Many people are living in a "time famine" — never having enough time to get everything done  — but there are things people can do to step back from the busyness and the stress it causes, says author Brigid Schulte.

"Our work cultures and many of our policies don't support the way we work and live," said Schulte, who wrote the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.

"[They] are really set up for a life that many people don't live anymore. They're very much set up for a breadwinner homemaker family where you have one person in the family who works and is the breadwinner,  and then you have somebody else that's supposed to be at home taking care of everything else."


Author Brigid Schulte says it's important to set aside time for oneself. (Getty Images/Caiaimage)

Not only is that not the case for most middle-income families, Schulte said, but work hours have been creeping up over the past few decades — and it has actually "become a cultural value to overwork."

"That was before technology .. now on top of that you're connected to your office 24/7. You've got a fire hose of information coming at you all the time and it's hard to filter out what's important," she said.

Solving 'time famine'

Schulte began researching her book when she was working as a journalist for the Washington Post and was told by a time-use researcher that she had 30 hours of leisure time a week.

She didn't believe him, so he challenged her to keep a time diary to track her time and how she felt about it.

That led her to learn about what's known as "contaminated time."

"You can be out in nature, yet if you've got this tape-loop running in your head — of all this stuff you've got to do on your To-Do list and all the stuff you're worried about — you don't get into the moment. You don't get into flow. You're lost in your head."

She found she spent a lot of time tidying her house, which helped her see that she was doing more chores than her husband.


Schulte says we make time for ourselves by including the "fun" things in life on our To-Do list. (Getty Images/Westend61)

"That created a whole series of conversations about: how could we share the load fairly? In couples it doesn't need to get to 50-50, but women still carry the load primarily … and then the guys will be the quote unquote helper, but that doesn't clear out the mental energy that it takes to keep track of it all, or plan it."

Schulte said it is also important for people to manage their priorities and expectations.

"It's not burn the To-Do list. You've got to flip it. Those moments of joy, those moments of quality — with your kids for yourself — put those on the list," she said.

"We tend to think, 'I'll get through the list and then I'll do all of that joyful, fun stuff,' and then you never get to the end of the list."

Burning out at work

Schulte also said that managers need to realize that employees cannot be productive and innovative if they are being worked to the point of burning out.

"If you want a fresh idea, or out-of-the-box thinking, it only comes when you are rested, when you are in a positive mood. There's a reason why we get our best ideas in the shower. Your brain is literally wired to work that way," she said.

"So if you are pushing and pushing and pushing your workers and expecting them to stay late, forfeiting those two hours to be in the office rather than with their families, you are doing everybody a disservice."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Author Brigid Schulte says we are living in a 'time famine' and it's making us stressed