A Rare Look at Why You Are a Frantic Mess

Today we’re talking about a life-changing book: The kind of book that hits you over the head with the Truth. The kind of book that explains why you are a frantic mess and provides evidence. Yes, evidence. This book explains why so many parents are breathlessly crossing items off the to-do list of life, leaving little time for true joy, and in the knowing, providing some twisted relief.

The book is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time by Brigid Schulte.


Schulte is an award-winning journalist for the Washington Post, wife and mother of two, who like most parents, was struggling to find the elusive balance that everyone tells us is the key to the good life. Instead of continuing on the treadmill, Schulte did what she does best and launches an investigation into where our leisure time has gone and why.

We get to follow her during this investigative reporting that delves into exactly why we’re all going insane. And the intriguing part is that Schulte doesn’t hold back on why she, herself, is losing it. Here’s a typical excerpt:

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. I can still remember watching my son’s tiny hand, waving out the window from his car seat, and the utter anguish I felt…

Your heart will pound with our author’s as she describes her panic but then goes hunting down the cause of her insanity like Sherlock Holmes.

Mind Blow (or Spoiler) #1: Women are not wired for child care

A visit to the Hunter-Gatherer tribes in the Kalahari Desert as well as to Denmark, known as the world’s happiest country, puts a fine p0int on it. Happy families have other arrangements than relying primarily or largely on mothers as the default sex. Let us repeat, mothers are not biologically programmed to pick up dirty socks for all of time.

Mind Blow (or Spoiler) #2: Your time is nothing but confetti

The author joins forces with renowned time scholars only to discover that the reason we feel so harried, rushed, and panicky is that we never fully experience anything anymore.

Schulte keeps a diary of the time that she spends running between work, carpooling, and trying to “have fun” with the husband. Then she reviews the broad time diary research. Time scholars explain that the impact of integrating technology into every waking moment leaves us in a “technological haze.” What’s worse, mothers in particular experience “mental pollution” due to the constantly-running to-do list in their minds. Schulte writes:

That mental tape-loop phenomenon is so common among women it even has a name. Time-use researchers call it “contaminated time.”

Schulte also visits a professor who researches busyness and has found that women feel guilty at the thought of spending time in leisure activities. This professor, by the way, has written a book, made a movie, runs a charity, has five children, and is too busy for any leisure time herself.

You likely have heard of the research on “Flow,” that state of mind in which someone is fully present. There is no multitasking or daydreaming in flow, just being wherever you are in the moment. This state often occurs when a task is slightly challenging but also enjoyable.

The state of flow has been studied by renowned researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who explains to Schulte that moms are a bit…well, many times…crazier than dads. According to the master of Flow, while men might do one-and-a-half tasks at a time, mothers might do about five.

Yeah, five! Lightbulb go off there?

And by the way, all this multitasking is shrinking our brains. Nice, right?

Mind Blow (or Spoiler) #3: It’s not rocket science

Our endearing and overwhelmed author finally goes to a time management class, where the teacher helps her see that she can’t really manage time–it’s an unchanging force–but what she can manage is herself. By keeping the time diary, Schulte is able to document precisely where her time is spent, as well as which pockets of time she’s wasted on tasks that don’t align with her deepest values and priorities.

But Schulte also realizes that getting rid of “The Overwhelm” is tied up with not feeling ambivalence or guilt about how she spends her time as a working mother.

Easier said than done, of course. Getting rid of the mom guilt about not being home with the kids requires a partner (or a trusted someone) who truly shares in the job, and can provide the love (if not the clean home and unburned grilled cheese sandwiches) that children need.

You will finish this book feeling relieved with solid, actionable insights that might just improve your life. However, be warned: You might also finish this book and leave your family for a year to study with a Japanese Zen Master so you can finally get a grip on your insane life.

Shana Burg