Learn To Use Compassionate Productivity and Avoid Burnout

Do you have a less-than-healthy relationship with productivity? I did, too, for a long time. When I first became self-employed, I felt like I had to prove something by sitting in front of a computer for 40 hours a week, even though no one else was logging my hours.

Eventually I refined my time management skills and learned all the “productivity hacks” to maximize my time, which sounds good on paper, but that’s also what got me stuck on the train to burnout (not recommended). 

Once I realized that I had to also manage my energy, I was able to work less without feeling guilty, and pace myself better while working. Past Me didn’t believe that it was possible to justify “wasting time” by not being productive. 

But, if you can adjust your definition of productivity to make it more compassionate, it definitely is possible to spend less time working and let rest fuel your work and your creativity. 

When I thought about how I want to feel in my work, and why productivity matters, the word “compassionate” kept coming up.

We have to be kind to ourselves to do our best work.

Read on to learn many tangible ways to put compassionate productivity into practice in real life, including all those imperfect and un-ideal situations! 

How to practice compassionate productivity

  • Take Breaks
  • Integrate Self Care
  • Schedule with Flexibility
  • Adjust Your Expectations
  • Adjust Your Mindset
  • Seek Support & Accountability
  • Make Space for Reflection


Compassionate productivity is working in the way that feels best and most effective for you, in each moment. This will change throughout the course of a day, a week, or season. Also, it’s working in a way that replenishes your energy as much as possible, making it sustainable in the long run. We’re humans, not machines!

Honoring your energy capacity allows you to use your energy on the important stuff: your business, your creativity, and enjoying your life. 

Compassionate productivity is not busy work or productivity for the sake of productivity. 

It’s using your energy to do the work that really matters, knowing your “why”, and making sure your actions help create meaning in your life – productivity with a deep purpose. 

Now let’s talk about putting compassionate productivity in practice in real life – not “productivity hacks”, but treating yourself as a whole person. 

A quick note: None of these tips need to be drastic actions, and you don’t have to do all of them – taking a small action in the direction you want can have a larger impact than you think!

Tips for Integrating Compassionate Productivity


I used to feel bad about taking breaks, even short ones, because they made me feel like I was falling behind and that I’d never get everything done. But, you’ll feel better and do better work when you take breaks for processing, and replenishment!

Be sure you make space in your schedule for breaks before you put anything else on the calendar. That might mean: 

  • Scheduling breaks at specific times, to make sure they actually happen.
  • Allowing extra time for each activity.
  • Limiting how many meetings you have in a row (or whatever boundaries feel good to you).
  • Be strategic about when you take breaks based on your typical energy levels.
    • For example, I know that I have a mid-afternoon dip in energy, so I’ll plan to lie down for a half hour then, if I can.
  • Choose the purpose of your break based on what you need
    • Some of my favorite types of breaks:
      • Taking a walk around the block
      • Snack / beverage / treat
      • Quiet time (could be meditation or another spiritual practice)
      • Cat break (or insert your fuzzy pet here)
      • Reading break 
      • Other self care breaks (see below for more ideas)
      • Feel your feelings break
      • Connect with people (or find space to be alone – whichever you need!)

It’s also helpful to detach from your “shoulds” about what productivity looks like. You might need more breaks than you deem acceptable, and that’s okay!


Here are some ways to integrate self care into your workday, some of which don’t even need a break!

  • Take a moment to check in with your needs
  • Stop and take 5 deep breaths
  • Drink more water and hydrating beverages
  • Sniff invigorating essential oils like peppermint, rosemary, and citrus
  • Take a power nap or quick lie-down
  • Give yourself a little extra sleep when you’re tired
  • Go for a walk before doing any work
  • Set up your workspace in a way that’s pleasurable and reduces distractions


Energy management is even more important than time management, but they work together. If you don’t have control over the structure of your day, apply these tips wherever you can. Here are some helpful energy and time management practices: 

  • Decide when you typically do common tasks according to how much energy you usually have.
    • First, identify your low-brainpower and high-brainpower activities, so you know what they are.
    • Work on creative and thinking-intensive work during the hours when you typically have most energy, and tasks that take less critical thinking during times of less energy.
    • If you have a menstrual cycle, tracking your energy through the different phases of your cycle can also help you forecast your energy capacity, and schedule accordingly .
  • Be ready to adjust your tasks with your energy level.
    • For example, in the morning, you might feel energetic and get a lot done, but after lunch you might get a headache, rendering your original plans unrealistic. Flexibility is key!
  • Plan your to-do lists across a week, rather than by the day.
    • This will also give you space to flex with your energy more sustainably and move things around.
  • Allow for more spacious blocks of time for creative work.
    • This gives you time for mental breaks because the creative process can be annoyingly un-linear.
  • Alternate digital and analog work when possible.
    • When I get too spaced out at the computer screen, I like to switch to piano practice, or print out a blog post or podcast outline to edit it on paper, preferably outside!
  • If you’re tired, working in shorter bursts work well.
  • Batch tasks together where you can.
    • To avoid the lost time and energy that comes with task switching – it can take up to 23 minutes to regain focus when switching tasks.
  • Schedule a mandatory lazy day.(I schedule an all-day event “Cat + Couch Day” on my Google Calendar).
    • Especially after launches, big events, or stressful activities, so that you can recharge.


