Skip to main content



Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Preface to the 2015 Edition

I can guess what you're thinking: You don't have time to read this book.

Perhaps you have a scrap of paper somewhere in your bag or your junk drawer or on the back of an envelope on your desk that looks an awful lot like the cover of this book. Perhaps seeing this scattered old To Do list hit with a pang, a reminder of one more thing that you, too, forgot you really need To Do. And though you may like the idea of finding time for work, love, and play in your life, maybe you're a little resigned. A little angry, even. You're living life in fast forward. Your inbox is overflowing. Your days feel scattered in bits and fragments of what feels like Time Confetti. And maybe you think this is just the way life is.

That's at least what I thought.

It took reporting this book to change my mind.

That's not to say change isn't hard. It is. If living a Good Life, because that's what we're really talking about, were easy, we wouldn't need to be reminded that there's more than just getting to the end of the day, washed up on our couches like shipwreck survivors with barely enough energy to order take out, throw chicken nuggets at the kids, then grope around the cushions for the remote and click on the TV. We wouldn't need stories to help us puzzle through what living a Good Life means. And no one would feel compelled to obsessively click on those breezy listicles online or snap up the magazine articles extolling the ten ways to take back your time, the seventeen tips to reclaim your day, or the nine habits of the world's most productive people.

When I decided to take on this book, I wanted to know why it's so hard to change. I wanted to understand why things are the way they are, why Americans work such long hours, why there are virtually no policies or laws that support working families, why women still carry the heavier load at home, even as they take on breadwinning roles at work, and why we think leisure is just a big waste of time. And I wanted to know how it could be better. I wanted to find hope.

I went out in search of answers in what Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson called the three great arenas that make for a Good Life: Work, Love, and Play. The book became a chronicle of what I found and the journey I took from the chaos of living fast, feeling breathless, and stuck in a storm of swirling Time Confetti, to moving closer to Time Serenity.

I'm a journalist and a writer. I'm not a guru. So this is not a book of self help. And yet there is a lot in it that is helpful. That's why, for this edition, we inserted the words "How to" into the title so readers would know that the book may start in Overwhelm, but it doesn't stay there. Because I did find hope. At the end of each section are short "chapterlettes," as I came to call them, on Bright Spots where the ground is already shifting: Workplace cultures that are changing to give drained workers time to live full lives, and are seeing better results. Couples seeking to more fairly share their work and home lives. And places where making time for leisure, for friends, for family, play and rest, is just part of an ordinary day.

I wrote this book to shake things up, and to start a conversation about how we work and live. Since the book came out, some readers have reached out to tell me that it's also changing their lives. Some have started Overwhelmed Mitigation Groups, OMGs, to help each other knit together their scraps of Time Confetti. They've begun to catch themselves, they told me, when they unconsciously begin to brag about how busy they are. Some are joining campaigns to advocate for better policies. Others are trying to be more mindful. One man wrote that, until he heard me talk about the book, he'd never questioned why he worked six days a week to impress bosses who worked even more. He quit. He found another employer who pays him the same, gives him more paid vacation time, and expects him and everyone else to finish their work and be out the door by 5:30. Now he likes his job and is doing better work. He sees his wife more. He's sleeping better. And he even has begun to give himself permission to leave the smartphone behind and go fishing every now and again on weekends, something he'd always felt too busy to do before. "Your book inspired me to seek a better life."

Maybe you don't have time to read this book. Or at least not the whole journey from Time Confetti toward Time Serenity. And that's okay. You can read the chapters about the things that are most bugging you, or that you're most curious about. Or read the Bright Spots chapterlettes for inspiration. Or listen to the audiobook. Or begin by downloading the summary from my website. For the seriously time starved, flip to the Appendix in the back for a brief digest of what I learned about how to find time for work, love, and play. There are many ways to read this book. There are many ways to live a Good Life. The important thing?

Just start.

Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
by by Brigid Schulte