Home Thinking Aloud How Chronic Pain Changed My Relationship With Productivity

How Chronic Pain Changed My Relationship With Productivity


by Michelle Patterson, founder of Dangerous Words Copywriting

We’ve all bought into the hustle culture mindset at some point in our entrepreneurship journey. In some ways, it’s comforting; if you only work hard enough, you will reap the rewards.

My relationship with productivity probably looks downright lazy to hustle culture gurus. I don’t ever work late, I take days off when I need them, and I take frequent breaks throughout the day. But it works for me, and more importantly, it helps me to work around my chronic pain.

My Experience With Chronic Pain

I’ve suffered from chronic pain all my life, but it may surprise you to know that I only recently acknowledged that I have chronic pain. My parents raised me like any other kid, and in many ways, that was a positive thing, but it also meant that I didn’t see myself as having a chronic condition. It was one of those glaringly obvious things, but it only dawned on me last year.

If you don’t suffer from chronic pain, the best way I can describe it is a persistent background headache; you know, the ones you get when you’re overtired. It’s there in the background as a dull throbbing, making everyday things a little more difficult than usual. If you keep yourself busy, you can sort of ignore it, but if you exert yourself too much, the pain becomes much worse; it could even become a migraine. You don’t want to talk to anyone; you don’t want to think too hard; just being in pain is taking up a lot of energy and mental space. At the end of the day, even if you’ve managed to keep the headache down to just a base level of pain, you are exhausted. All of your energy has been used up, just existing.

Before I acknowledged the fact that I have chronic pain, I knew that I had good days and bad days, but I would just push through the pain. I mean, what was I going to do, take time off work to rest my body? This attitude only intensified when I started my own business.

Dealing With Chronic Pain As an Entrepreneur

Since I’ve acknowledged my chronic pain, I’ve been on a journey to figure out what it means for my life. I’ve had to learn how to practice forgiveness when I can’t function at 100% because my pain levels are too high. I still get frustrated at times, but it’s really freeing to work with my body rather than against it. One of the most important things I have implemented into my schedule is flexibility.

I have a daily routine, it’s good to have some kind of structure to your day, but it is not set in stone. I allow myself to sleep in if I need it or take a few hours off to rest and manage my pain so I can still get some work done that day. Working in a creative industry, this flexibility has also helped the quality of my work. I am able to write when I’m in the zone or feeling creative rather than forcing myself to push out subpar work.

Giving myself leeway to stop and manage my pain has increased my productivity. I get more done in 4 hours when my pain is at a manageable level than I do in 8 hours when I’m crabby and unfocused due to pain. It is hard to shake the feeling that I’m slacking off when I take these breaks. I spent my whole life thinking that if I wasn’t multitasking at all hours of the day, I was being lazy, so old habits die hard.

Am I Less Productive?

You may be reading this article thinking that it sounds like a really unproductive way to manage my time. I know I would’ve thought that a few years ago.

But aside from a few wobbles of self-doubt, I am really happy with the flexibility in my routine. In the past, I would chain myself to my desk for 8-12 hours, but I was probably only doing focused work for 3-4 hours. Now, my workdays range anywhere from 0-8 hours of work, but I am more purposeful with my time.

This new approach has also helped me to become more realistic about my limits. I am only one person, and I can only do so much. It is not realistic for me to think that I can be on every social media platform, create hundreds of digital products, write a daily blog, and still have time for client work. I’ve had to take a step back and determine which business tasks are most important based on financial results and the time and energy it needs to be effective. This allows me to concentrate my efforts on a few tasks rather than doing a lot of tasks poorly.

So yes, I spend less time working than hustle culture says I should, but I would argue that I am as productive as I can be in the hours that I do work.

Will This Work For You?

There has been a recent shift away from the hustle culture mindset. In my opinion, it is just not sustainable; no one can work at peak productivity all the time.

My approach to productivity may not work for you; you may need a little more rigidity in your schedule. That is fine. I am simply sharing my approach so you can see that there is more than one way to be productive. I hope you take the time to experiment and find what works best for you.


Michelle Patterson is the founder of Dangerous Words Copywriting. She helps startups find their unique brand voice and apply it to their online presence. She is passionate about both strategy and execution. Her company offers cheat sheets for DIYers and copywriting services to business owners seeking done-for-you solutions.