Author Interviews
2:05 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Not Enough Hours In The Day? We All Feel A Little 'Overwhelmed'

Originally published on Tue March 11, 2014 9:50 am

Sometimes there just isn't enough time to get it all done. Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte has certainly felt that way. "I was working all the time and yet never very good at what I was doing," she tells NPR's David Greene. " ... I felt all this pressure that I was a working mom and so I was always so guilty, and I didn't want to ruin their childhood. So I was up at 2 in the morning to bake cupcakes for the Valentine's party."

Schulte consulted a sociologist who studies how people use their time. "I will show you where your leisure is," he told her. So she tracked her activities for a week and he took out a yellow highlighter and found 27 hours of what he called "leisure time." Schulte didn't think of those five- or 10-minute increments as leisure — she thought of that as scrap time. He insisted she needed to rethink her priorities.

In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte writes about what she learned about motherhood, time-management and her own marriage (to NPR correspondent Tom Bowman.)

"We had started off, I think like most people in our generation, wanting to have a true partnership, wanting to be equal partners," she says. " ... We had a very low moment where I thought, 'Wow, we have really gotten off track. What happened?' "


Interview Highlights

On one particularly bad Thanksgiving

We have 18 people coming over. The kitchen is covered with chopped vegetables and half-done side dishes, and flour spilled everywhere, and the floor's a mess, and we had three hours before people arrive, and the table's not set, and Tom comes over to the refrigerator, opens it up, and I think he's going to put the turkey in, which is huge and raw and, you know, he's going to help out.

He takes out a six-pack of beer and he says, "OK, well, I'm going to go over to a friend's house and help him smoke his turkey." And my eyes just almost bugged out of my head, and I said, "Smoke a turkey? You're basically going to sit on the patio and watch the turkey get smoked and drink beer all afternoon while I'm doing all this work?"

And he sort of shrugged and walked out the door, and at that moment I was filled with fury and rage, and it felt so unfair, but it was also really sad. It took awhile, but I realized that we had both fallen into very traditional roles without even realizing it, particularly when our first child was born.

On what many women are juggling

One of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care. ... There's physical labor that goes along with that, but there's also mental labor. You're keeping track of everything, you know? You've got all this stuff going on in your mind: the to-do lists, and "Did I remember the carpool?" and "Oh, my goodness, I gotta fill out the Girl Scout forms," ... all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you've got to do at work. Men generally don't have that. They have one sphere, which is work.

On workplace expectations being out of sync with reality

We're on such a cutting edge of changing gender roles, [but] our workplaces really haven't changed and haven't caught up with that reality. So workplaces, you know, if you look at surveys from around the globe, they think the best workers are the ones that come in early, that leave late, that are available 24/7, and our workplaces are becoming even more and more demanding. And we demand that most of men. ...

[There is] fascinating emerging social science that shows that men are more punished in the workplace if they try to be more involved at home. They're seen as weird, and wimps, and weaklings, because we have this notion that to be an ideal worker — to be a good man, a provider for your family — you've got to work these crazy hours.

On how she has reassessed her priorities

I'm still a work in progress. You know, there's a lot that I've learned. We have made great progress in terms of who does what and what's fair at home, and that's made a huge difference. I don't feel the same mental clutter that I did before. And when it comes to leisure time, I do my to-do list differently now. I make time to step outside of what I'm doing. I make time for reflection — not as much as I'd like, but I'd never done that before.

On putting everything in perspective

I was just with my father who's had a stroke, and sitting in a hospital room really makes you remember: ... We don't have that much time; what do you want to make of your life here on this Earth? And so, my to-do list is really: What are my priorities? What is most important to me? And then everything else, everything my to-do list used to be, I call the other 5 percent — it shouldn't take more than 5 percent of my time or energy. There's a lot of stuff that I used to do that I don't do anymore.

On what this Thanksgiving was like

This year for Thanksgiving was completely different. Tom had his jobs, I had mine, and at the end of the day we all did the dishes and we all went to bed at the same time, and it was a lovely, lovely day.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We've all been there, wishing we could have more time to ourselves, more downtime. Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte certainly has.

BRIGID SCHULTE: I felt like I was working all the time and yet never very good at what I was doing. I felt like I was trying to do everything for my kids. I felt all this pressure that I was a working mom and so I was so guilty and I didn't want to ruin their childhood. So I was up at two in the morning to bake cupcakes for the Valentine's party.

GREENE: She was always stressed about something. Time for fun, forget it. So Brigid consulted a sociologist who studies how people use their time. He insisted that Brigid just had to re-think her priorities and manage emotions. The free time was there to find - five minutes here, 10 minutes there.

SCHULTE: It's like he laid down the gauntlet. He said: Come and do a time study with me and I will show you where your leisure is.

GREENE: And how did that go?

SCHULTE: I gave him one of my weeks that I tracked. And he took out a yellow highlighter and he highlighted 27 hours of we called leisure time, and I called bits and scraps of garbagey(ph) time.

GREENE: Brigid Schulte writes about what she learned about herself, about motherhood and marriage in a new book called "Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time." One thing she learned is that men and women approach time very differently. That was certainly the case for her and her husband, NPR correspondent Tom Bowman.

