Clawing out of the overwhelm

overwhelmedIn Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When Nobody Has the Time, Brigid Schulte explores how we use our time and why we feel overwhelmed with insightful, deep reporting. This book has completely changed the way I think about spending my own time, and more importantly, how I experience my time.

Schulte deftly deconstructs the American notion of the “Ideal Worker” who works extreme hours in the office and the “Ideal Mother” who is completely selfless and there for her children 210 percent. These are ideals we cannot possibly live up to—and we shouldn’t want to.

Our ambivalence about how we spend our time is what leads us to experience more “contaminated” time. We feel so guilty about not being at work that we can’t enjoy being at home, and we feel so guilty about the mess we left at home we can’t fully enjoy our work.

After extensive travel and research, Shculte proposes that we change our workplace culture to allow everyone to live better lives: flex time, telecommuting, more vacation, more sick days, paid parental leave for both parents.

But she also proposes that we change our family and home-based culture. No more holding mothers to a crazy double standard (i.e. “She’s a single mother so she has to work, but what is that rich lady doing leaving her kids all day long?”). Affordable, excellent child care. Making room for play and creativity and just plain fun.

Overwhelmed comes with an appendix that’s more like a manifesto. In it, Schulte sums up her research and conclusions in easily-digestible bullet points. Here are my favorites.

For work:

Ambiguity is the enemy in the workplace that fuels the overwhelm. Define your mission. Set clear parameters and performance measures to lay out how much is enough. When is it good enough? And how will you know? Communicate. Adjust.

Reimagine career trajectories, replacing steep, narrow one-way ladders with lattices, broad fields with meandering paths that wind through them. Think fluidity. Could we create sine curves, career tracks of intensity and pull back, for both men and women?

Draw on the science of human motivation first by giving workers a fair salary and benefits, then allowing them to have greater autonomy, a sense of purpose, and the ability to become masterful at what they do.

Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day.

CHUNK your time. Multitasking makes you stupid. Work in concentrated blocks of time with regular brakes, and fit in the 5 percent stuff-of-life crap after you’ve made time for what’s important.

For love:

Let’s be HUMAN, recognize that industrial-age gender roles are outdated, and agree that it’s good for people, for society, for humanity, for both men and women to be free to be educated, to work, to follow passions, and to raise children in whatever manner works best for each family.

Happiness first. Happiness breeds success and achievement. The converse is not necessarily true.

For play:

Understand that, for women, there never has been a history or culture of leisure or play, unless you consider sweeping, making cheese, churning butter, quilting, and knitting your kind of fun. It will take effort and strain to allow yourself time to play. Make the effort. Find a group like Mice at Play or create your own. Try belly dancing. Take a walk. You’ll be more likely to do it if you have a group or friends to be accountable to. Be subversive!

Be silent every day. Even if that means taking five breaths. Being mindful for less than a half hour a day will, literally, expand your brain.

Live an authentic life.

How do you experience your time? Are you satisfied or are there things you’d like to change?


What do you think?

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