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Overwhelmed? We’ve Got 10 Ways To Help

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo Via Amazon

We’ve already told you about our love for Brigid Schulte’s life-changing book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time. Problem is, so many of you reading this site are so overwhelmed that you can’t find the time to read Overwhelmed! We get it. And, although we highly recommend you read the entire thing, front to back, we also tapped Schulte to jot down ten ways to finding your way out of the scattered time confetti in your life and move toward a place of time serenity in work, love, and play. Take a deep breathe, and take a read. Trust us, it’s worth the precious minutes it’ll take you.

1. Pause. Just take a moment to stop. Breathe. Take a walk. Do whatever it takes to disrupt the mindless cycle of busyness. Ask yourself: Do I really want to be baking these cupcakes at 2 a.m.? Be at the office until late at night? Why am I doing this? Create space to reflect about what’s most important to you and how to make time for that.

2. Be aware of the pressure of cultural ideals. At work, we value the Ideal Worker who puts in insanely long hours of overwork and devotes body and soul to the job. At home, we value the Ideal Mother who is self-sacrificing and always available to her children. The standards for what we think it takes to be a good mother have never been higher, nor have we expected mothers to do so much alone. Be aware that right now, we wear our busyness like a badge of honor. Watch how you talk and think about your time. Are you really that busy, or need to be? Or do you feel compelled to be because everyone else is, and that’s how we show our status and fit in? Be aware that these cultural ideals can work powerfully on an unconscious level. Uncover. Strive to make unconscious bias conscious.

3. Set your own priorities. And create a network of like-minded people so you can support each other in not being busy, glorifying overwork, or overdoing at home. It’s hard to buck the status quo on your own.

4. Mind the gap. The best time management strategies? Plan. Do. Review. What’s your vision for what you really want? Think about where you are, and the gap that it will take to get you where you want to go. Then experiment to find ways to bridge that gap. Plan it. Do it. Then take time to review. Tweak. Repeat.

5. Flip the list. The to-do list is meant to help you, not tyrannize your life. The working memory can only hold seven pieces of information at any one time. So, give your brain a break. Do write stuff down. But think of it as a brain dump—getting it all out and on paper or on the computer or smartphone somewhere. That gives your brain a rest and it can stop expending energy trying to remember. Also, give yourself permission not to do any of it. Your real to-do list? Make sure you put what gives you joy, the priorities you’ve set, on that list and put them up high. The stuff of life never goes away, try not to devote more than 5 percent of your time and energy to it.

6. Set common standards and share the load. Research shows that even the most egalitarian-minded couples start to slide into traditional gender roles once the baby comes home. One study found that women began to do more around the house, and men less. Much of that is a function of our system, that’s more likely to permit women to take maternity leave, giving them the time to develop confidence and competence with the new baby. Men don’t get that. Paternity leave, if they have access to any, is short, and tends to be taken along with the mother. Take a page from gay couples. Figure out all the work it takes to run the house and family. Find a way to share work and home duties fairly. It may not be 50/50, but it has to feel fair to both of you. Set common standards. Automate. Create systems for who does what, so you don’t have to keep negotiating and keeping score, and find a way to keep each other accountable. Stop redoing chores that you think your partner has done badly. And focus on the fun you’ll all have when the chores are done, or not.

7. Chunk your time. As much as you can, gather your bits of time confetti and do like things at one time. Chunk household errands, or phone calls. Set boundaries on the time you’ll spend on email and social media, rather than check throughout the day if you can. Remember, humans have 90-minute attention spans. Work in concentrated 90-minute chunks, then take a break. Your brain is wired for the insights that come in breaks in the action

8. More is not better. Find the sweet spot. Think of the inverted U curve. Too little isn’t enough. Too much, and you get stress and overwhelm. Find the sweet spot, the “good enough” spot for your work, your activities. Does it have to be an hour-long workout to count? How about 20 sit ups, 20 squats, and 20 push ups on days you’re pressed for time? That counts. Want to meditate everyday? Give yourself a back door. Five breaths on the edge of the bed counts.

9. Schedule play. What gets scheduled gets done. And until play and leisure become more acceptable in our work-focused culture, we’re going to need to make an effort to bring it into our lives. That means taking vacation and leaving work behind and cellphones off, at least for some of the time. That means letting your kids have unstructured time to wonder, wander, noodle, get bored, and learn how to get unbored. That means women, who’ve never had a history or culture of leisure, need to realize that they don’t have to earn leisure by getting to the end of a to-do list, which never ends, but that they deserve it. Right now. Couples should “co-sponsor” each other to make sure you each have time to do what gives you joy and feeds your soul on your own, and then make time to connect with each other.

10. Shorten your time horizon. In the end, we really are on this earth for a short time. Take a lesson from older people. When you’re more conscious that life will be over soon, you’re much more likely to realize that today is a beautiful day.

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