How to Do Less: My Conversation with Kate Northrup

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Do Less by Kate NorthrupSlowing down doesn’t come naturally to me. I was born two weeks early and I’ve moved fast ever since! I call it the speed of Gabby.

But for all the ways my fast-paced attitude has helped me, I’ve also learned to be very conscious about slowing down and doing less.

In my book Super Attractor, I share the story of how I hit bottom with workaholism and had to change my story. For many years I equated work with worth, and I thought that if I didn’t do something, no one else would. I drove myself nearly to burnout as a result.

Through my devoted spiritual practice, I’ve come to understand that the true key to speeding up is slowing down. Instead of trying to do a million things, I’m very intentional about how I spend my time and what I focus on.

As a result, I’m more calmer, more focused and more energized… even now. That’s why I’m excited to share this post with you.

Earlier this year I talked to my good friend Kate Northrup about her book Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Ambitious Women. It offers up 14 experiments to help you do less in specific ways.

As Kate says, “This is a book for working women and mothers who are ready to release the culturally inherited belief that their worth is equal to their productivity, and instead create a personal and professional life that’s based on presence, meaning, and joy.”

The paperback edition of the book came out this spring, and it resonates now more than ever. Keep reading for my talk with Kate Northrup about Do Less, including one of the experiments from the book!

How Do Less can help us adjust to the new normal


Kate Northrup Gabby Bernstein
Kate and me when her first book came out!

Here’s what Kate says:

During this unprecedented time of being home and minimizing our activities in the outside world, Do Less is even more timely than I could have possibly imagined when I wrote it. This book guides us to realign ourselves with the natural world and look at how we can get the same or better results through minimizing our efforts.

Plus, it’s a guide to get more deeply in touch with what matters which feels like exactly what we’re being asked to do right now.

During this time I’ve found paying more attention to nature to be incredibly nourishing and grounding. I’m getting outside and laying on the earth every day while I look up at the sky.

As the news swirls around us and we have no idea how long this period of time of social isolating will last, looking to nature as a constant cycle that carries on doing its thing no matter what we humans are doing can be incredibly calming.

Walk barefoot, hug a tree, listen to the birds, and remember that the world is much bigger than our thoughts and this moment in history.

My interview with Kate Northrup about her book Do Less

What prompted you to write this book?

My first book, Money: A Love Story, came out in 2013, and there was a long lag in between. My publisher kept asking for another book, and I just was like, “I’ve got nothing.” I was in a definite creative fallow period. I got married, I got pregnant, and then I had our first daughter.

That birth experience was pretty traumatic, and then the first year of motherhood was actually really traumatic in many ways. She was really sick, she didn’t sleep; I had postpartum insomnia, postpartum anxiety. It was just a brutal year.

I’m an entrepreneur. My husband and I work together; that is our income. We sat with our accountant the year after our daughter was born and realized that we’d made the same amount of revenue working, essentially, less than half the amount.

It was so amazing to realize, “We did so much less than we’ve ever done before, and yet, we got the same results.” While I wouldn’t ever want to repeat that year, I was like, “I’m sure there are some repeatable steps here.” I knew other people might benefit from it as well, so that’s where the book came from.

How has your life or the way that you do things changed since writing the book?

Kate Northrup holding her book Do LessI’m so much more into ritual and routine. I was somebody who, prior to this, was like, “I’m not going to do the same thing every day. That’s ridiculous. That’s so boring.”

As an entrepreneur, as a free spirit, I’ve always been such a freedom seeker. Once I realized that bringing a baby into our lives forced me to be that way, and how helpful it was for my nervous system, and how helpful it was for getting more done, I have become a very routinized person.

I really believe that we need those structures in order to be able to have freedom within them, and I think prior to this work, I really didn’t have a lot of structure, and so there was a lot of leaky energy. Having the structures in my day and the structures in my planning practices has created this really cool container for my creative energy, so it’s gotten more powerful in a way.

Are there any experiments in the book that have had an outsize impact you didn’t expect?

Tracking your cycle and the moon has been huge because women are aligning their tasks, to some degree, with their cycle or with the lunar cycle. The ebb and the flow is just how we are, and trying to fit into the masculine model of being the same every day is going to make most women feel like there’s something wrong with them.

[When you start tracking your cycle], you begin to understand why you feel the way you feel. You can give yourself space to lean into how you actually feel, and when you lean into how you actually feel instead of trying to feel a different way than you are, or just ignoring the whole thing altogether, you end up accessing this wellspring of power and energy and creativity and intuition that was there the whole time.

When we allow ourselves to be in those quieter, lower-energy, less-focused, more receptive times, actually we get even more powerful on both ends of the spectrum.

Our intuition and our inner knowing get so much stronger on the darker parts of the cycle, and on the lighter, outward parts of the cycle, our ability to move forward, be magnetic to our desires and be productive and motivated gets stronger, too; so, both ends get stronger.

From ‘Do Less’: The phases of the menstrual cycle (and coinciding lunar phase if you’re not cycling)

  • Follicular/waxing crescent: Starting things, brainstorming, planning
  • Ovulation/full moon: Connecting, getting out there, collaboration, communication
  • Luteal/waning crescent: Detail-oriented work, bringing projects to completion, tying up loose ends
  • Menstrual/new moon: Rest, evaluation, and research

Kate says, “If you can try to do even 10 to 20 percent of the ideal activities within the optimum phase for those activities, you’ll be amazed by the kind of momentum you create and how replenished you begin to feel, as opposed to feeling drained.”

Let’s talk about egg wisdom. Did your mom [Christiane Northrup, MD] come up with the term?

