"[Schulte's] a detective in a murder mystery: Who killed America's leisure time, and how do we get it back?"Lev Grossman, Time
When award-winning journalist Brigid Schulte, a harried mother of two, realized she was living a life of all work and no play, she decided to find out why she felt so overwhelmed. This book is the story of what she discoveredand of how her search for answers became a journey toward a life of less stress and more leisure.
Schulte's findings are illuminating, puzzling, and, at times, maddening: Being overwhelmed is even affecting the size of our brains. But she also encounters signs of real progressevidence that what the ancient Greeks called "the good life" is attainable after all. Schulte talks to companies who are inventing a new kind of workplace; travels to countries where policies support office cultures that don't equate shorter hours with laziness (and where people actually get more done); meets couples who have figured out how to share responsibilities. Enlivened by personal anecdotes, humor, and hope, Overwhelmed is a book about modern lifea revelation of the misguided beliefs and real stresses that have made leisure feel like a thing of the past, and of how we can find time for it in the present.
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About the Author
Brigid Schulte is an award-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine, and was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. She is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and their two children.
Read an Excerpt
Preface to the 2015 Edition
I can guess what you’re thinking: You don’t have time to read this book.
Perhaps you have a scrap of paper somewhere in your bag or your
junk drawer or on the back of an envelope on your desk that looks an
awful lot like the cover of this book. Perhaps seeing this scattered old
To Do list hit with a pang, a reminder of one more thing that you, too,
forgot you really need To Do. And though you may like the idea of
finding time for work, love, and play in your life, maybe you’re a little
resigned. A little angry, even. You’re living life in fast forward. Your
inbox is overflowing. Your days feel scattered in bits and fragments of
what feels like Time Confetti. And maybe you think this is just the way
That’s at least what I thought.
It took reporting this book to change my mind.
That’s not to say change isn’t hard. It is. If living a Good Life, because
that’s what we’re really talking about, were easy, we wouldn’t need
to be reminded that there’s more than just getting to the end of the day,
washed up on our couches like shipwreck survivors with barely enough
energy to order take out, throw chicken nuggets at the kids, then grope
around the cushions for the remote and click on the TV. We wouldn’t
need stories to help us puzzle through what living a Good Life means.
And no one would feel compelled to obsessively click on those breezy
listicles online or snap up the magazine articles extolling the ten ways to
take back your time, the seventeen tips to reclaim your day, or the nine
habits of the world’s most productive people.
When I decided to take on this book, I wanted to know why it’s so
hard to change. I wanted to understand why things are the way they
are, why Americans work such long hours, why there are virtually no
policies or laws that support working families, why women still carry
the heavier load at home, even as they take on breadwinning roles at
work, and why we think leisure is just a big waste of time. And I wanted
to know how it could be better. I wanted to find hope.
I went out in search of answers in what Harvard psychologist Erik
Erikson called the three great arenas that make for a Good Life: Work,
Love, and Play. The book became a chronicle of what I found and the
journey I took from the chaos of living fast, feeling breathless, and
stuck in a storm of swirling Time Confetti, to moving closer to Time
I’m a journalist and a writer. I’m not a guru. So this is not a book of
self help. And yet there is a lot in it that is helpful. That’s why, for this
edition, we inserted the words “How to” into the title so readers would
know that the book may start in Overwhelm, but it doesn’t stay there.
Because I did find hope. At the end of each section are short “chapterlettes,”
as I came to call them, on Bright Spots where the ground is already
shifting: Workplace cultures that are changing to give drained
workers time to live full lives, and are seeing better results. Couples
seeking to more fairly share their work and home lives. And places
where making time for leisure, for friends, for family, play and rest, is
just part of an ordinary day.
I wrote this book to shake things up, and to start a conversation
about how we work and live. Since the book came out, some readers
have reached out to tell me that it’s also changing their lives. Some have
started Overwhelmed Mitigation Groups, OMGs, to help each other
knit together their scraps of Time Confetti. They’ve begun to catch
themselves, they told me, when they unconsciously begin to brag about
how busy they are. Some are joining campaigns to advocate for better
policies. Others are trying to be more mindful. One man wrote that,
until he heard me talk about the book, he’d never questioned why he
worked six days a week to impress bosses who worked even more. He
quit. He found another employer who pays him the same, gives him
more paid vacation time, and expects him and everyone else to finish
their work and be out the door by 5:30. Now he likes his job and is doing
better work. He sees his wife more. He’s sleeping better. And he even has
begun to give himself permission to leave the smartphone behind and go
fishing every now and again on weekends, something he’d always felt
too busy to do before. “Your book inspired me to seek a better life.”
