Solutions for the Overscheduled & Overwhelmed Woman

42 Minutes
Erin Falconer

Women feel a tangle of cultural pressures when facing down a to-do list — pressures that many men simply do not.

Now, add a pandemic to the list and what do you get? A whole lot of women, pushed to the brink physically and emotionally as they try to juggle it all at the same time, with no break or escape.

Overscheduled and overwhelmed women need solutions right now, and that shouldn’t mean we have to lean out nor should we need superpowers. In this episode, we talk with Erin Falconer, the author of the first productivity book for women written in over a decade to explore the current state of women, work and family, including how the pandemic exposed and intensified the inequities between men and women.

Learn simple actions that will help you immediately gain better control of your days short-term and identify what we can do to achieve systemic changes necessary for long-term results so that we put an end to the antiquated aspiration of becoming superwoman.

 


Erin Falconer

ERIN FALCONER is an author, digital entrepreneur, and psychotherapist. In 2018, she released the critically acclaimed self-improvement/female empowerment book, How To Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need To Stop Doing Everything So They Can Achieve Anything. Since 2008, she has been the editor-in-chief and co-owner of PickTheBrain (PTB). PickTheBrain is not only a great passion project but is also one of the most trusted self-improvement websites and communities on the web. It has been named Top Motivation Blogs for 2017 by WealthyGorilla and, in 2013, Forbes Magazine named PTB as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Sites for Women.” In 2014, the Wall Street Journal included Erin in their prestigious “Women of Note” network. She is also the co-founder of LEAFtv, a video lifestyle brand for the Millennial woman. Falconer’s next book, How To Break-Up with Your Friends: Establishing Boundaries in Modern Friendship, is out January 2022. @erinfalconer

 

Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee Celeste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

 


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Episode Transcript

Celeste Headlee:

Do you think that women have had unique struggles over the course of this pandemic? Would you say that’s fair?

Erin Falconer:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s been my personal experience and that is what I’m seeing generally.

Celeste Headlee:

What kind of things have women been facing that may make them at this point feel exhausted?

Erin Falconer:

Well, I think there’s a whole host of things. The first thing I think is just, which is not unique to women, has been unique to basically everybody, especially if you have kids, working from home has definitely flipped the script on business as usual. But I think for women in that position specifically, if we’re talking about having kids, there’s just… Like what has been classically done where I feel like women take on the lion’s share of the planning and organizing of most of the educational stuff.

Erin Falconer:

They also take on a lot of the emotional labor around how the child is doing and performing. And so just being in a situation where everybody’s under one roof, I feel has been particularly taxing and pulled on a whole bunch of different heartstrings and brain strings in a way that just I have not seen it play out the same way with men.

Erin Falconer:

That has been a major, major change. But I also do think that generally, even if you don’t have children and you’ve been under this as we all have been in this situation, there’s been so much, I think more managing to do of other things, other family members, other friends. I think that I’ve seen in the workplace men, and I talk about this in my book, men have the ability to compartmentalize. Sometimes to a fault, but as it pertains to drawing barriers and boundaries around work, I actually think it’s a real strength and something to be admired in our male counterparts’ work ethos.

Erin Falconer:

So I think that women struggling to compartmentalize and draw boundaries in work, now working out of the home, I think has just led to a never ending like I could always be doing something, I could always be checking emails. I could always be doing texts, responding to texts or working on projects. And so I think it’s been even that much more difficult to draw boundaries and really stick to them with a mandated work from home situation.

Celeste Headlee:

There’s certainly a lot of research showing that home is not the refuge for women, that it is for men. Showing that women tend to feel stressed when they get home because they share in general, a larger brunt of home duties. And I wonder what effect do you think this has. Because again, the research shows that while men often find the home to be a refuge, whether they have kids or not, and women don’t. And so having been stuck at home and then working from home, living at work, essentially, what do you think that does to a woman’s mind?

Erin Falconer:

Well, it just takes up a lot more space, I think it ups anxiety, I think it ups exhaustion. And going back to the idea of this compartmentalization, it’s like my husband, for example, has worked from home as well, but he is able to walk past the kitchen and if there’s some dishes in the sink, he can keep walking and be focused on work. I on the other hand, my mind just naturally goes to, “Oh, that needs to be taken care of, oh, that needs…”

Erin Falconer:

Whether I do it in that moment or not, there’s always, the home is still a place of work for me in a lot of senses of the word. And I think that’s what you’re alluding to in the sense of a refuge versus also a place of work. And so I love being at my house, but I also have a critical lens in every room of that house. And it is very distracting without question, and there’s just a weight.

Erin Falconer:

And I think we’ve seen as we’ve gone from this being a two-month stay at home to now almost two-year-deal, the subconscious weight just keeps growing, and growing, and growing. And it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating. And I think one of the biggest things is, we don’t feel seen in it. It’s our cross to bear sort of. It’s not like the other person sees it and goes, “Oh, man, I wish I felt that way. Darn I have empathy for you.” It’s just literally a case of not this emotional process not being seen at all by the other.

Erin Falconer:

Which is exhausting and frustrating in and of itself. And not saying that that’s anybody’s fault, if you don’t see something, you don’t see it, but there’s just so many layers to what’s been going on here. It’s complex for even me to understand it yet alone, somebody that’s not experiencing it.

Celeste Headlee:

I want to take it to deconstruct it a little bit so we can get strategies that might help women for each bit of the very complex anxiety and stress many are feeling. Maybe we can start with this one, this idea that work has now claimed every corner of their homes and they find it hard to relax, to fully relax at home. What can we do?

Erin Falconer:

I think you just said it in your question and we have to be very literal about carving out space now for work and relaxing. If we just approach it like, I’m running through the house, taking calls, I’m picking up a towel while I’m on a conference call kind of thing, that is not going to work. And so we have to be very intentional about blocking off physical space where we work and being very committed to keeping other spaces in the house work free.

Erin Falconer:

I don’t want to say relaxation zones, because again, to your point, there are very few actual relaxation zones in the house for most women, but at least we can be intentional about getting the work out of certain spaces. And I think the other thing that we have to do is be a witness to these emotions. What I am guilty of, and I think most are guilty of is just putting our head down and going and being like, “Well, this is what’s on my plate now, I’m just going to motor through it.”

Erin Falconer:

I think we have to be really intentional about witnessing what we’re doing. And I think if we can somehow take the time to step out and look down, we’d go, “Well, that’s just crazy.” But when we’re in it, what is this… I’m on a phone call, I’m picking up a towel, I’ve got one ear in the other room, my child’s on Zoom in his class, I want to see is he paying attention? How’s that going? Bird’s eye view on that, I think anybody would look at it and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. This has got to change.”

Erin Falconer:

And yet we don’t take the time to look at it, and I mean this in a literal sense, like what are the moves you’re making through the day? What are the beats in your day? I go as far as to say, “Write them down and then take a look at them, what are you doing? How are you operating? Look at it in black and white.” Because that’s as close as you’re going to get to a bird’s eye on something.

Erin Falconer:

But if we don’t take the time to self audit and understand the moves we’re making and how we’re going about our day, there’s just literally no chance of changing it. However, women being women, the idea of taking time to do these kinds of things, it feels like far-fetched and a pipe dream because we are so consumed and in the weeds, but I don’t see another way out of it other than being able to find space to really audit how you’re doing the business of life from day-to-day as we work from home.

Erin Falconer:

And of course, that that applies quarantine or no quarantine, but really it applies in this times more now than ever.

Celeste Headlee:

Let’s take another aspect of life, which is, I think omnipresent, but has been especially true during the pandemic, and that is the psychological pressure that society originates, but women put-

Erin Falconer:

Perpetuate it.

Celeste Headlee:

Yes, on themselves, which makes it impossible for some women to relax even if they sit down. This idea that, oh, I have 15 minutes, I could make curtains. Let me go onto Pinterest. Oh, I have 10 minutes, let me do something with my sourdough starter. How do we get past these the constantly rising bar?

Erin Falconer:

I’m so glad you brought this up because often when I talk about this point and not at all times is it well received, but I think it is so true and needs to be spoken as often as it can be until we get it. This all started culturally, it’s been an ongoing thing for literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, in modern recent history, I have seen a lot more of the women putting the self-imposed pressure on themselves than any of the men in their life.

Erin Falconer:

And of course there’s a certain level of societal and historical pressure that just lives peripherally that is there, so I’m not saying like, “Hey, we’re scotch-free.” But I would say the lion’s share of a lot of this pressure and angst is self-imposed. And that is what I see all the time, the inability to just delegate, but really delegate, not just give somebody else something to do, but then you make that time count for you.

Erin Falconer:

It doesn’t make sense to just delegate and have husband doing or partner doing laundry, and then you also now are doing something. The idea is to start freeing up a bit of your time so that you take that to regenerate, to take the edge off, to be able to be in touch with your inner voice and where you want go and who you are, and really have those moments of clarity and reflection and rest, real rest, not busy work, as you said of like, let me get my hobbies out now. How can I find moments in the day to decompress and recharge? Otherwise, it’s just not sustainable.

Erin Falconer:

I fell real victim to that, actually right before the pandemic, I really noticed this about myself, where I actually have a great partner who does dishes and does laundry, and yet I would come home and be like, “Oh God, the dishwasher’s not loaded.” I’ll put the glasses on the bottom and the plates on the top, and oh my God. And upon reflection is that really where I want to spend my energy and time? This is depleting. Also, it doesn’t change. Just because it’s a process that is different than my own does not mean it’s not just as good.

Erin Falconer:

And so that need to control every situation, but then also play it like, oh, I’m so taxed because this has been put on me is also something that I think needs to be looked at and is a real hindrance to productivity and exuberance in life.

Celeste Headlee:

In addition to these strategies you’re giving for letting go of this on our own behalf, women sometimes put this pressure on each other.

Erin Falconer:

Absolutely.

Celeste Headlee:

And how do we stop that? How do we stop other women from feeling this pressure or feeling like they’re losing by comparison?

Erin Falconer:

Well, I think this really comes down to what we’re doing is instead of taking that critical look at ourselves, we’re either projecting the image of perfection or we’re deflecting judgment to those around us to take the camera off of ourselves, the lens off of ourselves and frankly, to feel better about ourselves because it’s a total deflection. If we could just get our own stuff in check and again, by doing the self audit, by being understanding, it is incumbent upon ourselves to find at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to relax and recharge and be self-reflective.

Erin Falconer:

Then can we start to… Again, we need to be focused more on ourselves as opposed to what’s going on externally. However, when we’re deflecting, it becomes completely about what’s happening externally. And when you’re putting your energy on external forces, whether they be judgment or feeling bad about yourself because of something that’s happening externally, you’re wasting time and energy and the sum of that will be a feeling of frustration, irritability and exhaustion.

Erin Falconer:

And I think that’s where we’re seeing ourselves right now, we’re just going at a very quick pace into the brick wall of comparison, judgment and self judgment. But it’s self judgment in relation to other people, and that’s not the same thing as witnessing your truth, and who you are, and where you are, and where you want to go. As soon as you’re doing… That’s a reactive thing as opposed to a proactive thing and you’re spinning your wheels in the reactive department, you’re recharging your batteries in the productive department.

Erin Falconer:

I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s easy to get caught up in the self judgment of others and feel like… I hear it all the time, “Oh, social media, it’s creating unrealistic expectations and dah, dah, dah.” And that is true, but what you’re doing there is it’s an inauthentic self-audit. It’s a default into victimhood, it’s a default into negative narratives about yourself, and those things don’t have anything to do with personal truth.

Erin Falconer:

What you want to be doing is actively seeking out your personal truth and understanding the literal, how am I conducting myself every day? Where am I spending all of my time? Where am I spending all of my energy? And again, looking at it from that bird’s eye view, so I recommend writing it down. And then also the more metaphorical or emotional aspect of the larger issues of who am I? Where am I? How did I get here? And where do I want to go? And these are questions you should be asking yourself regularly. Right?

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. If you have tackled the self-reflection and controlled what you can control within your own life, and I realize that’s a high bar, so most of us are still a work in progress there. We will still be left over with expectations of us that are outsized in comparison with our male coworkers in many cases.

Erin Falconer:

Sure.

Celeste Headlee:

I wonder if we could now move on to the specific part of women’s anxiety, which is caused by having to take on the emotional work even at work. Research shows us that women are way more likely to be the ones in charge of organizing social events at work, keeping track of people’s birthdays, doing that kind of work that they’re not only doing at home but in the workplace as well. How can we have this conversation in our workplace to make this more equitable?

Erin Falconer:

I talk about this as well and it’s something that continues to go on and is a real problem. And I think that as we’ve gone into the home, working from home, and it feels like we don’t have FaceTime, and it feels like our connections are more tenuous that we’re likely to be like, “I’ll do that. I’ll jump in. I’ll be the person that organizes the birthday or the weekly lunches,” or whatever it is. The truth is that women are relatively new to the modern workforce.

Erin Falconer:

And from day one, what we have been doing is trying to get into structures created by men for men. Not their fault, they’ve just been doing it for a lot longer. And so our entire way of being is to fit in into structures that have already been created. And so I think that there’s this innate fear that… Well, first of all, it’s not being generated from a purely authentic place, because when you’re trying to fit in constantly, whether you know it or not, you’re doing a lot of moves that you might not ordinarily.

Erin Falconer:

That leads to insecurity and anxiety, at least at a subconscious level. And so that’s, I think one of the reasons we have this proclivity to say yes when we really mean no, and we’re operating in a lot of ways out of fear, even if we realize that we’re highly competent and special in the workplace. I think the thing is, there’s no way of really getting around this other than to practice to really be able to, again, there’s a bit of an audit piece where you really are clear on what your responsibilities are, what is to be demanded of you at that job, and then look at what you’re doing in a day or in a week, and see which things fall outside of that purview. Only you obviously can answer that.

Erin Falconer:

And then we need to be very intentional about how we’re going to find ways to say no. And I think the best way to say no is not offer up necessarily an excuse, but come up, like for example, if you… This used to happen to me all the time at the startup that I worked at. I would be asked to take the minutes of all these meetings we were in. And so happily I did it at the beginning like, “Oh, great, I got a task. This is important.” But of course, what happens when I’m taking minutes? Well, I’m not participating in any other real way. Right?

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah.

Erin Falconer:

So my voice is now being lost. I’m sitting there capturing other people’s voices and ideas. And so you think, “Oh, it’s no big deal, I’ll take the minutes,” but actually it is a big deal and it’s a big deal cumulatively. And so that’s why I think that this audit of like, what are the things you might not even realize you’re doing? Because it always comes in small ways, and then it’s the cumulative effect of those small that have a big impact on your trajectory and your feeling of self-worth.

Erin Falconer:

In that example, instead of just being like, “Oh, no, I’m not doing the minutes.” Once I got hip to what was going on, and man, it took me honestly, like over a year. Imagine of how many minutes I took. And then it’s not just taking the minutes, then I’d have to email them out, then people would give feedback, ask… It’s the whole thing, so it’s much more often, much more taxing than it even seems.

Erin Falconer:

So instead of just saying no, offer an alternative. And I think being clear of voice and practicing what you’re going to say, so again, you’re not in the reactive camp, you have a plan. I know I’m going to be asked to take minutes in the next meeting. What will I say in a concise way that does not apologize for my behavior, but is also productive? And I think in that case, for example, when I was asked I said, “I’ve spent the week thinking about whatever project we were working on. I think I have a lot of valuable things to say.

Erin Falconer:

I would love it if Jack could take the note minutes this week. Maybe we could go around in the circle every week with somebody else alternating because I don’t want to be distracted and I think you’re going to like what I have to say on this,” whatever the project. It’s very hard to argue with that. It’s very hard if you’re reasonable and you’re providing value and you’re showing you’re providing value. And I’ve got to say that although there’s a lot of fear behind it and there was angst, I think at the very least subconsciously, but probably consciously, you’re going to garner respect out of that.

Erin Falconer:

What happens though is we repress… In this minute’s example, as I became hipped to the fact that this wasn’t so kosher, I started to get really upset and really irritated. But I was really in my head about it, and so it could have easily gone the way if I didn’t prepare that I start to be snarky, I start to make comments under my breath. Or worse, I have, “Well, I’m not doing that, it’s not fair.” And then it’s awkward for everybody. It’s a reactive reaction and that can have negative consequences.

Erin Falconer:

Again, you want to get on the proactive side of everything that you can. If you have a real difficult time saying no, again, if it makes sense for you to say no and only you can answer that, it is just really about practicing. Start small even in your personal life and start to say no like with a friend who’s maybe crossing a boundary and start there and say, “Okay, I’m really going to work on this because how far I can get in my career and the way I feel about my career depends on it.

Erin Falconer:

It depends on my ability to have a voice and feel confident that I am well aware of my role, who I am and where I can go, and I’m going to stick to that. But I’m going to do it proactively, not reactively.”

Celeste Headlee:

It’s interesting to me because kind of what we’re talking about through all of this is how to remain productive or how our desire for productivity gets entangled with gendered expectations on us and causes problems. Your book is a productivity book, How to Get Shit Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything so They Can Achieve Anything. It’s really interesting to me that this is the first productivity woman book specifically for women that’s been written in more than a decade. Why do you think that is?

Erin Falconer:

Because I think we’re too busy with our heads down trying to get stuff done that nobody is really. I don’t feel that women have reflected on it in this way. By the way, I didn’t come to write this book because I was like, “This is a book that needs to be written.” What happened was… It’s a much longer story of how I got to even writing the blog and all of this stuff because I had a wild and bumpy crazy road to get there.

Erin Falconer:

But I started out being a writer for screenplays, and long story short that failed spectacularly. And I found myself very down and out, no money, no car. It was a really bleak situation. I put out 100 emails on Craigslist to get any kind of job, just literally anything, I had no money. And I said, “If I didn’t get a job, I’d have to go back to Canada. And if I did get a job…” I was like, “If I get a job, I will take it and I will put a plan in place around this, and I’m going to make something happen.”

Erin Falconer:

And I got one response out of the 100 emails, the submissions, and it was to be a copyright editor at this very small self-improvement startup. Anyways, out of that, Pick the Brain was born. Pick the Brain became a big success, then I was able to raise a million dollars for another company that I was working on called LEAFtv. And after all of that, I got hit up by a New York agent, lit agent who wrote me and said, “We’d love you to write a book.” And I was like, “Yeah, I get a lot of these filler things because of the blog, and they’re all whatever.”

Erin Falconer:

And this person was very persistent, so I look them up and I was like, “Oh, wow, this is a really legit agency.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll have a call.” And then I started to get really excited about it because in my writer head, I was like, “Oh my God, this is it. I’m going to write a book after all these years. I’m going to… Oh my God, I can’t believe it.” So I started workshopping all these ideas and I got on the call with her, and I was very pumped. I was like, “So what would you like me to write about?” And I go, “I’ve been working on these ideas and dah, dah, dah.”

Erin Falconer:

There was a silence on the end of the line and she’s like, “Well, we thought you would write about you.” Then there was a silence coming from me and I was so deflated. And I was like, “What?” And they were like, “Yeah, you’ve done this, and you’ve done this, and you’ve done this.” I got off the phone and I was like, “I got to think about it.” I was so upset and I was like, “I’m not doing the book.” And then the next morning I woke up and I went to my office, and I looked around, and I had the great fortune to work with a lot of great female colleagues.

Erin Falconer:

And I looked around and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re all suffering from the same disease.” We are just going, going, going out there collecting trophies, but nobody is really in the moment. Nobody’s really living this, they’re just going through it. And I started to reflect on my own life and I was like, “Wait, I have done this, and I have done that, and I have done that. And it’s not rocket science and I’m not like carrying cancer.” Especially from where I came from in those dark days, I was like, “These are pretty impressive things.”

Erin Falconer:

And I had no idea, I had no feeling for this. I was just going, going, going. And it was in that moment that I was like, “Wow.” When I think about it and I think about the way my male colleagues operate, and I think about my female colleagues, it’s like night and day. When I think about going out for work with… Sorry, going out with my colleagues for a drink after work, all of us, the women are talking about work, and irritation over this email that was sent, or what we have to do by next Friday, and it’s all about work.

Erin Falconer:

And I would look over to the male colleagues and they’d be sitting there popping a cap off a beer and talking about sports or talking about things that were going on in their lives. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is a real, real problem.” And so I think that, why has a woman not written a book on productivity? I just don’t think it’s occurred to anybody. I just think again, we’re just so busy doing and not reflecting or being that we’re not questioning anything.

Erin Falconer:

We’re not questioning norms and we’re certainly not really setting out to change them, and that is one thing that I think that this pandemic, while it has been wildly taxing, it opens up, I think the opportunity to change some of the infrastructure. In other words, working from home while a problem, if you’re forced to work from home and you can’t do anything else is a problem. But if you can start to think, how do I operate the best? Am I a morning person? Am I an afternoon person? Am I an evening person?

Erin Falconer:

And start to get a handle on your processes, I think now is the time when you can start to have ownership, because there is so much flexibility and I think there will continue to be flexibility as we go out into the workforce about really owning what works for you and then making the case for that. Because I don’t think we’re going to get this chance again. Well, as I said, it’s been hugely problematic. I think it’s incumbent upon us to see that there is an opportunity there if we just do the work to understand what our needs are. This is the quickest way we’re going to have to have the met.

Celeste Headlee:

It’s difficult though, Erin. At pickthebrain.com, I understand the very first article was published in 2006.

Erin Falconer:

Yeah. It’s crazy.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, it is, it’s nuts. But the website is dedicated to self-improvement, working on your personal productivity, edifying yourself, all of those things. And yet it’s not what people often associate with self-improvement, right?

Erin Falconer:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Celeste Headlee:

How do we end up in this self-improvement trap where self-improvement ends up becoming just a task-

Erin Falconer:

Another thing to do.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, another thing to do?

Erin Falconer:

Believe me, this is one of the things that I struggle with all the time because I see that so, so much. And I see that’s one of my bigger frustrations with social media, is that there… At first on like Instagram when like wellness and self-improvement started to take off, I was like, “Oh man, awesome. We’re not just talking about fashion and beauty. There’s a real movement here to do better for ourselves and for those around us.” And then it so quickly-

Celeste Headlee:

Almost immediately.

Erin Falconer:

… fell off the rails into like this, how can I curate the perfect life? That is so far from what I think the essence of self-improvement is. It has nothing to do with perfection. In fact, it has to do with discovering and the acceptance of flaws and shortcomings, and metabolizing those so that we can move forward and step into the things that make us feel good and make us feel whole. And that message is just so hard to convey in 140 characters in a tweet or a filtered picture.

Erin Falconer:

And so I feel like so many people do feel like, okay, I’ve got to do this. I got to be meditate. I got to meditate, I got to do yoga, I got to drink 60 liters of water a day. And again, like to your point, now all of a sudden we’ve just created a longer-to-do list. And my whole thing is about shortening the to-do list and just doing the things that move the needle after again, careful audit, move the needle for you forward.

Erin Falconer:

Because otherwise what you’re doing is moving the needle for other people forward. You’re moving other people’s agendas forward. And the more you are off task with those very specific things that help you move forward, the more disconnected you feel, the more exhausted you feel, and the more rudderless you feel. Like, “Where am I going?” You think you know where you’re going, but honestly, a lot of us are not actually going in the direction we think we are, or not at least with the precision that we think we are.

Erin Falconer:

So self-improvement for me, when I… One of the things that I struggled with the book is when I finally got around to the idea that I actually really did want to write the book, was I absolutely hate the word productivity. And one of the first things I said to my agent was is “Do you think it’s okay if I try and coin a new term?” Because if you look at the very word, product-ivity, it is product-centered, it is not person-centered.

Erin Falconer:

It’s about input, output, input, output. There’s no nuance and there’s no allowance for the human condition, and certainly not for the essence of femininity in that process. My agent said, “Absolutely not, stick with classic. We’re not rewriting English words, but you can talk about that.” And so that’s one of the things that I do like to talk about. And while I don’t think that productivity-centered things are good necessarily for men or women, I do think that again, a man’s ability to compartmentalize and just get through the nuts and bolts of things lends itself more to the input-output model, where it just is completely obliterates any kind of feminine sensibility or feminine ethos.

Erin Falconer:

We’re just not wired in that way, and so that’s why I talk about this idea of POP, the POP effect, which is actually what the original name of the book was going to be, the POP effect. And POP stands for personality, opportunity, productivity. And so my thing is in order to understand your innate and the intrinsic value of what you can and should be getting done in a day, “productivity,” you have to understand your personality inside and out who you are, what you’re made of, what you want.

Erin Falconer:

And then be very intentional about what the opportunity is around you that is real, and exists, and is in arms-reach, so that you can marry that opportunity with your personality and what makes you tick. And only once you understand those two things can you really look at, am I productive? Where can I up my productivity? Where’s there room for improvement? Where am I really doing great? And that should be celebrated, those kinds of things.

Celeste Headlee:

How are you doing with all this? I know it’s often one thing to know the right thing to do.

Erin Falconer:

Yeah, yeah, of course. Yeah, of course, of course. Believe me, I run into that imposter syndrome all the time because life is, it doesn’t matter how much you know and how much you’ve practiced all of these things, you can get thrown off kilter really at any moment. And the thing is to just have done as much work and as practice, flexing these muscles and being intentional about these moves you’re trying to make, so that when life throws a curve ball… I get knocked off kilter for sure and I think most people do.

Erin Falconer:

But it’s like, do I have the muscle memory to be able to ultimately pull me back into a place of balance? And it is not easy. For example, this week, you were a victim. We had something scheduled. I was over in my mind, I was not clear. I got East Coast time versus West Coast time mixed up and I left you and a team waiting for 30 minutes, and I just had the time wrong. That would not happen normally. I’m feeling overwhelmed because life, getting back into the swing of things with kids going back to school and all that stuff.

Erin Falconer:

And so those things, those like rocky waters will throw the best of us off course. I think the thing is, is that now it’s not that I don’t get thrown off course, it’s that I’m witnessing, oh, okay, this is a moment of choppy seas, but I know, number one, this too shall pass and I have the skills to take me through. And so it doesn’t make the seas any less rocky, but it doesn’t make me freak out. Because that can become a real kind of snowball effect, when one thing happens and then you get overwhelmed, and you miss a meeting.

Erin Falconer:

And then you’re like in your head and you’ve got a lot of negative narratives going like, “Oh my God, you idiot. I can’t believe it how stupid you look like so bad.” And then all of a sudden that sets the tone for like another bad thing to happen, and another bad thing to happen, and another bad thing to happen. That doesn’t necessarily happen to me anymore, but I do make mistakes, I do get overwhelmed. I just have to trust that I’ve done the work and I do have a real razor focus of where I want to go, and so I know that I can come back to it.

Erin Falconer:

But I also, even when there are things like knocking me off course, I am religious about taking time for myself every day. And those things are non-negotiable. I know it’s not for everybody, but I meditate 20 minutes a day in the morning. That is non-negotiable for me. I take a hot bath every night, unless I’m out for dinner or an event, that is non-negotiable. These things are carved out for me. I could not get done what I get done in a day if I did not carve time out for myself.

Erin Falconer:

So you have to really be ruthless about protecting yourself. Well, first of all, carving out what you need… Well, being aware of what you need, then carving out time for what you need, and then defending that. Because if you don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it. If you can’t find time for yourself, your boss isn’t going to be like, “Hey.” Your child is not going to be like, “Hey, mom, me time. Carve some me time out.” Your partner probably also not, not with any consistency, not with the consistency you need.

Erin Falconer:

And in my estimation, this consistency is daily. This is not a weekly thing, and I’m not talking about another thing that I think has been totally commoditized, is this idea of self care through social media. I’m not talking about like a Manny petty. I’m talking about real restorative time where you can self reflect and just feel yourself. Just feel your energy. It’s a chance to take a litmus test every single day of where you’re at emotionally and energetically.

Erin Falconer:

I always like to say, one of my favorite things that I like to say is, “Have you ever been sitting in an office, or meeting a girlfriend, or somebody, a group of girls for lunch, and somebody comes in and they go, ‘Oh my God, I had this idea.’ And they tell you something and you hear it and you go, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing. That’s an amazing, incredible idea. How did you think of that?'” And time and again, the person will say, “I don’t know, I was just in the shower and it hit me, and it just came to me.”

Erin Falconer:

And for me, this is not a coincidence, because being in the shower for most people, that two to five minutes a day, where you’ve got hot water splashing over you is the only time of day that you’re not thinking about a million other things. It is not a coincidence when you are not locked in a world of internal chaos that ideas present themselves, voices speak. And so you need to find your hot shower. I put that in quotes because we’re in the middle of a water crisis here in California, so I don’t want to encourage needless water spending, but you need to find metaphorically, your hot shower every day.

Celeste Headlee:

Erin, I want to thank you so much for your time and it’s such a pleasure to talk to you.

Erin Falconer:

Thank you much.

 

View Transcript

Celeste Headlee:

Do you think that women have had unique struggles over the course of this pandemic? Would you say that’s fair?

Erin Falconer:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s been my personal experience and that is what I’m seeing generally.

Celeste Headlee:

What kind of things have women been facing that may make them at this point feel exhausted?

Erin Falconer:

Well, I think there’s a whole host of things. The first thing I think is just, which is not unique to women, has been unique to basically everybody, especially if you have kids, working from home has definitely flipped the script on business as usual. But I think for women in that position specifically, if we’re talking about having kids, there’s just… Like what has been classically done where I feel like women take on the lion’s share of the planning and organizing of most of the educational stuff.

Erin Falconer:

They also take on a lot of the emotional labor around how the child is doing and performing. And so just being in a situation where everybody’s under one roof, I feel has been particularly taxing and pulled on a whole bunch of different heartstrings and brain strings in a way that just I have not seen it play out the same way with men.

Erin Falconer:

That has been a major, major change. But I also do think that generally, even if you don’t have children and you’ve been under this as we all have been in this situation, there’s been so much, I think more managing to do of other things, other family members, other friends. I think that I’ve seen in the workplace men, and I talk about this in my book, men have the ability to compartmentalize. Sometimes to a fault, but as it pertains to drawing barriers and boundaries around work, I actually think it’s a real strength and something to be admired in our male counterparts’ work ethos.

Erin Falconer:

So I think that women struggling to compartmentalize and draw boundaries in work, now working out of the home, I think has just led to a never ending like I could always be doing something, I could always be checking emails. I could always be doing texts, responding to texts or working on projects. And so I think it’s been even that much more difficult to draw boundaries and really stick to them with a mandated work from home situation.

Celeste Headlee:

There’s certainly a lot of research showing that home is not the refuge for women, that it is for men. Showing that women tend to feel stressed when they get home because they share in general, a larger brunt of home duties. And I wonder what effect do you think this has. Because again, the research shows that while men often find the home to be a refuge, whether they have kids or not, and women don’t. And so having been stuck at home and then working from home, living at work, essentially, what do you think that does to a woman’s mind?

Erin Falconer:

Well, it just takes up a lot more space, I think it ups anxiety, I think it ups exhaustion. And going back to the idea of this compartmentalization, it’s like my husband, for example, has worked from home as well, but he is able to walk past the kitchen and if there’s some dishes in the sink, he can keep walking and be focused on work. I on the other hand, my mind just naturally goes to, “Oh, that needs to be taken care of, oh, that needs…”

Erin Falconer:

Whether I do it in that moment or not, there’s always, the home is still a place of work for me in a lot of senses of the word. And I think that’s what you’re alluding to in the sense of a refuge versus also a place of work. And so I love being at my house, but I also have a critical lens in every room of that house. And it is very distracting without question, and there’s just a weight.

Erin Falconer:

And I think we’ve seen as we’ve gone from this being a two-month stay at home to now almost two-year-deal, the subconscious weight just keeps growing, and growing, and growing. And it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating. And I think one of the biggest things is, we don’t feel seen in it. It’s our cross to bear sort of. It’s not like the other person sees it and goes, “Oh, man, I wish I felt that way. Darn I have empathy for you.” It’s just literally a case of not this emotional process not being seen at all by the other.

Erin Falconer:

Which is exhausting and frustrating in and of itself. And not saying that that’s anybody’s fault, if you don’t see something, you don’t see it, but there’s just so many layers to what’s been going on here. It’s complex for even me to understand it yet alone, somebody that’s not experiencing it.

Celeste Headlee:

I want to take it to deconstruct it a little bit so we can get strategies that might help women for each bit of the very complex anxiety and stress many are feeling. Maybe we can start with this one, this idea that work has now claimed every corner of their homes and they find it hard to relax, to fully relax at home. What can we do?

Erin Falconer:

I think you just said it in your question and we have to be very literal about carving out space now for work and relaxing. If we just approach it like, I’m running through the house, taking calls, I’m picking up a towel while I’m on a conference call kind of thing, that is not going to work. And so we have to be very intentional about blocking off physical space where we work and being very committed to keeping other spaces in the house work free.

Erin Falconer:

I don’t want to say relaxation zones, because again, to your point, there are very few actual relaxation zones in the house for most women, but at least we can be intentional about getting the work out of certain spaces. And I think the other thing that we have to do is be a witness to these emotions. What I am guilty of, and I think most are guilty of is just putting our head down and going and being like, “Well, this is what’s on my plate now, I’m just going to motor through it.”

Erin Falconer:

I think we have to be really intentional about witnessing what we’re doing. And I think if we can somehow take the time to step out and look down, we’d go, “Well, that’s just crazy.” But when we’re in it, what is this… I’m on a phone call, I’m picking up a towel, I’ve got one ear in the other room, my child’s on Zoom in his class, I want to see is he paying attention? How’s that going? Bird’s eye view on that, I think anybody would look at it and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. This has got to change.”

Erin Falconer:

And yet we don’t take the time to look at it, and I mean this in a literal sense, like what are the moves you’re making through the day? What are the beats in your day? I go as far as to say, “Write them down and then take a look at them, what are you doing? How are you operating? Look at it in black and white.” Because that’s as close as you’re going to get to a bird’s eye on something.

Erin Falconer:

But if we don’t take the time to self audit and understand the moves we’re making and how we’re going about our day, there’s just literally no chance of changing it. However, women being women, the idea of taking time to do these kinds of things, it feels like far-fetched and a pipe dream because we are so consumed and in the weeds, but I don’t see another way out of it other than being able to find space to really audit how you’re doing the business of life from day-to-day as we work from home.

Erin Falconer:

And of course, that that applies quarantine or no quarantine, but really it applies in this times more now than ever.

Celeste Headlee:

Let’s take another aspect of life, which is, I think omnipresent, but has been especially true during the pandemic, and that is the psychological pressure that society originates, but women put-

Erin Falconer:

Perpetuate it.

Celeste Headlee:

Yes, on themselves, which makes it impossible for some women to relax even if they sit down. This idea that, oh, I have 15 minutes, I could make curtains. Let me go onto Pinterest. Oh, I have 10 minutes, let me do something with my sourdough starter. How do we get past these the constantly rising bar?

Erin Falconer:

I’m so glad you brought this up because often when I talk about this point and not at all times is it well received, but I think it is so true and needs to be spoken as often as it can be until we get it. This all started culturally, it’s been an ongoing thing for literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, in modern recent history, I have seen a lot more of the women putting the self-imposed pressure on themselves than any of the men in their life.

Erin Falconer:

And of course there’s a certain level of societal and historical pressure that just lives peripherally that is there, so I’m not saying like, “Hey, we’re scotch-free.” But I would say the lion’s share of a lot of this pressure and angst is self-imposed. And that is what I see all the time, the inability to just delegate, but really delegate, not just give somebody else something to do, but then you make that time count for you.

Erin Falconer:

It doesn’t make sense to just delegate and have husband doing or partner doing laundry, and then you also now are doing something. The idea is to start freeing up a bit of your time so that you take that to regenerate, to take the edge off, to be able to be in touch with your inner voice and where you want go and who you are, and really have those moments of clarity and reflection and rest, real rest, not busy work, as you said of like, let me get my hobbies out now. How can I find moments in the day to decompress and recharge? Otherwise, it’s just not sustainable.

Erin Falconer:

I fell real victim to that, actually right before the pandemic, I really noticed this about myself, where I actually have a great partner who does dishes and does laundry, and yet I would come home and be like, “Oh God, the dishwasher’s not loaded.” I’ll put the glasses on the bottom and the plates on the top, and oh my God. And upon reflection is that really where I want to spend my energy and time? This is depleting. Also, it doesn’t change. Just because it’s a process that is different than my own does not mean it’s not just as good.

Erin Falconer:

And so that need to control every situation, but then also play it like, oh, I’m so taxed because this has been put on me is also something that I think needs to be looked at and is a real hindrance to productivity and exuberance in life.

