There are (at least) two ways we can speak about concepts of time, productivity, work, and the behavior and mindsets we bring to these areas — as well as all areas of life.
Some people refer to this as masculine energy and feminine energy, although these labels can trigger preconceived biases about topics that seem to relate to “gender.”
In the yoga context I learned this as “ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon) energy, Shiva and Shakti, or Yin and Yang.
To keep this neutral, I’ll describe them as linear vs rhythmic.
The Linear Model
The “masculine” paradigm is linear. The Linear Model runs on clock time, and it tracks every minute.
It’s all about hustle, pursuit, chasing, pushing.
Achiever. Driver. Striver.
Always be closing. Never eat alone. Getting Things Done. Checking off the to-do list.
This model thrives on competition and keeping score. We track time to account for every minute.
This paradigm runs on systems, strategies and schedules. It is all about control — “management” — of all aspects of life:
In this paradigm, your value is determined by your numbers. Production numbers. Closed sales. Followers. Friends. Money in the bank. Page views. Rankings.
This is the paradigm of SMART goals, where the only things that matter are those that can be measured. The guiding directive is to achieve measurable results as quickly as possible.
Productivity is measured by outputs per hour. Any time that you are not producing is “lost” or “wasted.”
This model honors busy as a sign of success and multi-tasking as a sign of productivity. Waiting for anything is a “waste of time.”
In a linear world, everything is science. This is the world of the mind, of logistics, of figuring things out. Topic sentences and supporting points. Clear, direct paths to known destinations. It’s all about results.
I don’t need to go into too much more detail, because you know the linear model. This is the dominant model in our culture.
The Rhythmic Model
The “feminine” paradigm is rhythmic or cyclical. The Rhythmic Model takes its cue from nature, and the cycles we see in every aspect of the natural world.
Annual seasons. Monthly moon cycles. Ocean tides. Circadian rhythms.
Creation, Maintenance, Destruction.
Birth, Growth, Death.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.
Inhale, Pause, Exhale.
The Rhythmic Model recognizes that control — of time, assets, other people, results, or anything else — is an illusion.
We don’t try to “manage” things, people, or time.
The core value is collaboration rather than competition — a spirit of co-creation with others and with the universe.
We create results with ease and grace, rather than force and pressure. We attract, rather than pursue. And we recognize that the timing of results are not in our control.
This is a model of spaciousness, serendipity, and surrender.
Productivity is a function of purpose, presence, and patience.
The Rhythmic Model respects the natural cycles of the days, months, and years. In this model, we create and hold space for resting and receiving, for letting go, and for intense, focused action.
The Rhythmic Model is built on trust: in ourselves, in other people, and in the larger force that controls all outcomes.
Sometimes this work doesn’t look like work. But don’t misjudge it; the hardest work is to do your part and surrender what you cannot control.
It requires an immense amount of trust.
And it often requires not doing, but being.
Rather than trying to “push through” or override the natural dips, we work with them, recognizing that these dips of energy are a part of the process, the same way that winter is a part of the cycle of seasons.
What Happens When We Try to Override the Natural Systems
Our cultural attempt to override the natural rhythms of life with stimulants or with a relentless focus on hustle and drive as the markers of “productivity” is the equivalent of driving a car with the foot pressed firmly on the gas pedal the entire time.
It eventually leads to a crash and burn. The system fails. In human beings, it results in burnout, physical ailments and illness, and mental fatigue. In the environment it manifests as fires and floods.
In our world right now, in everything from politics to the environment, we are seeing the results of decades of living in the linear paradigm.
How We Produce Our Best Work
Like everything else in nature, human beings have natural rhythms. To produce our best work sustainably requires us to align with these rhythms.
This does not mean we need to abandon strategies, systems, and structures.
We need both the masculine and the feminine energy, the yin and the yang.
Optimal productivity and peak performance are found in striking the proper balance between these two models.
The crucial skill of productivity is to learn when to step on the gas and when to ease off, when to storm and when to surrender.
A big part of this skill is in shifting our mindset: recognizing that the time we spend in a non-active state is not time that is “lost” to work, but rather it is part of the process of producing our best work.
If we truly want to “make every minute count” then we must learn to value all stages of the cycle.