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Why Americans are so 'busy' and love talking about it

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'Overwhelmed'
'Overwhelmed' by Brigid Schulte
Book cover courtesy of publisher

Today's Americans are busy. More parents are working, technology makes it possible for us to always be connected to the office and there's a lurking expectation in our culture that we should always be available.

But what if our busy schedules are merely a construct? In her new book, "Overwhelmed," journalist Brigid Schulte suggests that we've created a lot of our hectic schedule on our own. She argues we're capable of taking control of our lives.

"Somewhere around the end of the 20th century, busyness became not just a way of life but a badge of honor," she wrote. "And life, sociologists say, became an exhausting everydayathon. People now tell pollsters that they're too busy to register to vote, too busy to date, to make friends outside the office, to take a vacation, to sleep, to have sex. As for multitasking, one 2012 survey found that 38 million Americans shop on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet. And another found that the compulsion to multitask was making us as stupid as if we were stoned."

Hanna Rosin wrote about Schulte's new book for Slate:

The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game. These are not exactly humble brags. They are more like fretful brags, and they are increasingly becoming the idiom of our age...

To be deep in the overwhelm requires not just doing too many things in one 24-hour period but doing so many different kinds of things that they all blend into each other and a day has no sense of distinct phases. Researchers call it "contaminated time," and apparently women are more susceptible to it than men, because they have a harder time shutting down the tape that runs in their heads about what needs to get done that day. The only relief from the time pressure comes from cordoning off genuine stretches of free or leisure time, creating a sense of what Schulte calls "time serenity" or "flow." But over the years, time use diaries show that women have become terrible at that, squeezing out any free time and instead, as Schulte puts it, resorting to "crappy bits of leisure time confetti."

Schulte joins The Daily Circuit to discuss the busy epidemic and how you can find that elusive free time.