I can do less and attractor more | Super Attractor card deckYes, she did! It’s a biological blueprint for manifesting, and I think it’s really helpful for women, especially because we have a tendency to overwork to prove our worth and to think that in order to manifest, we have to do all these things and perfectly align our thoughts, and do all the visualizing and all the affirmations.

It’s just too much, and of course, it repels what we actually want because it doesn’t make us feel good.

So, the whole thing is that every single human being was conceived based on the biological mechanism that the egg gets released, and then she just sits there, and that’s it.

She’s the queen, and she just puts out a strong signal, so that lets the sperm know where she is, and that signal makes the sperm swim stronger and faster towards her. Then, she has a really good boundary, so she knows what she doesn’t want and is clear, but is receptive to what is right for her. Then, once the sperm is there, she can improve upon it.

So, we can all do this with our desires, right? It can show up, and it might not look exactly like the thing we thought, but maybe it’s actually the perfect thing, and we have our ability as humans to enhance everything that comes our way.

This doesn’t mean you always have to be the egg, but most of us have only learned the sperm way, which is: “If I want anything to happen, I better swim wildly towards it and do everything I can possibly think of to make it happen.” I think most of us could practice being the egg more.

I think that what the egg represents is feminine energy in all of us, and it’s that feminine magnetism. Men have that and women have that, non-binary people have that. We all have the ability to magnetize our desires.

Experiment #8 in Do Less: Manage Your Energy

Below is a condensed and edited excerpt of experiment #8 in Do Less. It’s called Manage Your Energy. For the full text, you can order the book here.

What I’ve found is that when I focus on managing my energy instead of managing my time, I end up having enough time for the things that really matter to me. I care less about getting all of the other things done because I’m so present in my life that I feel fulfilled without needing to tie my worth to checking things off my to-do list.

So how do we manage our energy?

The first thing to do is to look at where your energy is leaking the most. As a working mother, you may feel like you have a limited amount of energy and that it’s totally spent at the end of the day.

But it doesn’t have to feel that way.

Usually, there are one or two key culprits for energy drainage in our life, and when we figure out how to plug those up, all of the other areas of our life improve dramatically as well. The different areas of your life are not silos. They’re all interconnected, and as much as the patriarchal working world would have us compartmentalize everything and pretend that all the parts of our life don’t affect one another, they do. We’re integrated. We just are.

To start off with, here are the main areas of your life that might be the primary energy drains. Read through them and see which one feels like it’s probably the main culprit:

  • Your mothering
  • Your career
  • Your romantic relationship(s)
  • Your nuclear family
  • Your extended family
  • Your friendships
  • Your health
  • Your finances

From @katenorthrup on Instagram

Once you’ve identified which of those is draining the most of your energy, then it’s time to dig in a little deeper about what in particular is so draining about that particular area. For example:

  • If it’s your mothering, is it that you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your kids or not being present enough while you’re with them?
  • If it’s your career, is it that you find your boss nearly intolerable in the way she interacts with you and your co-workers?
  • If it’s your romantic relationships, is it that your partner just seems unhappy and doesn’t appear to want to get out of his or her funk?
  • If it’s your extended family, is it that you feel like your mother is too needy with you and depends on you to get her emotional needs met?

Whatever pops into your head first is probably what it is. You don’t need to edit yourself here. Go with your gut. No one else has to read your mind and find out that you think they’re your primary energy drain. This is not information for public consumption.

The good news is that the simple act of becoming aware of a particular area of your life that’s really draining your energy is often enough to shift things. You may change your behavior, perception of, or the dynamic around that area of your life without even trying to now that you know it’s sucking you dry energetically.

But it never hurts to add a little fuel to the cleansing fire, so now is a good time to identify what one simple action step is that could help to plug the energy leak.

Again, the first instinct is usually the best here. If you feel stuck, here are some examples:

  • If you’re feeling drained by feeling guilty about not being present with your kids, you could implement a rule for yourself where for the first 20 minutes after they come home from day care or school you put down whatever you’re working on (including your phone) and are totally present with them, whether it’s playing, having a snack, or simply listening to them talk about their day.
  • If it’s your intolerable boss, you could look at what her behavior triggers in you from your past to see if identifying the trigger makes her less irritating to be around. You could also give some compassionate feedback or begin looking for another job.
  • If it’s your partner seeming unhappy and unwilling to do anything about it, you could create a new habit where you try to do something that improves your own happiness, like take a walk outside, try a new recipe, or watch one of your favorite TV shows.
  • And if it’s your emotionally needy mother, you could set a boundary with her where you tell her you love her and that she needs to find another outlet to get her emotional needs met in addition to her relationship with you.

Now, I’m not saying that plugging your energy leak will necessarily be easy. But it will be WELL WORTH IT because the energy you save from not losing it out a black hole of your life will infinitely uplift every other area of your life.

Setting that boundary with your mother will make you feel suddenly energetic and willing enough to get back to your weekly workouts.

Investing in your own happiness instead of pouring all of your lifeblood into your partner will give you the pep in your step to start the novel you’ve always dreamed of writing.

Finally doing something about feeling guilty for not being present with your kiddos will give you the energy to do meal preparation on Sunday nights like you’ve been meaning to do but feeling too tired to do.

And you know what? Investing your energy in areas that really uplift you instead of drain you is even more energizing. When you begin to see your energy as the precious resource it is, you get way more done in less time, you’re better able to see what’s a priority and say no to what’s not, and you get on this beautiful upward spiral where getting more energized simply leads to feeling more energized and so on!

There’s more to this experiment in the book! Order Do Less here.

How do YOU slow down and do less?

Spirit Junkies, now I want to hear from you. How do you slow down and do less? How have our extraordinary circumstances helped you (or challenged you) in this way? Share a comment below and let me know.

For more guidance on this topic, check out these blog posts:

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