Overwhelmed at Work and Home? You May Be Living on ‘Contaminated Time’

Colleen Oakley
Posted

contaminated time“There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“I’m crazy busy.”

“My to-do list is a mile long.”

If you’re like most Americans, you likely say one (or all) of the above statements on a regular basis.

A few years ago Brigid Schulte—a journalist for The Washington Post and a mother of two—did too. “I kept waking up in a panic at 4 A.M. worrying—not only about all of the stuff on my to-do list that I hadn’t done that day and how much more there was to do,” Schulte says, “but also whether I was missing my life even as I was living it.”

And then she started to wonder why she—and so many people she knew—was living this way. So like any good journalist, she started doing some research, which led her to write what she calls an “accidental book”: “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.”

“It’s a journey to understand what happened to leisure in America—why I, like so many, felt so compelled to unthinkingly overwork and overparent and overdo,” she says. “And how I could begin to create time for what philosophers and psychologists say are the three great arenas that make for a good life: work, love and play.”

Since this balance is what everyone is seemingly searching for these days, we sat down with Schulte to find out more about trying to live a less overwhelmed life.

LearnVest: I think that a lot of people today can relate to your book. How did we get to this point? Are we really more overscheduled and overwhelmed than our parents’ generation?

Brigid Schulte: Yes! A generation ago people knew the difference between hard work and overwork—the latter of which has become our reality. Work hours began to rise in the 1980s. Now Americans put in among the most extreme hours of workers anywhere in the world. Why? Because of what’s changed and what hasn’t.

What’s changed: the world, technology, the economy, gender roles. What hasn’t: cultural attitudes and expectations and unconscious bias. I think the writer Katrina Alcorn [author of "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink"] said it best: Our society expects people to work as if they didn’t have families or lives, and to have families as if we didn’t work. And that’s just not the reality for the vast majority of Americans.

About 40% of all children under 18 are being raised by a sole breadwinning mother or mom who outearns her spouse. But you would never know that by looking at our workplace cultures, policies and laws.

At the same time, the standards for what it takes to be a good mother have continued to ratchet up. Social scientists now say that the gap between what we consider the ideal and what we’re realistically capable of doing has never been wider. Since so much hasn’t changed as the world has, we’ve created an impossible bind for most people—not just mothers.

RELATED: Does Work-Life Balance Actually Exist?

  • Jan Cullinane

    Time is resource, like money, and most of us feel we are suffering from “time famine.” There was an interesting study done by Mike Norton from the Harvard Business School. Participants were asked to spend time either on themselves (manicures/massages/reading a book, etc.) or spend time on OTHERS (such as helping out a neighbor, working at a food bank etc.). After spending time on OTHERS, the participants felt they had more time in their lives. Why? Because spending time on others signals to ourselves that we must really have enough time, and so we feel better about the amount of time we have. Simple, but elegant and true.

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement