May 05

“Overwhelmed” By Brigid Schulte: Too Much Busyness

Award-winning journalist Brigid Schultes new book is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. From the book description:

In Overwhelmed, Schulte, a staff writer for The Washington Post, asks: Are our brains, our partners, our culture, and our bosses making it impossible for us to experience anything but ‘contaminated time’?

The “contaminated time” notion has to do with doing too many things at the same time, which Schulte notes is something everyone knows to some degree. Some call it multi-tasking.

Schulte tells Cathy Gulli, Macleans, that multi-tasking, of course, isn’t a worthwhile endeavor: A study found that it “makes you stupid,” in fact. The research subjects’ grey matter actually decreased as a result of engaging in too many things at once.

Busyness is a real and necessary phenomenon for many, though. Schulte tells Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

We’re working more hours—more extreme hours at one job at the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum and cobbling together several jobs to try to make ends meet at the lower end. Our standards for what it takes to be a good parent, particularly a good mother, are insanely high and out of proportion to all reality. Working mothers today now spend as much or more time with their kids as stay-at-home mothers in the 1960s and ’70s.

Leisure time is indeed difficult to attain for many; the overwhelmed may find themselves settling for “time confetti,” little bits here and there.

Interestingly, though, leisure time is findable if you’re really committed to trying, Schulte found. According to Rosin, John Robinson—a sociologist with the nickname “Father Time” for his emphasis on time use diaries—“doesn’t ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”

So, what specific kind of time management recommendations for the overwhelmed come out of Schulte’s research? Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, rewords the author’s conclusion:

There’s only one viable time management approach left (and even that’s only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three. Everything else just has to fit around them – or not…

In addition, Neal Thompson, AmazonBookReview.com, provides Schulte’s “Top 10 Ways to Fight Back Against the Overwhelm.” What follows are excerpts:

  1. PAUSE. Step off the gerbil wheel regularly…
  2. Understand how strong the PRESSURE is to overwork, overparent, overschedule and be busy and overdo and that humans are wired to conform…
  3. Change the narrative. Actively support big change–in workplace culture, in cultural attitudes, in laws and policies…
  4. Banish busyness.
  5. 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…
  6. Set your own PRIORITIES–and then set up your own network of support that lines up with your values…
  7. 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…
  8. Chunk your time. Work in short, intense PULSES of no more than 90 minutes, and take breaks to change the channel….
  9. Set common standards at home and share the load fairly, even the kids…
  10. 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.