Your productivity swells and wanes. On some days, you wake up at dawn with fiery determination. You get in a mindfulness meditation session. You clock what some would count their days’ worth of steps before getting to work, then tick off every box on your to-do list, like, way before 5 pm. But on other days? You have to resort to using your fingers to pry your eyelids open. You’re bogged down with brain fog and move through your tasks at a snail’s pace. What’s up with this frustrating disparity?
And why doesn’t it seem to afflict any of your male colleagues, like Matt from the Marketing team? Could sex differences in brain anatomy be to blame?
Surprise: men and women’s brains don’t differ much at all
Contrary to popular belief, a 2021 meta-synthesis of 3 decades of research published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews has concluded that “the human brain is not sexually dimorphic”. Meaning? Female and male brains are hardly any different!
But wait — why are there evident differences in productivity levels if sex-related brain anatomy differences are non-existent then? Two words: menstrual cycle.
What does the menstrual cycle have to do with productivity?
As it turns out, we've been barking up the wrong tree. It's not the brain that's different. It’s the hormones. See: unlike men, females (who have periods) experience fluctuating hormonal levels geared toward preparing the body for a potential pregnancy. These fluctuations don't occur randomly. Instead, they take place in a predictable cycle, one that’s known as the “menstrual cycle”.
A menstrual cycle usually lasts between 24 and 38 days, and the length may vary from cycle to cycle and may also change over the years. Here's a brief breakdown of the specific hormonal fluctuations occurring in each phase (note: based on a 28-day cycle):
- Menstrual and follicular phases: The menstrual and follicular phases overlap. The menstruation phase refers to days 1 to 7, while the follicular phase refers to days 1 to 14. During the menstrual phase, your estrogen and progesterone levels are at an all-time low. But they start to rise post-menstruation, which stimulates your body to develop follicles on the ovaries. A mature egg will develop within one of the follicles between cycle days 10 and 14.
- Ovulation phase: Occurs around day 14. In the days leading up to ovulation, your body experiences a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH), which signals your ovary to release the mature egg. Estrogen and testosterone levels also peak during ovulation.
- Luteal phase: Refers to the time between ovulation and menstruation (i.e., between days 15 and 28). The empty sac from which the mature egg erupted produces progesterone, along with some estrogen, to thicken the uterine lining in the event a fertilized egg implants. However, if the egg has not been fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels will drop to prepare your body to shed the thickened uterine lining.
As your hormones fluctuate in response to your menstrual cycle, so do your mood, energy level, and productivity. But how so, exactly? Well, without diving into the boring specifics, remember this: in general, the more progesterone and estrogen you have, the more energetic and productive you’ll feel.
What good does knowing that do you, though? It’s not like you could inject yourself with more progesterone and estrogen on days you feel like a sloth … right?
Enter, cycle syncing
The answer is no. You can’t cheat your way to enhanced productivity through “supplementary” progesterone and estrogen. What you can do, however, is cycle sync. It’s where you work with your hormones — instead of fighting them.
Here’s how to use each phase of your period to your advantage to be your best and most productive self:
- Menstruation phase: Your hormones are at an all-time low. That also means your energy levels, ability to focus, and productivity levels are at their lowest point. So, consider cutting back on work tasks and prioritizing rest where possible.
- Follicular phase: Thanks to rising levels of hormones, energy levels are often higher during this phase. It's thus an excellent time for you to schedule more complex and challenging tasks.
- Ovulatory phase: Both estrogen and testosterone rise to reach their respective dips. Beyond tackling more complex tasks in this phase, because the rise in testosterone could also cause an increase in extroversion, you may also wish to schedule important client meetings, delicate conversations, or team activities.
- Luteal phase: Both estrogen and progesterone rise before dropping significantly in this phase. You may thus notice a significant drop in productivity. Instead of fighting it, lean into it; concentrate on more straightforward tasks, like admin, and prioritize self-care.
Wish to learn more about cycle syncing? Check out the articles below:
Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.