SCHULTE: One of the best and first time studies that looked at men and women's time - the title is called "Divergent Realities" - it was so different. But for Tom and I, we'd started off wanting to be equal partners. And it really took about 20 years. We had a very low moment where I thought: Wow, we have really gotten off track. What happened?

GREENE: Give me an example of a moment when you could tell: Wow, we're off track.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTE: Well, I open the chapter with the story of a particularly bad Thanksgiving, where...

GREENE: Mm-hmm, that does seem familiar.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: You are crazily cooking and preparing a meal for a lot of people.

SCHULTE: We have 18 people coming over. The kitchen is covered with chopped vegetables and half-done side dishes. And we've had three hours before people arrive, the table is not set and Tom comes over to the refrigerator. And I think he's going to put the turkey in, which is huge and raw and, you know...

GREENE: He's going to help out.

SCHULTE: ...he's going to help out. And he takes out a six-pack and he says at that moment...

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Of beer, I would...

SCHULTE: A six-pack of beer. And he says: OK, well, I'm going to go over to a friend's house and help him smoke his turkey. And my eyes just almost bugged out of my head. I said basically you're going to sit on the patio and watch the turkey get smoked. And you're going to drink beer all afternoon while I'm doing all this work. And, you know, he sort of shrugged and walked out the door.

And at that moment, I was filled with fury and rage. And it felt so unfair but it was also really sad. And it took awhile, but I realized that we had both fallen into very traditional roles without even realizing it, particularly when our first child was born.

GREENE: These are the divergent realities that we're talking about.

SCHULTE: Yeah, that's really when it diverges. And when you see a lot of these time studies, that's really the critical moment. We really don't have role models for what it means to be an egalitarian or an equal partnership.

GREENE: Well, what was your reality and what was Tom's, as you came to realize it?

SCHULTE: Well, one of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care, that there is physical labor that goes along with that. But there's also mental labor. You're keeping track of everything. You know, the to-do list and I remember the carpool? And, oh my goodness, I got to fill out the Girl Scout forms. And, you know, all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you've got to do at work. Men generally don't have that. They have one sphere, which is work.

GREENE: And it sounds like you've reached the place where you really could sympathize. Talk about how you reach that place.

SCHULTE: Well, it took - it was really two things. It was really understanding this larger kind of water that we're all swimming in. That because we are on such a cutting edge of changing gender roles, our workplaces really hasn't changed and hasn't caught up with that reality. So workplaces, you know, if you look at surveys from around the globe, they think the best workers are the ones that come in early, that leave late, that are available 24/7, and our workplaces are becoming even more and more demanding. And we demand that most of men.

That was the thing that was surprising is really fascinating emerging social science that shows that men are more punished in the workplace if they try to be more involved at home, where they're seen as weird, and wimps and weaklings. So it took me realizing that. It took us talking about, all right, well, what does it look like on a day-to-day basis to be equal? And I will tell you that this year for Thanksgiving was completely different. Tom had his jobs. I had mine. And at the end of the day, we all did the dishes and we all went to bed at the same time. And it was a lovely, lovely day.

GREENE: And, Brigid, you know, Tom - is as we said, and NPR colleague here - I mean was this tough for him to see this written? I mean he's obviously OK with you coming in and talking about it.

SCHULTE: We'd made an agreement that I would write what I felt was the truth. And I think what's important here is that we both learned through this process. And I think because of that, and because I realized that there are real things that men and women both need to look at, I think that that makes the story really more about redemption.

GREENE: And also one of self-reflection. Brigid recalls one day when she was working on a front page story at The Washington Post, the babysitter called to say she couldn't get Brigid's daughter to ballet lessons.

SCHULTE: I immediately think: OK, I've got a take her to ballet. And I rush home and I get her and I throw a snack at her. And I've got to get her, her dress for ballet. And she starts sauntering about and I'm screaming at her. And I'm driving like a maniac and I'm answering phone calls, and I'm trying to figure out how going to do all of this stuff all at the same time. But what did I teach her? I taught her that she was entitled. And I taught her that to be a working mother was to live a crazy life.

Whereas, probably the better lesson was sometimes things happen and things fall through. I have a job and it's important that I do it well. And you are important to me to but your ballet class does not trump the rest of life.

GREENE: I wonder if, you know, looking back now - I mean you have explored being a working mom, you've really explored the partnership with your husband, you sort of looked at how you spend your time - how have you emerged from all this? In what way do you approach life differently?

SCHULTE: Well, I'm still a work in progress.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTE: You know, there's a lot that I've learned. You know, we have made great progress in terms of who does what and what's fair at home. I don't feel the same mental clutter that I did before. And when it comes to leisure time, I do my to-do list differently now. I make time to step outside of what I'm doing. I make time for reflection, not as much as I'd like, but I'd never done that before. And to really think about what do you want to make of your life here on this Earth.

And part of my priorities now are - are time for reflection.

GREENE: Thanks so much for coming in, Brigid. It's been a real pleasure.

SCHULTE: Thanks so much for having me.

GREENE: That's Brigid Schulte. Her book, "Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time," is out today.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.