Maybe you don’t have time to read this book. Or at least not the
whole journey from Time Confetti toward Time Serenity. And that’s
okay. You can read the chapters about the things that are most bugging
you, or that you’re most curious about. Or read the Bright Spots chapterlettes
for inspiration. Or listen to the audiobook. Or begin by downloading
the summary from my website. For the seriously time starved,
flip to the Appendix in the back for a brief digest of what I learned
about how to find time for work, love, and play. There are many ways to
read this book. There are many ways to live a Good Life. The important
Table of Contents
Preface to the 2015 Edition xi
Part One: Time Confetti
1. The Test of Time 3
2. Leisure Is for Nuns 21
3. Too Busy to Live 41
4. The Incredible Shrinking Brain 56
Part Two: Work
5. The Ideal Worker Is Not Your Mother 71
6. A Tale of Two Pats 97
Bright Spot: Starting Small 117
7. When Work Works 123
Bright Spot: If the Pentagon Can Do It, Why Cant You? 145
Part Three: Love
8. The Stalled Gender Revolution 153
9. The Cult of Intensive Motherhood 172
Bright Spot: Mother Nature 190
10. Dads Want to Have It All, Too 197
Bright Spot: Gritty, Happy Kids 205
Part Four: Play
11. Hygge in Denmark 213
12. Let Us Play 232
Bright Spot: Really Plan a Vacation 249
Part Five: Toward Time Serenity
13. Finding Time 255
Bright Spot: Time Horizons 272
14. Toward Time Serenity 274
Appendix: Do One Thing 279
Reading Group Guide
An award-winning journalist and harried mother of two, Brigid Schulte spent her days racing from one deadline to the next. A good night's sleep and leisure time? Impossible in her demanding world. Yet researchers insist that Americans are actually rolling in leisure time; it's the perception of busyness we're addicted to. In Overwhelmed, Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to examine the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed. She investigates progressive offices that have invented a liberating yet highly productive kind of workplace. She travels across Europe, where shorter work hours and longer vacation periods are the cultural norm. And she examines her own communities to uncover the roots of our seemingly time-crunched culture. The result is an inspiring new vision of the Good Lifeand an urgent, invigorating plan for change.
This guide is designed to enrich your discussion of Overwhelmed. We hope that the following questions will enhance your reading group's experience of Brigid Schulte's timely call to action.
1. If you started keeping a time diary, what categories would you want to create? Would you follow John Robinson's definition of leisure? Which category consumes most of your time right now?
2. In your family, how has the delegation of household duties changed over the generations? Did your childhood feature many scheduled activities, or did you have unstructured time? Did your parents embrace the idea of leisure and vacations?
3. How have you been affected by the increasing demands placed on salaried workers in an age of 24/7 availability? Who at your company would need to be convinced that reduced work hours and increased flexibility in scheduling could actually lead to increased productivity and profit?
4. How did you react to the author's interviews with Pat Buchanan and other traditionalists? What sustains their point of view?
5. What would it take for programs such as the Menlo Innovations approach in Ann Arbor and the Alternative Work Schedule at the Pentagon to become the norm throughout the United States? What do the book's progressive examples tell us about the best way to achieve change?
6. What are the most frequent contributors to your time confetti? If you could convert all of your confetti into leisure time, would you feel guilty?
7. Discuss the true equality proposed by Jessica DeGroot at ThirdPath Institute. Have you seen it in action in your community?
8. How would you respond to those who say women have only themselves to blame for the inequities they endure in the ratio of leisure time to "on call" time? What enabled Schulte to leave her kids behind and trust Tom? How did that help them work through their impasse?
9. What is at the root of discrimination against working moms, both in the workplace and among certain circles of stay-at-home moms? What do cases such as that of Renate Rivelli, the Brown Palace Hotel employee described in chapter 5, illustrate about the grossly inaccurate perceptions of a working mother's capabilities?
10. How would you answer the central questions posed by Schulte in chapter 9: who's right, what's best, and how do we stop the insanity? What did you learn from her sojourn in Denmark, where work hours are shorter and highly focused while the economy remains robust? How could the concept of hygge help us redefine the ideal standard of living?
11. In your opinion, why does the ideal of the self-sacrificing mother persist, despite the gains of the feminist movement? Why have so many American families resisted the fact that dads also have a parenting instinct, and that a diverse caretaking community can have a highly positive impact on a child's well-being?
12. One of the findings presented in Overwhelmed is the notion that grit and self-confidence, rather than income or GPA, are strong predictors of happiness. What do our barometers of success say about our real values as a society? Is happinesswhose pursuit is touted in the Declaration of Independencestill valued in the United States?
13. Discuss the concept of contaminated time. Knowing that the brain's working memory can hold only seven pieces of information at once, how would you begin to clear your cluttered mindeven if the responsibilities of work and home seem to follow you 24/7? What kind of space would "decontamination" create in your life?
14. Overwhelmed underscores the fact that years of history and cultural conditioning have spurred women to work harder than men, even during supposed time off: If a woman wants to watch TV, she'd better fold some laundry while she's at it. If she'd like to read a book, she should do it on the treadmill. On family "vacations," Mom will make sure that all of the kids' needs are met. Does this ring true for you? Do the men and women in your world manage time differently? If so, what can they do to silence that little voice that says women don't deserve to rest? What would motivate you to give yourself a break, even if it incites uproar at first?
15. Drawing on the author's closing advice to "do one thing," which of her changes will you implement in work, play, and love? What predictions would you make about the way future generations will balance their time among parenting, career, and leisure?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well-written and well-researched, but a better subtitle would be "work, love, and play when working mothers don't have the time", as I'd say 80% of the page count refers to the overwhelming life of the working mother. That isn't meant to say that's not an important and worthy book, but it's worth noting that bias from the beginning, because a great many people might see the title and reviews and not understand that bias. Many single non-parents also feel time stress and the feeling of being "overwhelmed" and might be frustrated that the "no one" in the subtitle often doesn't include them.
A must read.
Enjoyed the book a lot and learned about the importance of playing as an adult.
Accurately portrays the stresses people face today in trying to accomplish everything that needs to be done each day, no easy answer here but she does offer some helpful tips