Gentle Productivity: Empowering Female Coaches and Therapists with Chronic Illness

Gentle Productivity: A woman sat at a desk with her notebook open and phone next to her. A cup of hot drink next to her work. She is only wearing a long black shirt which is showing that she is relaxed and comfortable while working at home.

Have you heard of Gentle Productivity before? If you haven't and you're a busy coach, therapist or entrepreneur who's also living with chronic illness or fatigue issues, this will be really useful for you!

Question – Do you put too much pressure on yourself to achieve goals within a certain time-frame, without acknowledging or showing yourself grace for everything else you're having to manage and adapt to?

I completely understand what it feels like to want to do all-the-things, but being unable to do many of them to the level you want, because of health or fatigue issues.

The worst thing is, if you're anything like how I was, is that you strive to work even harder to feel like you're being as successful as others. But you still constantly feel like you're not good enough, and end up totally wiped out before you really get anywhere.

If you can relate to this, I want you to know that I understand how frustrating and difficult it can be. Our situations will of course be different, but often those thoughts, feelings, pressures and unrealistic expectations we heap upon ourselves will be pretty similar.

This desire to feel valued and capable can easily take over, which just leads to doing far too much and needing to take more time out to recover.

It's why I decided to focus both my counseling and coaching work, to supporting others who manage health or low energy issues, or who are introverted or neurodiverse. It's because I get it & I feel it myself.

I'll be talking all about gentle productivity and how using this approach changed my life, and meant that I could finally achieve my goals since becoming unwell in 2011.

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If you have any questions, reach out for a chat [email protected] or check out my other blogs

What is Gentle Productivity?

Gentle productivity may mean different things to different people, but for me it's about being able to continue to make progress towards a goal, but in a way that doesn't lead to total exhaustion through overworking.

It's a way to plan the route to your goals that not only acknowledges any limitations you may have to deal with, but also encourages you to use rest and flexibility as tools for productivity.

Gentle productivity embraces flexibility and adaptability of goals, strategies, working hours and plans. It's less about the outcome and the timeline, and much more about being able to take those steps forward – regardless of the speed or size of the steps.

Self-Compassion and Acceptance

I think one of the hardest parts of dealing with and managing chronic health issues / fatigue is acceptance. As a therapist I've worked with several people over the years who are also diagnosed with ME/CFS, or other conditions like chronic pain / migraines / long covid etc.

With each client – myself included – acceptance has always been the hardest part. When you go from being a fit and relatively healthy person, to losing your entire life as you know it, it can be really traumatising, and it can feel like you're moving through the grief of who you once were.

There is often this understandable, innate fight to find a cure, or to focus only on getting better. Then, by the time they've moved towards acceptance, they're usually just completely exhausted with trying to fix things with no idea how to rebuild.

This was my experience as well, and it wasn't until therapy that I was able to move to acceptance and then finally, rebuild my life to what it looks like today. However, acceptance felt like a heavy chain – I didn't want to feel like I was giving up. But equally, I knew that things wouldn't improve unless I made some changes.

Once you do choose to move towards acceptance of who you are now, and what life is like for you managing chronic illness, you can finally find a way to focus on making changes.

This 100% doesn't mean that all will be dandy when you move to acceptance – it just means that you can direct that energy elsewhere.

Gentle productivity is perfect for you if you're at that point of moving forward, but you still need to be very mindful of what you can actually do. I know it can be highly frustrating, but by adopting gentle productivity, you will see much more progress than if you approached everything with a boom/bust attitude.

When you know and can see that you are making progress (regardless of the speed), your confidence and self belief will also grow.

Embracing Flexibility and Adaptability

Being flexible with your approach to productivity isn't an excuse for not being productive – it's essential if you want to sustain your progress and growth longer term.

Fluctuating energy levels makes it difficult to be consistent when working towards goals or growing your business, especially if you're measuring your progress based on timed outcomes. If it feels like your peers are zooming ahead with their growth, it can be disheartening and lead to self doubt creeping in.

Embracing gentle productivity, being flexible with your timeline and adapting the way that you work will mean that you can continue to make the progress you need to without worrying that you're not doing enough.

