“This is how it feels to live my life: scattered, fragmented and exhausting. I am always doing more than one thing at a time and feel I never do any one particularly well. I am always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door.” Just reading the first chapter of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by journalist Brigid Schulte, may be cathartic: as bad as it is–and God knows it’s not good–at least you’re not the only one. Overwhelmed is Schulte’s attempt to not merely survive but also unpack and analyze the quintessentially modern and increasingly universal experience of feeling utterly unable to cope. Putting her own crowded life (two children, thriving career) on the slab for dissection, Schulte tries to figure out how we got here and how we can get out of it. She consults life coaches, neuroscientists, anthropologists and time analysts who pepper their conversation with evocative phrases like task density and contaminated time. (Schulte coins time confetti to describe how her days consist of meaningless multitasking snippets.) She’s a detective in a murder mystery: Who killed America’s leisure time, and how do we get it back? One possible answer: be more Danish. Mothers in Denmark average two hours more daily leisure time than their counterparts in the U.S.
This appears in the March 24, 2014 issue of TIME.
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