Often on Sunday nights my husband and I review the week’s calendar to make sure all bases—at least those that we foresee—are covered. Like so many people, we’ve got a bunch of things going on. Between work, our kid’s activities, and other responsibilities, it’s scramble, scramble, scramble.
While flex-schedule working has many benefits, it also has its share of challenges. From the time my son was born, I was fortunate enough to have a work situation that allowed me to work from home as needed. And while I am so grateful to have had that opportunity, one of the challenges that comes with it is feeling like I should always be doing something. Always. Continue reading “Why Sometimes You Need to Have Nothing to Find Something”
On any given day, I feel like I am running on life’s treadmill. My ToDo list keeps growing, and even though I’ve been busy all day, it feels like I don’t have nearly enough (if anything) to show for it. And I fear that if I break stride, I could end up like George Jetson when Astro decided to chase the cat. (For you youngsters who don’t get that reference, click here.) Our culture encourages busy, busy—and if you’re not busy, you’re lazy. Continue reading “To Those Who Are Too Busy (aka Most Likely YOU)”
In last week’s post, I hit on a few key points from Brigid Schulte’s New York Times bestseller, Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time that touched on why so many of us feel overwhelmed. This week, I’m focusing on some key strategies that will help “crack the culture” of why we feel this way.
Before I go any further, though, I want to take a moment to clarify something. This book is about helping both women and men make better choices for a more fulfilling life. There is no bias against either gender—just an examination of what is and why, and then ways to help everyone make better use of their time. Translation: Men, this book is worth reading for you, too.
I want to offer some takeaways for you to chew on right now, but I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to read the entire book. And as I said in last week’s post, this is not a paid endorsement. I just want to share some of what I found so valuable and maybe motivate you to do your own thinking and searching…and changing.
So…where to begin? As the title suggests, the book is broken down into the three areas of work, love, and play, and Schulte examines and offers help in each.
Apparently I can’t be that structured today, so…in no particular order…the takeaways…
Find your pulse—I keep thinking that if only I had large blocks of uninterrupted time to focus, I would be much more productive…but we aren’t actually built that way. There is a rhythm—a pulse—to our lives. We inhale…and exhale. And we need to spend time working…and recovering. It’s how we will do our best work. Schulte shares research that shows that working in 90-minute stretches and then getting up and shifting gears entirely for a short period of time will greatly increase productivity. Find the pulse that works for you.
Choose your priorities—figure out what’s truly important to you and then live your life accordingly. Realign your time to focus on those choices. If you were to pick only a few things to focus on, what would they be? For instance, if spending time with your family was one of them, does your time focus reflect that?
Push yourself to play more—active play is actually a necessity for your brain. By giving yourself leisure time—time to explore, laugh, try something new—you are allowing your brain to reenergize and function better. Both historically and currently, women need more help than men in this area. We all need leisure time—and we don’t have to earn it first. Do not feel guilty about making time to have fun. If we can knock that stigma off its ridiculous high horse, we will lead healthier lives.
Denmark isn’t rotten after all—Schulte spent some time there learning what the Danish culture can offer those of us who are struggling with overwhelm. Let’s just say it is indeed a world away from American culture. The government there offers excellent formal child care, awesome paid parental leave, six weeks paid vacation…you get the idea. In Denmark, every day is meant to be lived well. You don’t live to work, you work to live. So…what if you don’t live in Denmark?
I concluded that while I don’t have the governmental realities of Denmark, I could still strive for my own private Denmark. What does that mean? As Schulte illustrates, gender roles there are very egalitarian. Women and men share responsibility in work, care of the home, and the raising of children. Work is necessary but not everything, and life shouldn’t be consumed with it. I know I am blessed that my husband already sees our marriage as a team, so our goal is to make it be even more that way. When that happens, both partners win. There is also the Danish idea of hygge, which is a lovely approach to life—and something that you can create wherever you live. (Learn more about hygge here.)
On parenting—Yes, this is the generation of the “helicopter parent” as well as the over-achieving parent. We are not doing our kids any favors by giving them so much or doing so much for them. I just love this piece of wisdom that Schulte shares from Kathy Masarie: “Love your kids. Keep them safe. Accept them as they are. Then get out of their way.” Parenting in a nutshell.
On mothers—Mothers need to stop making it so hard for themselves and each other. Stop the cult of “intensive mothering” and stop judging women—including yourself. Support each other rather than compete with one another.
On fathers—Fathers need to be connected from the very beginning to climb out of this culture of overwhelm. Schulte offers some wonderful insight about how important it is for dads to bond with their newborns—creating a foundation for lifelong engagement—and how too often gender roles get solidified when dads can do just as much as moms—and need to. One of the keys for this to happen is that new moms need to give new dads a chance to engage fully—not scoop the baby as soon as it fusses in dad’s arms.