One way to manage this is to introduce flexible daily schedules that you can adapt as you need to during low energy days or weeks. I have a plan b where I only focus on the bare minimum of tasks that need my attention during these periods. Everything else gets paused until I am able to increase my workload again.

I'm also a fan of pivoting! This doesn't mean that I always just start things and leave them when I get bored, but I adapt the direction of my work and my business when I need to.

For me this became apparent with my counselling and coaching work. Early on I decided to only offer online support (this was pre-covid times), and since launching my coaching business, I limited any 1-1 work, and have instead focused on creating a membership and building my semi-passive income streams.

This level of flexibility has meant that I am still consistent in my progress and growth, but without the additional pressure that just leads to freezing completely and getting nothing done at all.

The way you embrace flexibility may vary, you may need to be flexible on a day to day basis. For others, it may mean taking a break every couple of days.

In my working day for example, I never hold meetings in the afternoon. I do all of my big / focused tasks in the morning, so that I can be more flexible in the afternoons dependent on my energy levels that day.

Adapting Goals & Timelines

A huge lesson for me when I returned to studying, was letting go of keeping up with others. Of not putting in super-long hours like others would excitedly talk about.

Moving into business I experienced this again. Seeing others who were in the same groups as as I was, whizz ahead, leaving me feeling like a total failure, doubting that I'd ever actually get there.

What changed for me was recognising that the more pressure I put on myself to do it at the standard or expected speed, the less productive I'd be, because my energy would become even more unpredictable. This was why I began to focus on gentle productivity & changed my mindset completely.

If I'm honest, when I began working within the productivity field (which I love!), it filled me with dread “Why would anyone listen to me when I'm not as far along as that person who is super-organised and productive?”

But as an ex teacher and adult tutor for over a decade, helping others achieve goals has always been my strength. The only thing that's different now is that I support those who either choose to take things at a less-pressured pace, or who have no choice but to adapt to a more gentle way of working.

By releasing the pressure of achieving your goal by a specific date, you will also remove a tonne of pressure, which in turn will remove some of the energy that's being wasted feeling stressed and overwhelmed, worrying about how you'll ever get there!

When you choose to take back power from end results and timelines, you can refocus your energy on actually doing the work you need to do. This is how gentle productivity makes it more likely that you'll achieve those goals.

Again, this isn't an excuse to push back goals because you haven't been bothered to work on them. It's about setting realistic expectations of yourself, your abilities and your limitations, without judgement.

Self-Compassion and Acceptance

I spoke earlier about acceptance, and I wanted to mention it again because it's so relevant to both your ability to keep focused on your goals, and being able to show yourself the level of compassion needed.

Negative self talk is something we all experience to some degree. If you're managing chronic illness or mental health issues like anxiety, negative self talk can be your biggest mindset block.

Showing yourself compassion and grace will allow yourself to see your value that isn't attached to your output or your productivity. Truly knowing and believing this will help you feel more confident, and reinforce the belief that yes, you can do this!

Compassion for yourself, your situation, and also flipping the narrative to show yourself admiration that, despite everything you have to navigate, you're still showing up & you still have those dreams. Knowing that regardless of how fast, you are making progress towards your goals.

If celebrating yourself doesn't come easy (I used to cringe at even thinking about saying nice things to my reflection in the mirror), commit to giving it a go. Start with writing one thing per day that you love, value or are proud of yourself for.

Once you get a little more used to this, practice saying it out loud to yourself and then move onto the mirror. Yes, you will feel weird doing it and yes, you'll probably cringe – but if you keep doing it, I promise you it will become easier!

I smile at my reflection every single day now. I used to just look for flaws – but I trained myself to only take a moment to look myself in the eyes and then tell myself, with a big smile, either “I love you” or “I'm proud of you!”

Self-Care and Boundaries

I also wanted to mention self care and boundaries in relation to gentle productivity. I talk about the importance of self care a lot, because I know it can feel difficult to give yourself this time and space.

Managing chronic illness may mean that you need to rest often. Because of this, it can make you feel like you can't give yourself any time for self care as well. You believe that because you've just rested for a day or two, and didn't achieve enough, you now don't deserve time for you as well…

For me, one of my biggest fears was being called lazy, and the thought of time for me after I hadn't done as much as I expected myself to do, meant that I did not deserve any more time out. I had to be productive and doing something whenever I wasn't physically forced to stop.

If you're nodding along to that – please know that you do still get to look after yourself, to have fun, to have a break and to take care of yourself – whether you've been sat at your desk all week, or simply getting through the day as best as you can.

It's the same with boundaries. If you're feeling like you have to make up for lost time, or you need to prove yourself to others (this was me and what led to my longest and most severe crash ever in 2016), you're just putting yourself at risk.

When you get a bit of extra energy, hold your working boundaries firm. Have your switch off time, and only agree to doing things that you know you can manage. If your decisions around boundaries are based around worrying what others will think, or that you're going too slow, there's more chance of overstretching yourself.

Holding your boundaries will mean that you can get what you need to get done without. slipping into a boom/bust pattern of working.

Remember, you absolutely deserve to take time out for yourself – whatever self care looks like for you – regardless of how much or how little you believe you've done!

Tools Resources & Support

Some of my favourite tools and approaches to help with gentle productivity include:

A timer – Setting clear time boundaries keeps me focused and less distracted. It also removes any of those feelings of unease when you're about to make a start on the tasks you're kind of avoiding! Knowing you can stop after 10/15 minutes if you need to and take a mini break, is a fantastic way to break through fear and just get going!

A clear plan – Knowing what needs to get done is different to filling a schedule tightly day after day. A plan for me is the roadmap – showing the steps I need to take to achieve my goal, however long that may take! By removing the time pressure where possible, I can focus on crossing the tasks off, rather than panicking and not being able to write a single word!

Batching tasks – I was very resistant to batching and the thought of batching would just lead to procrastinating! But as I grew my business, I knew I couldn't keep juggling everything and I gave it a go. The biggest change has been with content creation.

I dedicate time for writing, time for creating images in Canva, time for uploading & SEO work, and time for scheduling.

For social media I use Tailwind – I chose this as it's brilliant with Pinterest. Blogging and Pinterest are a great match, especially when socials can be draining. It saves me lots of time and means I can stop and come back to things when I have the time and energy to.

Rest – Yes, rest is a key aspect of productivity – gentle or not! Gone are the days of celebrating overworking and burning out. In the longer term, that way of working probably cost more time and created less productivity because of the time needed to recover from burning the candle.

It's now a key part of my energy management due to having ME/CFS and fluctuating health and energy issues, and is something I encourage others to do as well.

A journal – digital or paper – I highly recommend using a journal or dedicated notebook because you get to dump all of the information stored in your mind. This overload of information is costing you energy, as your brain is busy processing so much data (and trying to remember everything as well as keep you alive), that you easily become overwhelmed.

Final Thoughts

I love gentle productivity and it's something I've embraced for several years now. It's helped me dump feelings of guilt and shame around my own speed of productivity, and understand that I am making progress regardless of how fast I achieve those goals.

I would love to hear how gentle productivity has helped you – please leave your comment below or come and find me on social media 🙂

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Low Energy? Uncover the benefits of Gentle Productivity
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Meet Lynsey

Lynsey Wall, Coach & Mentor at Coach Writes. About me - A headshot of Lynsey smiling. Wearing a black t-shirt, blue framed glasses. Office walls behind her.

Hey there! I'm Lynsey, a coach, counsellor, and mentor for low energy, introverted or low confident female coaches & small business owners. With over 5 years’ experience of running businesses, and over a decade as a tutor and trainer, I've learned the value of effective time management that energises you through working with your energy.

I've lived with chronic illness – ME/CFS since 2011 and since then I re-trained as a counsellor, and achieved a distinction for my MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice; all while running 4 businesses! I want that for you as well & it is possible with the right support and pathway to success.

Improving your mindset, finding acceptance and developing a solution-focused approach to achieving your goals is my passion. Blending mental health support where needed, as well as a supportive space and methods to manage your work more effectively.

If you'd like to know more about working with me, you can email [email protected] or find me on socials (links in the menu)

Have you seen my online store Your Coach Tools? Find DFY templates & more!

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