- Get the snow tires exchanged
- Renew tabs on Sean’s car; schedule Leo’s practice drives
- Call the landscaper – what’s with those weeds?
- Get rid of the damn woodpecker poking a hole in the house at 6am each day
- Reschedule call with Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed, which you had to cancel four times
I found it fitting that it took a week of texts and emails for Schulte and me to find a window in our respective schedules. When we finally connected, Schulte was charging her dying iPhone at the booth of a Eugene, Oregon burger joint, during a brief pause between book tour duties, her son’s University of Oregon tour, her daughter’s birthday, and visits with her sick father.
But thanks to the three-plus years of research she conducted for Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, she seemed serene and relaxed, even when the burger place began playing Nirvana, threatening threatened to drown out our conversation.
Her calmness was not always so.
Schulte’s exploration of the overworked, under-joyed American lifestyle began with a 2010 Washington Post Magazine story, an assignment she initially resisted. “I didn’t really want to face how I was spending my time,” she said. “I was really afraid of what I’d find … One more thing to feel bad about.”
She also worried that the topic of leisure “seemed silly and fluffy” in contrast to the heftier political coverage of her employer, the Post, and her war correspondent husband, Tom Bowman, NPR's Pentagon reporter. (Years ago, I worked with Bowman at the Baltimore Sun.)
But when the magazine article elicited hundreds and hundreds of emails--from women and men, young and old, sharing the pain, rage, and madness of their overwhelmed, joyless lives--Schulte knew she was onto something. “It blew my mind,” she said. And she realized: “I was not alone.”
Her journalist instincts kicked in and Schulte began to explore the madness of the modern American lifestyle, the misplaced priorities, and the health and quality of life consequences.
She found progressive companies--even the Pentagon--that have exploited the links between employee happiness and productivity, between leisure and professional creativity. She calls for workplace changes that place a higher value on achievement than work hours. Her research taught her how to work smarter, worry less, and prioritize fun--lunch with a friend, an afternoon with the kids, a new hobby, a run or a nap--yet still be more productive.
Schulte has also discovered the value of under-scheduling her kids and protecting family time.
- PAUSE. Step off the gerbil wheel regularly--if even for a moment, even if you have to schedule it in, to figure out where you are and where you REALLY want to go.
- Understand how strong the PRESSURE is to overwork, overparent, overschedule and be busy and overdo and that humans are wired to conform. Our outlandishly unrealistic cultural ideals keep us spinning in “never enough”--that we can never be enough, be good enough, do enough in any sphere.
- Change the narrative. Actively support big change--in workplace culture, in cultural attitudes, in laws and policies: redesign work, reimagine traditional gender roles, recapture the value of leisure and play. Make conscious unconscious bias and ambivalence. Dispel worn out myths. Talk.
- Banish busyness.
- PLAN. DO. REVIEW. As you get clearer about where you are and where you want to go, begin to imagine in those moments of pause how to get from here to there. Experiment. Assess. Try something different. Keep trying.
- Set your own PRIORITIES--and then set up your own network of support that lines up with your values--that you WANT to conform to! POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE.
- When it comes to the To Do list, do a brain dump to get everything out of your head to clear mental space. Then give yourself PERMISSION not to do any of it. Also give yourself PERMISSION to put joy, fun, play, reflection and idleness or quiet time as top priorities and schedule it in until it becomes routine. You really DON’T have to earn leisure by getting to the end of the To Do list. You never will. So flip the list. Joy first. Do ONE thing a day and do it first. The rest of the day is a win.
- Chunk your time. Work in short, intense PULSES of no more than 90 minutes, and take breaks to change the channel. Check digital media at specific times during the day, and use timers so you won’t fall into the rabbit hole. Technology is seductive, lighting up the same structures of the brain that light up in addiction--so find your own system to use it wisely, not let it use you, or abuse you.
- Set common standards at home and share the load fairly, even the kids. Remember, as parents, love your kids, accept them for who they are, then get out of their way. That way, everybody has more time to connect--which is what’s really important, not how many instruments they play and how many travel teams they’ve made.
- More is not more. Think inverted U curve. Like anything, some activity for kids, some novelty for the brain, some amount of hard work, some time for technology … it’s all good up to a point, but more is not better. Too much, and the benefits begin to diminish. Find your own sweet spot.