ourselves and for the people around us. So if you don't understand how your hormones function, you might beat yourself up for not being productive and motivated all the time when your body just isn't set up to function that way.

In a recent conversation with my female friends, we were talking about how it's so frustrating that a lot of the many productivity gurus we follow are cis men. In many cases the tips and advice they provide are great - I genuinely do enjoy their content - but sometimes it's hard to relate to. How can we keep up with that same productive daily schedule on a day when we might be feeling physical pain, unmotivated, exhausted, or just craving solitude and rest? 

This is where the book Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You by Maisie Hill comes in. Ninety percent of women experience symptoms of PMS, a syndrome that features a wide range of signs and symptoms and yet there’s a persistent lack of understanding about what it actually is and a disappointingly meagre range of treatment options. Period Power is a profound but practical blueprint for aligning daily life with the menstrual cycle, to give women a no-nonsense explanation of what in the world happens to their hormones every month and how they can use each phase to its full advantage. It sets a baseline for knowledge that's often ignored, particularly around hormones and irregular period cycles.

Let’s talk a bit about how these cycles work. Testosterone peaks in the morning for everyone regardless of sex but different people will produce different amounts of it. So in the morning, when it peaks, it makes you really energetic, and then in the afternoon, it mellows out, but not too much so it's a good time for productivity. And then, finally, it dips into the evening which is a good time for relaxing. For those who have a monthly menstrual cycle or receive hormone replacement therapy (who also experience similar symptoms every month), there's a similar pattern but it's stretched out over a month. There’s this quote from The Male Hormone Cycle Explained (and what it means for AFAB folk) that goes, “Western society has been constructed on this 24-hour cycle men experience; particularly when it comes to the work week.” So the typical workday in our culture is where you get the really difficult stuff done in the morning and tie up some loose ends in the afternoon and then you go home in the evening. The monthly cycle however doesn't really match up with that, but there is a quote by Sally, a holistic nutritionist and life coach specializing in hormone health, that says, “We can get all we need to get done as a (person who has periods) but we have to stop trying to cram it into 24 hours or a week- we were built to schedule our lives in a monthly rhythm- just like the moon. Hearing all this might sound like having a menstrual cycle sucks but if you understand how this monthly cycle works, you can actually kind of start to sync your life to it, and then it starts to suck a little bit less and maybe even becomes a tool that you can use. And this is called cycle sinking. Pretty much any area of your life can be synced to your cycle, be it how you eat, how you exercise, socialize, get work done, get more sleep, or when you do your monthly planning, etc.”

In the book “Period Power” Maisie Hill uses a pretty popular metaphor which is the “seasons” of the menstrual cycle. There are four phases or “seasons” in the following order:

Winter

The first phase of the cycle is winter. Winter starts on day one of your periods and it lasts about five days or so. Think about how winter functions in nature - everything kind of slows down, animals hibernate, the trees lose their leaves, plants die, etc. So winter is the time to rest, try to clear as much work from your plate as possible, stay home and socialise less, skip exercise, or do something really gentle like walking or yoga. It also involves staying away from social media and setting boundaries because this is a time when you're feeling pretty sensitive and it's also a good time to do some journaling because it's easier to connect with your intuition. 

Spring

After winter comes spring. Spring is the time when everything starts to come alive, the flowers start to grow, and the birds start chirping. Everything is new so your energy starts to pick back up. You're more productive, more motivated, and more social. It's a really good time to try new things, go on dates, and do a little bit more challenging physical exertion like aerobic exercise. A piece of general advice is to not rush into these activities too fast because then you'll just exhaust yourself for the rest of your cycle.

Summer

Spring acts as the ramp-up to summer. You start getting more energy and then summer is like you get superpowers. Your body needs less food and less sleep. You're more productive, and you're really good at communicating and really good at taking criticism, so this is a good time to get some feedback on a project. Summer is just the time to get stuff done and socialise.

Fall

And then finally we make our way back to the end of the circle in the fall. The leaves start dropping from the trees, and everything is kind of preparing for winter. It's the season to cosy up in a sweater and stay at home, This is the vibe for this phase of the menstrual cycle as well. Your energy goes inward again and your productivity slumps a little bit. Now is a good time to get your life organised and de-clutter, whether it's your physical space or your mental space, for example, things like commitments you've made or relationships in your life. You're also more assertive during this time so you basically have the powers you need to rearrange how your life is and make sure that everything is actually supporting you. During fall you also need to eat more and sleep more to nourish yourself and switch back to some gentler exercise.

Because it is a cycle, the whole thing restarts again. These are general outlines of what the phases are like, but to really understand how you personally experience them and what your symptoms are you need to start tracking your cycle. You can use different apps that are available (like “Clue”) or make entries in your journal to track it. There are also a lot of circular charts on the internet where it divides the circle into 30-ish pie slices and then in each one, you write a couple of words about how you were feeling that day. 

Once you learn about your monthly cycle and can predict its phases it becomes possible for you to plan according to that cycle rather than the calendar. You can plan out what you want to accomplish during those productive spring and summer seasons, and how you want to take care of yourself during winter and fall, and then you have this perfect opportunity at the end of the month to check in with yourself. You can think and analyse how the past couple of weeks went and then plan for the next cycle. 

Unfortunately, life does not adjust itself around our cycles. And it really sucks that you probably will have to work and socialise and physically exert yourself when your body is just not up for it. But any little change that you can make to make things easier for yourself will result in a difference. And if you absolutely cannot avoid any of the responsibilities that you have, you can at least have some more compassion for yourself and understand why things might be feeling so challenging.

This article is a part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication with a focus on culture and society from a youth perspective.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher