Brigid Schulte

Speech Topics

In an increasingly complex knowledge economy, doing the best work will require making time for creativity, innovation and the next big idea. Instead, knowledge workers have no time to think – they face constant interruptions, about every three minutes, and information overload. Many workplaces most value face time warriors, who put in long hours at the office. Yet that overwork culture is leading to burn out, stress, sickness and disengagement. Drawing on stories and case studies from her reporting and on research, from neuroscience to behavioral economics, Brigid shows how transforming that outdated work culture, focusing on mission, performance, flexibility and healthy, happy workers, not only leads to better work, but to time for a better life.




The Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson said the richest and fullest lives make time for the three great arenas of life: Work. Love. And Play. Today, many of us are caught up in a swirl of Overwhelm: Americans work among the longest hours of any advanced economy. We value busyness as a badge of honor, are still shaped by the power of outdated traditional gender roles, and see leisure time as silly and unproductive. But is all that time and attention we’re pouring into work really ensuring the best and most innovative work? Much less a rich, fair, healthy and full life? Brigid lays out the case for why Americans are the most anxious and overwhelmed people on earth, what that’s costing us as individuals, families, communities, as businesses and economically, and, more importantly, what we can do about it, and why play and leisure time is essential for our health and is the wellspring of creativity and innovation. Drawing on her extensive research for her book and in her role as director of The Better Life Lab at New America, Brigid uses stories and data to show Bright Spots where things are already shifting, and shares personal mastery skills to make time feel less scattered, and life more authentic, with time for effective, meaningful work, for love, and for play.

In the 1950s, TV shows and popular media seared the Ozzie & Harriett view of the world into our popular consciousness: men were destined to be breadwinners and

providers outside the home, women the caregivers inside the home. Though the world has utterly changed – now a majority of women and mothers work, and four out of five children are raised by single and dual-income working parents. Yet what hasn’t changed is the breadwinner-homemaker ideal and that’s holding everyone back. Women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men since 1985, yet are still stuck in the bottom and middle rungs in every field, every industry, every profession, in academia and in political leadership, even though 40 percent are primary breadwinners themselves. Yet men are still expected to be breadwinners, and research shows those who also want to give care or make time for life outside of work are often stigmatized. Women, even when they work full-time, are still doing twice the housework and child care. Juggling those heavy responsibilities requires role shifting throughout the day, which makes time feel more pressured, and struggling to keep it all in mind overloads the working memory and leads to “contaminated time.” And no one makes time to play. Through stories from her reporting, and wide-ranging research and time studies, Brigid tackles some persistent myths and unconscious biases that are trapping both men and women in outdated gender roles, and shows how transforming culture, practice and policy can transform the lives of men and women and their experience of time.

In the mid-20th century, economists, journalists and thinkers were confidently predicting a coming Age of Leisure, when we would work six months a year, retire at age 38, and spend our time in that third space where ancient Greek philosophers said we refresh the soul and become most fully human. Yet in the 21st century, that vision failed to materialize, and we are busier, rushed and more time stressed than ever. Work is extending into evenings and weekends, and even into vacations, which are becoming shorter. Drawing from history, neuroscience, economics, time studies and philosophy, Brigid explores not only what happened, but why it’s imperative to recapture the value of leisure and play, for men and for women – who have never had a history or culture of leisure – and especially for children. She lays out evidence-based strategies for creating more time to play. Play teaches children to learn and adapt. And neuroscience is showing that our brains are wired to get our best ideas and flashes of insight in moments of leisure, when we are relaxed, open and curious, and in a timeless state that psychologists call “flow.”

As parents, we want what’s best for our children – we want them to have happy childhoods now, and set them up for success in the future. But are we? Today, many parents are caught up in an arms race of overscheduling and overparenting, spending more time with their children than ever, even as they juggle busy work schedules and other obligations. Using her own story, as someone who once staged

D-Day for her son’s 8th birthday, and drawing from a wealth of research and reporting, Brigid lays out the three forces that have led to intensive parenting expectations – guilt, ambivalence and fear – and punctures pervasive myths that more is better and that achievement matters more than happiness. Instead, Brigid shows that to lay the groundwork for a fulfilling life, children need more of what parents and all adults need: unstructured time to play.


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Brigid Schulte is the Director of the Better Life Lab and The Good Life Initiative at New America, a nonpartisan think tank, and author of the New York Times bestselling Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One has the Time, which was named a notable book of the year by the Washington Post and NPR. She has spoken all over the world about how to make time for a Better Life by redesigning work cultures to focus on effective work, by re-imagining gender roles for a fairer division of labor and opportunity at work and at home, by rewiring social policy to meet the needs of diverse 21st century families, and, instead of seeking status in busyness, by recapturing the value of leisure.

She was an award-winning journalist at the Washington Post and Washington Post magazine, where she was part of the team that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Time, the Boston Globe, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the Guardian, and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has been quoted as an expert or featured in numerous publications, including Forbes, Fortune, the Atlantic, The Times of London, Macleans, the Irish Times, The Financial Times and Fast Company, and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, the Katie Couric Show, MSNBC, CNN, Morning Joe, the BBC, CBC, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NPR’s Morning Edition, Tell Me More, On Point, the Diane Rehm Show, the Leonard Lopate Show, the Bob Edwards Show, Efecto Naim with Moises Naim, the Australian Broadcast Company, and other television and radio programs.

She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, Tom Bowman, who covers the military for NPR, and their two children. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, and spent her summers in Wyoming on her family’s sheep ranch, where she did not feel so overwhelmed.

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