Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One has the Time

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Author: Brigid Schulte

Reviewed by: Chelsea Lowther

As most graduate students know, when you run into a fellow graduate student the conversation inadvertently turns to how busy you are. There are tales of long hours spent in the lab, revision upon revision of that important manuscript, or the classic, “my PI is making me do x, y, and z by the end of the week.” I once overheard another student proclaim that he had slept in his lab overnight to keep a close eye on his experiments. My first thought was, “Really? Is this what I have to look forward to?” Don’t get me wrong, I know deadlines are necessary and that the lure of new data can bring any curious scientist into the lab on the weekend. I just couldn’t help but wonder if this constant “busyness” was really the most effective way to be productive?

Shortly thereafter I came across Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. Don’t let the title scare you away, this is anything but a self-help manifesto. Instead, this book chronicles Brigid’s yearlong endeavor to deconstruct the relationship between work, leisure, and productivity. She spends a significant amount of time reviewing the literature on leisure and interviewing key experts in the field, including Dr. John Robinson a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. Brigid leaves no stone unturned and comes at this problem from every angle, interviewing neuroscientists, sociologists, psychologists, and everyday adults grappling with their ever growing to-do list.

The book provides a neuro-biological psycho-social review of all the factors that have led our society to become obsessed with overworking. For example, do you know where the 40 hour work week came from? Do you know what percentage of North Americans don’t take their full vacation in the run of a year? Do you know what factors cause burnout? These are some of the questions that Brigid tackles in the book. The story isn’t entirely bleak, though. She does provide several examples of individuals living “the good life.” Take the Danes for example; mothers from Denmark have the most leisure time of any country in the world and the highest employment rates–how do they do it? If for no other reason, I suggest you read this book so you can begin to think about whether more hours in always equals more productivity out.