The best productivity advice I ever received came from my grandpa. This is what he said:
Take your cues from nature.
Simple. Profound. And quite unexpected from him.
When someone gives you advice that feels unexpected from them, you take notice. This guidance stuck.
Nature doesn’t care about the calendar.
The plants and animals we share space with on this planet know about January. They know seasons and cycles and rhythms.
It’s our hubris as humans to believe that we are different from the other creatures of nature.
Here are 3 cycles that I use to guide my life:
(1) Moon Cycles
My grandpa had a boat. He loved to take his boat out on the Long Island sound. Anyone who spends times on boats knows that you need to time your excursion with the tides.
The tides are controlled by the moon.
You don’t have to “believe” in this, the same way you don’t have to believe in gravity. It doesn’t change the facts.
Many cultures set their calendars to the cycles of the moon because the moon speaks in rhythms that we can see. As opposed to the sun, which remains constant, the moon changes its appearance.
The darkness of the new moon gradually builds to a full moon. From its fullness, the moon gradually wanes back to darkness. In between, the moon goes through 12 distinct phases.
These phases mirror many other natural occurences in life, including menstrual cycles and the seasons of nature (see #2 below).
It’s a lot harder to take a boat out at low tide.
Orienting to and planning with the lunar cycles harnesses the natural energy available to us.
(2) Seasonal Rhythms
The seasons follow the same pattern as the moon.
The darkness of winter slowly building to spring, which evolves into the heat of summer, which gives way to autumn.
Just like the moon’s cycles have 12 distinct phases, so too do the seasons.
Each of the four seasons is a fractal, so that each season contains all four seasons.
There’s a spring of winter, a summer of winter, an autumn of winter, and a winter of winter. And so on.
Just like each phase of the moon has a specific energy, each season has a specific energy.
There’s a time for seeding, a time for planting, a time for harvesting, a time for release, a time for rest.
In addition to the natural seasons, we have seasons in our lives. These seasons reveal themselves both on the macro scale of our lifespan — from birth, through middle age, through old age, to death. They also show up on the micro scale of our career, work projects, and relationships.
Knowing where we are in the energy of the natural seasons as well as the seasons of our lives and projects can help us avoid wasting energy on the wrong thing at the wrong time — or even on the right thing at the wrong time.
(3) Planetary Movement
In addition to the cycles of the moon and the seasons, I’ve learned to use astrology to follow the cycles of the other planets for guidance on where to turn my focus and attention.
The study of astrology is the study of how planets are moving through the sky and the story about what that means for us.
The key principle at play here is
As above, so below.
The movement of planets in the sky mirrors what is happening on earth.
From our perspective on Earth, as the planets travel around the sun they pass through the signs of the zodiac. Each sign of the zodiac corresponds to a different area of our lives — what astrologers call “houses.”
When the sun, moon, or planets are in a house, it tells me to focus on that area of life.
When planets are in retrograde — appear to be moving backward — it tells me that it’s time to review something in that area of my life.
Astrology doesn’t tell us what will happen; it doesn’t dictate our fate.
As I’ve learned to interpret astrology, it’s less about predicting and more about showing me where to focus and what to look out for.
I think of it more like a weather forecast. If you know it’s going to rain, you might want to adjust your plans for an outdoor picnic — or at least pack an umbrella.
The Benefits of Following Nature
Life is hard enough much of the time. Learning how to use the energy available to us, to do the right thing at the right time, to focus our energy and attention in the right places, can make things a little easier.
This isn’t always easy in a culture that pushes the illusion of clocks and calendars. It can feel like we aren’t “getting things done.” But over the longer arc of time, it can help us avoid burnout and depletion, and actually accomplish more.