When my last period of depression was at its worst, I had this on-going feeling of lacking the ability to do what I wanted, no matter how hard I tried. And this wasn’t about reaching life-long goals. This feeling extended to simple things like keeping up with chores and taking care of myself.

Fortunately, I discovered that I am a Highly Sensitive Person, and I immediately took steps to reduce overstimulation. It was a slow healing process, but I owe much my productivity today to honoring my sensitivity.

From this, I learned an important lesson. As a sensitive person, overwhelm and being hit with simulation all the time can make it tough to do what you want.

Getting things done as an HSP can be a delicate balance. It’s learning the art of moving forward in life without hurting your mental and physical health.

So here I’m sharing some personal discoveries that have helped me to be a productive and healthy sensitive person. Hopefully, if you’re an HSP, you’ll find some of these tips helpful too.

Update:✨ If this post catches your interest, you’ll also appreciate my latest book, Love Your Sensitivity:7 Essential Life Changes to Make After Learning You’re a Highly Sensitive Person–now available at your favorite ebook retailer.

I need to set my own standards of productivity

The mindset of doing more faster is not for sensitive people. Especially as a writer, I feel the pressure to write as much as I can as quickly as I can. When I was creating webcomics, working fast was my method of operation. As a result, I experienced severe, creative burnout that lasted for years. So here is my new motto:

Self-care over hustle

Hustling leads to stress, overwhelm, and ultimately to unproductivity because that mindset encourages burning brightly until you have nothing left. If I don’t have my health, then I cannot accomplish anything.

Plus as stress rises, the quality of what I do suffers.

I need to work simply and slowly with impact

Since pushing myself to work fast leads to overstimulation, I’ve embraced working at the pace that comes naturally for me.

As a result, I’ve become focused on

  1. Doing the few things that make the most impact
  2. Attempting to do those things to the best of my ability

Keeping things simple creates the illusion of working fast, although I’m not. Instead, I’m carefully aiming my punches.

I think deeply about what to write and what books to publish. However, all of that thought enables me to make a lot of impact without having to hustle.

This mindset has also filtered down to my everyday life. When it comes to chores, I often try to figure out what I could clean that would make the most impact.

Thinking this way allows me to do more with less. For more about this concept, I recommend reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Use perfectionism for things that matter

Creating my own vision of productivity has not been easy. Like many sensitive people, I have high standards. I want my home to be spotless. I want things to be perfect.

Yet, over time I’ve come to appreciate that aimless perfectionism doesn’t help me. It holds me captive. Perfectionism is still something that I struggle with, but being aware of it has made a difference.

Things work better when I focus my perfectionism on things that matter. Do I need to clean my floor perfectly? No. Do I need to give extra attention to how I handle my financial information? Yes.

I reduce overstimulation when I try not to perfect everything, but only what matters. I am aiming my sensitivity to where it will have the most impact.

I need to be aware of my strongest sensitivities

I’m more sight, sound, and smell sensitive, than touch and taste sensitive. I don’t cut the tags out of all my clothes, and I don’t care about food texture. But there have been times when I’ve been a car with someone who changes radio stations so much that I press the off button, screaming how I’ve had enough.

Yeah, this was rude, and I did this multiple times before I learned about my sensitivity. I didn’t understand why constant station switching was physically painful to me, but now I understand (and I handle it more calmly).

In any case, know your triggers and prepare to deal with them. Being aware of your pet-peeves will help you to keep better tabs on your simulation levels.

However, I’ve also come to appreciate the gifts within my most irritating sensitivities. I work better when there are pleasant sounds and scents in my environment. Fast and loud music can energize me. And my work area must be aesthetically pleasing. My favorite software programs have simple but enjoyable visual design.

I need to take breaks

Although I often don’t want to, that fuzzy-brain feeling of overstimulation won’t go away until I do. For me, overstimulation also shows up as sudden tiredness or a general lack of focus. I feel like I can’t focus on anything.

My favorite ways of taking a break:

  • Naps
  • Exercise
  • Closing my eyes and doing nothing for at least 5 minutes.

Along these lines, I’ve also discovered that I must have outdoor time every day if possible. My overstimulation disappears the most when I’m in nature.

I need to take time to visualize

For sensitive people, visualization can be quite a weapon. I think because we absorb so much of our environment, it’s easy to mentally recreate settings and situations in detail.

Taking the time to visualize helps me to set goals. Envisioning the results of taking a certain path in my life helps me to sort out what I want to do.

I don’t only visualize things in my mind. I also visualize on paper by using mindmaps to see relationships between concepts and other things in my life.

Seeing how different pursuits affect each other enables me to narrow down the many moving parts of my life to the main pieces that affect everything else.

I need to embrace learning via immersion

The reason why overstimulation is an issue for sensitive people is that we take in so much information from our environment. Most of what’s written to help sensitive people is focused on the downsides of this–the anxiety, the brain fog, and so on.

I think on some level, all people are sponge-like. However, sensitive people absorb more than the majority of the population. For me, this often shows up as learning that’s hard to explain.

I can’t explain to you how I learned to draw comics. I never learned it in my art classes at school. Drawing comics requires different skills from illustration drawing. All I can say is that I learned how to draw comics by reading a lot of comics.

I learned to write nonfiction books by reading a ton of nonfiction books. Lately, I’ve even been able to create original recipes that actually taste good because I’ve been cooking a lot.

I don’t learn everything this way, but for me, this is the upside to being sensitive. Learning through immersion enables me to accomplish more without burnout.

I often feel like I’m just relaxing and playing around until I start putting out unique creations of my own, fuelled by what I’ve been unconsciously taking in.

So these are the ways that I stay productive and healthy as an HSP. Do you have unique ways of being productive as a highly sensitive person? Feel free to share your thoughts with me via email!