Escape the Overwhelm?

I finished the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte two weeks ago. I’ve been churning over the many ideas and thoughts I had while reading the book and trying to figure out what to write, where to focus. There is so much to the book that resonates, I don’t know where to begin:

…People like me tend to get confused over which demand is more pressing in the moment, so we don’t have clear focus on what to do. We can’t decide. So we end up doing both work and home activities in an ambivalent, halfhearted way, which produces mediocre outcomes and vague disappointment in both.
Sometimes the sheer agony of leaving the warm baby or the weeping toddler and walking out the door in the morning to go to an unforgiving workplace was enough to sap my strength for the rest of the day.
The minute I cross the threshold into the office, the chatter would start in my head: “You left your children. You’d better do something extraordinary to make up for it.” …the guilty, sluggish start tended to make my workdays longer, the churn of pollution in my brain making it harder to think. Then I’d get stuck on deadline or in traffic and guiltily slink home later than I’d hoped. 
But that ragged feeling of being neither here nor there and vaguely inadequate in both is what I remember most about being a working mother with little kids in the early twenty-first century. For years, I imagine myself sliding sideways into the day, reluctant and resentful, skulking like a crab.
I can identify with Schulte in her struggles with career and family and the book reminded that I am not alone in my frustrations as a working parent. We are all battling the ideal worker norm that glorifies face time in the office and an American culture and government that places work and achievement above family and personal well being. But I was also very frustrated as I read, wondering when I would get to the light at the end of the tunnel, the bright spot that tells us a better day is coming. Schulte tries to shine a bright spot on companies that have created flexible work places and women that have escaped the overwhelm. It is somewhat encouraging but still falls short of hopeful. Unless you have plans to move to Denmark sometime soon, the nirvana of family friendly culture.

Despite this, I'm glad I read the book. It made me want to take steps to change the system somehow. And I realized something that just might be a game changer for me. I need to banish the ambivalence. 

Banish Ambivalence. I didn't realize I'd been stewing in ambivalence until I read Schulte's book. To be ambivalent is to be preoccupied with both what is wanted and what is not. I need to banish any ambivalence I feel about my career and instead embrace it – and my life - fully. My career choice does not allow me to work from home (except occasionally) and I do not have a part-time option. I am not my own boss. And as much as I like to imagine the possibility, I am not going to quit my career and become a writer/blogger/chef/trainer/b&b owner anytime soon. What I do have is a challenging and rewarding career that offers a great deal of flexibility and autonomy. I am fortunate to have options and I need to focus on the resources I have available and stop wishing for alternatives that don’t exist. 
Embrace whatever it is you’re doing, whatever you’ve chosen, with passion and see where it leads. Then adapt as you go. 
My new mantra: Banish ambivalence. Embrace the life I've chosen.

And a few tips on time management I found helpful:

1. Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day. Do this first in your day when your brain is most alert.

2. CHUNK your time. Multitasking makes you stupid. Work in concentrated blocks of time with regular breaks. When it is time to work, shut off email and turn off the phone. When it is time to be with family, do the same. Fit in the 5% stuff-of-life crap (emails, calendar appointments, school forms) after you’ve made time for what’s important. Sounds simple right? But it's not. Interruptions are everywhere.

3. Take 5 minutes to pour the clutter of anxieties into a Worry Journal. This will help uncontaminate your time. I am finding that spending 5 minutes on Monday morning dumping out all the worrisome thoughts in my head allows me to then tackle projects and set priorities for the week without the drain of my own fears and doubts.

I love that this book includes simple time management skills. For as much training as I've had in my life, no one ever taught me how to prioritize life and work in an always on, answering emails at 11pm "cycle of responsiveness" that we live in today. I recommend Overwhelm to anyone struggling to find time, happiness, and success while striving to live an authentic life.

My to-do list will never get done. But I hope I can find time for what is most important and live the life I want. I’m certainly going to keep trying. 


  1. nice- as I sit here at 11:24 PM, getting ready to start a 12 hour night shift at work. I slept for 6 hours during the day. Was able to talk to my husband and kids for a little bit as they were moving about their busy schedules. I understand the battles! But, I like the part about banishing the ambivilance! it is true, my work schedule won't change, and I don't want to do anything else, I just need to live in the now, and make the best of every single day!


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