Feeling Overwhelmed? You’re Not Alone, Says Brigid Schulte

by Jennifer Sigler | May 12, 2017 | Workhappy Blog

Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed.

Feeling Overwhelmed? You’re Not Alone, Says Brigid Schulte

I am a “yes” person.

Can you pay the water bill on your way to work? Yes.

Can you make a side and a dessert for the office Christmas party tomorrow? Yes.

Can you get a draft to me by Wednesday, instead of Friday? Yes.

I have been the person up at 3 a.m. making edits to a chapter while brownies baked, only to be so tired in the morning that I leave the bill on the counter — compelling me to drive like a demonic bat across town to retrieve the bill, drop it off, and still make it to work on time.

It is this pressure to “do it all” — and do it well — that has many of us asking, who has the time? This is the question that propelled Brigid Schulte to write Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One has the Time.

I came across Schulte’s book by way of research for my dissertation, and I can’t believe it had been on the shelves three years before I discovered it. She is definitely not the first to note that Americans — and women, especially — are overworked, but her book offers a significant contribution to a growing social problem: We are busier (and less happy) than ever before.

She begins the book meeting with time sociologist John Robinson — referred to as “Father Time” — who tells her that women have 30 hours of leisure time per week. And men have more. My reaction reading this information was something along the lines of: The man’s cracked.

Schulte regales a similar reaction.

Leisure time is the unicorn of the 21st century worker. All at once, we must be a great parent, spouse and ideal worker. As a successful journalist and mother of two, Schulte tells a narrative similar to mine. She describes herself often waking in the middle of the night 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, but also whether I was missing my life even as I was living it.”

Robinson tells Schulte that our “busyness” is a device of our own design: We feel busy because we choose to be busy.

Being busy has become not only the social norm, but a point of pride — to be busy is to be successful. However, busyness can leave us feeling scattered, divided and drained. Schulte cites research from the World Health Organization, which found that the average high school student today experiences the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s. Alarmed yet?

Have you ever completed a task, only to forget why it was so important — or even what, exactly, it was? The answer, unfortunately, is most likely “yes” for many of us. Schulte delves deep into the neuroscience of the issue, speaking with well-respected scientists and finds that continually feeling a high level of busyness shrinks our brains. Let me say it again: Shrinks our brains.

One of the leading issues in the American workforce is that of busyness versus productivity. Schulte calls this the “time cage,” emphasizing that the United States holds “enviable rates of economic growth and total productivity,” but this is due largely to the extreme amount of time Americans devote to working. “Measuring productivity per hours worked, on the other hand, has in recent years put the United States behind such countries as France, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Norway.”

So, what is the take away?

Time to work smarter, not harder, people.

“What if not just women, but both men and women, worked smart, more flexible schedules?” Schulte asks, “What if the workplace itself was more fluid than the rigid and narrow ladder to success of the ideal worker?”

And there are many companies that are putting focus and effort back into their employees. Google, Apple and Facebook are known for their company perks, like “baby bonuses,” travel stipends, and death benefits. Many others offer on-site gyms, catering and generous 401(k)s. And I’ve discussed my love for dream managers — a position that is slowly starting to populate company culture.

A flexible work schedule and remote-work options, however, are slower to take hold — with only 2.8 percent of the workforce currently doing so. Even though research shows that employees who work from home pull shorter, more productive hours, call off work less and are happier with their jobs.

“Change is hard. Our very human nature pulls us back to the status quo, not because it’s better, but because it’s familiar. However, I learned a few things about change as I visited bright spots: The unspoken culture we operate in trumps any policy on the books or nice speech by the boss. We create that culture by the stories we tell ourselves. And change gets a little easier when it’s visible. When we see that somebody’s out there doing things differently, we begin to think that maybe we can, too. We start finding others like us and build networks to create our own bright spot in the darkness.”

While Schulte is speaking to the every-person here, her insights are invaluable to U.S. businesses — big and small.

Executives: Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at your company policies. Employee perks are not about conforming to what other businesses are doing, but seeing your team members as individuals — people who are devoting a significant amount of their time (their lives) to growing your business. What do they need to be happy and their most productive?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. In fact, don’t be afraid to try several incentives or programs to see what fits your company best and aligns with its values and objectives. You are in charge of shaping the work culture of your business, and leading with action and behavior you want your team to internalize.

The book offers a powerful reminder that we all have 24 hours per day, and what we do with them is our choice. “The stuff of life never ends. That is life. You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff. So, you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life?”

What do you want to accomplish with your company? Lead the change.

Jennifer Sigler is a Senior Writer with The UpWrite Group. Send a message to services@TheUpWriteGroup.com to see how she can help enhance your corporate or personal brand.

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