If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you might have to scale back your expectations. This might be uncomfortable, but it’s better to be realistic about your capacity! This could look like: 

  • Accepting when things take longer than you estimated.
    • Even when we get data from time tracking, it’s easy to underestimate how long tasks will take, so, again, we have to be flexible. It’s all good data to observe for next time.
  • Working for a shorter period of time.
    • Sometimes you have to accept a non-ideal physical or mental state and do what you can anyway. An hour of focused work might actually be better than 8 hours of scattered work. Make a commitment to whether you’re working right now or not.
  • Trust the energy waves.
    • Your energy waxes and wanes – it’s a cycle. Riding the productivity wave too long can be tempting. Trusting that energy will return, and not pushing through when you’re too tired makes it easier to rest when needed.
  • Delete or defer things from your schedule where you can.
    • This isn’t always possible, but question your expectations. Ask yourself if you actually do have the flexibility to make a small change. This can look like lowering your expectations (hi, fellow recovering perfectionists 💗) or putting fewer things on your to-do list.
  • Set boundaries on your own work hours.
    • When you’re your own boss, setting a boundary like “no work after dinner” can ensure that you don’t work 24/7. When you try to work constantly, it’s harder to focus and do quality work, and this pace definitely isn’t sustainable. Like with everything, do what works for you, and change it when needed.


  • Check in with your preconceived notions and “shoulds” about what productivity is.
  • Have an experimental mindset about productivity.
    • Things don’t always go as planned, and accepting that can be very freeing! It’s all valuable information that you can use to adjust future plans.
  • Notice when you’re being hard on yourself.
    • Gently remind yourself that you’re not a failure because you didn’t finish everything on today’s to do list. Questioning the mean boss in your head plants the seed that you’re allowed to be kind. Try to notice what happened with curiosity. If you have a habit of using lack of productivity to prove that you’re bad, you can also remind yourself why you’re doing great!
  • If you have to keep a strict schedule, adjust your mindset about it.
    • When you have a packed day, consider choosing not to accentuate the feeling of rushing, and infusing as much fun and ease into the day as possible.
  • Notice anxiety as your body giving you a message.
    • Ask, “What do I need to do to make myself feel safe in this moment?” Also, look to sensory comforts to calm your nervous system, like a weighted blanket, putting a hand on your chest, or petting your fuzzy pet.

Toxic productivity culture wants you to believe that you can’t be in your comfort zone because you’ll never achieve anything. There’s a place for pushing yourself out of comfort, but it’s usually less helpful when you’re in an anxious state.


There’s nothing wrong with seeking outside accountability to help you get the important stuff done, especially if you’re an Obliger in Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework. Attending a virtual coworking session, finding an accountability buddy, or joining a small mastermind group could help you stay on track with your goals. 


To know what’s working, you have to make some space to process and reflect. Here are a few useful prompts: 

  • What’s working in my business right now? What’s not?
  • What have I learned lately?
  • Am I able to push harder right now, or would I benefit from more comfort? Or, can both exist together?
  • Do I have to feel rushed right now? 
  • Is it necessary to put more pressure on myself?

Compassionate Productivity Will Improve Your Life + Work

Remember to celebrate the small steps, and your efforts, not just your results! It’s always okay (and necessary) to start from where you are, wherever that may be. 

Productivity is an art, not a science. Even the work we love can take a lot of energy, and you have to take care of yourself first in order to take care of everything else. The effects will spill outward to how you treat clients and customers, how you show up for other people in your life, and give you the energy you need to pursue your big dreamy goals.

Rebecca Hass is a creative coach, pianist, and composer living in Berkeley, CA. As a coach, she helps ambitious creative people self-compassionately reduce overwhelm so they have more energy to focus on the work that matters most, with space to enjoy life. As a pianist/composer, she specializes in Brazilian music and her compositions span a variety of topics, from samba grooves to crime-fighting manatees, which you can hear on her album Florescer (Bloom). She also hosts the podcast Being a Whole Person, with inspiration and tangible tips to help you self-compassionately grow your creative practice. Check out the free Feel-Good Creativity Unchallenge, 5 days of easy prompts for reconnecting with your creative self!