Be still—pause. In the midst of the racing, remember to stop. Breathe. Remember the beauty of the small moments. Remember that life is short and this is all we have.
I hope these ideas I’ve shared from Schulte’s book get you thinking about some changes you can make. I know not all of us are married or have kids, and a lot of the content seems to focus on those “traditional” roles, but no matter where you are in life, you can strive to stop the merry-go-round of overwhelm that so many of us are riding and learn to live a more fulfilled life.
Of course, that having been said, as I write this I am mired in a day of overwhelm. But I am making progress. Every revolution starts with a first step, right?
We have a cultural epidemic on our hands. Past the auto-response “I’m fine,” ask the average person today how he or she feels about daily life, and see how many answer that life is coming at them at just the right speed. I doubt you’ll find one—especially if you are asking a woman. Most of us would probably have the word “overwhelmed” somewhere in our answer.
How did life spiral out of control on us?
I read a book over the summer that I feel compelled to write about. This is not a paid endorsement or formal book review. This is just me wanting to share some thoughts on what I found to be a powerful and timely book. It’s not my typical type of post, but I ask you to indulge me—I think this will resonate with you and be worth your time.
Bridgid Schulte’s Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time was one of those reads that offered me new insights while at the same time found me shouting, “Amen, Sister!” on several occasions.
Schulte is a reporter for the Washington Post, and when she recognized her life was leaving her breathless and constantly stressed, she did what any good reporter does—she researched the heck out of it, and then shared her findings.
And just what are some of those findings? Well, the book is a meaty read, and there is so much more to it than I can summarize, but here are some key points:
- Current society values busyness almost more than wealth. Think about it. If we don’t have ourselves—and our kids—fully booked, then there must be something wrong with us. We wear our badge of busyness on our sleeves, and the idea of having free time for fun or relaxing is almost shameful. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, I don’t have time to watch TV…” as a response to my asking someone if they watched a particular TV show, I could go on a really nice vacation (if only I weren’t so busy…) We need to stop fostering this attitude and recognize the importance of leisure (more on that later).
- Our time—again, particularly for women—is all too often what Schulte defines as “contaminated time.” For many moms, no matter what we are doing, the thought process in our head is swirling around what else needs to be done. It’s a form of mental pollution that muddies our present and keeps our stress level higher than it should be. We also need to acknowledge the reality that multi-tasking does not help our stress level and actually lessens our productivity, much as we might like to think otherwise.
- And on the topic of stress, Schulte offers this upsetting research: when stress is prolonged or constant, it actually shrinks the prefrontal cortex of our brain which can affect the way we think and knock our immune system for a loop. So if you’re like me—frequently asking yourself, “What is going on with me?” or finding it hard to think clearly, then it’s time to assess how much stress is in your world and do something about it. The good news? Reducing the stress can result in better brain health—we can actually undo the damage to the prefrontal cortex by managing and reducing our stress.
- Even with our ability to work from home and have flex time, the notion of the “ideal worker” hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Bosses still see face time as critical and billable hours as the mark of success. The US treats its workers a lot worse than almost all of the rest of the world with sparse vacation time and no paid maternity/paternity leave laws. This poses a big problem for both mothers and fathers. As Schulte’s research shows, women suffer significantly—particularly once they have children. Moms are seen as less committed to work than non-mothers. That’s probably no surprise. But here’s something that might be: men actually benefit from becoming fathers…unless they have the audacity to voice that they want to take leave for family reasons. They then get stigmatized and frequently suffer in the work world because of it.
- The cult of intensive motherhood is a somewhat recent phenomenon that puts amazing and ridiculous pressure on mothers—and it’s pretty much created by moms. We actually give more time to our kids than back in the 50s and 60s (and that includes mothers that work outside of the home), and it’s still not enough. We need to be Pinterest moms and show how super we are. (Seriously, do you remember having themed birthday parties or mani-pedi afternoons with your mom when you were a kid? I bet not.) Intensive motherhood runs on guilt, fear, and ambivalence. A self-sacrificing mother is an ideal mother.
How’s that for a little food for thought? And I’m only touching on a few central points…there is so much more worth delving into. But even with these few facts provided, you can see how it all adds up to overwhelm.
So…is there anything we can do about it?
In next week’s post, I will take a look at some of Schulte’s findings on how we can improve our situation. Yep, it’s my first two-part post…try to contain your excitement…
…and remember to tune in next week for some ideas on how to change this current culture of overwhelm and perhaps stop the madness (or at least put a healthy dent in it.)