I recently shared a conversation with a friend who disclosed that the titles of the books on her Kindle cue, Fried and Overwhelmed, are a perfect reflection of her current state of mind. I joked that I’d just finished Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work Love and Play When No One Has The Time, but only after renewing it from the public library three times and finally ordering the audio book. Finishing a book is more than a small victory these days, with a rambunctious toddler at home and a lengthy to do list greeting me daily at the office. Perhaps others can relate!
After hearing Brigid Schulte speak on NPR, and following her on Twitter, I knew I liked her and felt compelled to check out her book (and then, literally, check it out three more times until I’d finished it). Schulte’s book is packed with compelling research on the topics of work, love and play and is peppered with stories from her life and others that highlight challenges and creative strategies to thrive in these three areas.
Brigid’s book and the research within it has been the impetus for reflection and change in my own approach to work, relationships and leisure in my roles as mother, partner, friend, advocate, advisor and mentor. Some of the critical concepts that have stuck with me are listed below.
· Time is a feminist issue. Time is power. Don’t give yours away. Become aware of Time Confetti (the term Schulte uses to describe scraps of free time in our days that gets filled with pesky tasks, household chores, and emails). This may involve prioritizing, planning and re-setting personal and shared expectations.
· Work smarter, not harder. Set yourself up for success by understanding the neuroscience of how human’s work best. The research highlighted in Schulte’s book shows that for most of us this means pulsing between periods of intense concentration of ninety minutes or less and instituting breaks to completely change the channel. This may a more active role in scheduling worktime to create an environment where good work can be produced.
· Unplug unapologetically. Your time is not an endless resource. When we are constantly connected and caught in a cycle of responsiveness, our work can feel unending. This may involve setting reasonable parameters for sending and responding to instant communication and technology. If you are in a role with on-call responsibilities, seek fair solutions to enjoy an occasional reprieve from those responsibilities.
· Share the load. Set standards that everyone can agree to and divide the load fairly. Create systems and automate routines to cut down on resentment and role-overload. Monitor, assess and keep working at it. If you advise students, this will involve developing clear expectations of self and others and routinely checking in on those.
· Be quiet. Make space for mindfulness, even if it is simply by taking five deep breaths a day. The research in Schulte’s book highlights that practicing mindfulness for less than thirty minutes a day will literally expand your brain. This may mean closing your office door in the middle of a busy day, flying solo in the cafeteria from time to time, opting to walk to a meeting instead of accepting a shared ride with colleagues, practicing yoga in the fitness center, or starting a meditation practice. We can all find a way to experience peace.
· Acknowledge and eradicate sludge. According to the research in Schulte’s book, sludge is judging people for how they spend their time. In the workplace sludge can manifest among peers, managers and even in oneself. If we shift our focus to results, we lift the focus off of working within strict parameters set by others that may not allow the desired results to be achieved. Eradicating sludge alleviates resentment and feelings of mistrust.
· Banish busyness and support those who set parameters to live whole lives and do good work. Seek out mentors who are living an authentic life and then be a mentor to others. Extend grace to others who are experiencing overwhelm. Support those who set parameters for their time and are doing good work.
The stories and solutions shared in Brigid Schulte’s book have challenged me to examine my time and my values. And, let’s be honest, it sure has been nice to finally contribute to the conversation when friends ask “Who are you reading these days?”
Sarah B. Diaz, MSW
Coordinator for Health Education & Outreach Programs and Campus Victim Advocate at Butler University