Celeste Headlee:

In addition to these strategies you’re giving for letting go of this on our own behalf, women sometimes put this pressure on each other.

Erin Falconer:

Absolutely.

Celeste Headlee:

And how do we stop that? How do we stop other women from feeling this pressure or feeling like they’re losing by comparison?

Erin Falconer:

Well, I think this really comes down to what we’re doing is instead of taking that critical look at ourselves, we’re either projecting the image of perfection or we’re deflecting judgment to those around us to take the camera off of ourselves, the lens off of ourselves and frankly, to feel better about ourselves because it’s a total deflection. If we could just get our own stuff in check and again, by doing the self audit, by being understanding, it is incumbent upon ourselves to find at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to relax and recharge and be self-reflective.

Erin Falconer:

Then can we start to… Again, we need to be focused more on ourselves as opposed to what’s going on externally. However, when we’re deflecting, it becomes completely about what’s happening externally. And when you’re putting your energy on external forces, whether they be judgment or feeling bad about yourself because of something that’s happening externally, you’re wasting time and energy and the sum of that will be a feeling of frustration, irritability and exhaustion.

Erin Falconer:

And I think that’s where we’re seeing ourselves right now, we’re just going at a very quick pace into the brick wall of comparison, judgment and self judgment. But it’s self judgment in relation to other people, and that’s not the same thing as witnessing your truth, and who you are, and where you are, and where you want to go. As soon as you’re doing… That’s a reactive thing as opposed to a proactive thing and you’re spinning your wheels in the reactive department, you’re recharging your batteries in the productive department.

Erin Falconer:

I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s easy to get caught up in the self judgment of others and feel like… I hear it all the time, “Oh, social media, it’s creating unrealistic expectations and dah, dah, dah.” And that is true, but what you’re doing there is it’s an inauthentic self-audit. It’s a default into victimhood, it’s a default into negative narratives about yourself, and those things don’t have anything to do with personal truth.

Erin Falconer:

What you want to be doing is actively seeking out your personal truth and understanding the literal, how am I conducting myself every day? Where am I spending all of my time? Where am I spending all of my energy? And again, looking at it from that bird’s eye view, so I recommend writing it down. And then also the more metaphorical or emotional aspect of the larger issues of who am I? Where am I? How did I get here? And where do I want to go? And these are questions you should be asking yourself regularly. Right?

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. If you have tackled the self-reflection and controlled what you can control within your own life, and I realize that’s a high bar, so most of us are still a work in progress there. We will still be left over with expectations of us that are outsized in comparison with our male coworkers in many cases.

Erin Falconer:

Sure.

Celeste Headlee:

I wonder if we could now move on to the specific part of women’s anxiety, which is caused by having to take on the emotional work even at work. Research shows us that women are way more likely to be the ones in charge of organizing social events at work, keeping track of people’s birthdays, doing that kind of work that they’re not only doing at home but in the workplace as well. How can we have this conversation in our workplace to make this more equitable?

Erin Falconer:

I talk about this as well and it’s something that continues to go on and is a real problem. And I think that as we’ve gone into the home, working from home, and it feels like we don’t have FaceTime, and it feels like our connections are more tenuous that we’re likely to be like, “I’ll do that. I’ll jump in. I’ll be the person that organizes the birthday or the weekly lunches,” or whatever it is. The truth is that women are relatively new to the modern workforce.

Erin Falconer:

And from day one, what we have been doing is trying to get into structures created by men for men. Not their fault, they’ve just been doing it for a lot longer. And so our entire way of being is to fit in into structures that have already been created. And so I think that there’s this innate fear that… Well, first of all, it’s not being generated from a purely authentic place, because when you’re trying to fit in constantly, whether you know it or not, you’re doing a lot of moves that you might not ordinarily.

Erin Falconer:

That leads to insecurity and anxiety, at least at a subconscious level. And so that’s, I think one of the reasons we have this proclivity to say yes when we really mean no, and we’re operating in a lot of ways out of fear, even if we realize that we’re highly competent and special in the workplace. I think the thing is, there’s no way of really getting around this other than to practice to really be able to, again, there’s a bit of an audit piece where you really are clear on what your responsibilities are, what is to be demanded of you at that job, and then look at what you’re doing in a day or in a week, and see which things fall outside of that purview. Only you obviously can answer that.

Erin Falconer:

And then we need to be very intentional about how we’re going to find ways to say no. And I think the best way to say no is not offer up necessarily an excuse, but come up, like for example, if you… This used to happen to me all the time at the startup that I worked at. I would be asked to take the minutes of all these meetings we were in. And so happily I did it at the beginning like, “Oh, great, I got a task. This is important.” But of course, what happens when I’m taking minutes? Well, I’m not participating in any other real way. Right?

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah.

Erin Falconer:

So my voice is now being lost. I’m sitting there capturing other people’s voices and ideas. And so you think, “Oh, it’s no big deal, I’ll take the minutes,” but actually it is a big deal and it’s a big deal cumulatively. And so that’s why I think that this audit of like, what are the things you might not even realize you’re doing? Because it always comes in small ways, and then it’s the cumulative effect of those small that have a big impact on your trajectory and your feeling of self-worth.

Erin Falconer:

In that example, instead of just being like, “Oh, no, I’m not doing the minutes.” Once I got hip to what was going on, and man, it took me honestly, like over a year. Imagine of how many minutes I took. And then it’s not just taking the minutes, then I’d have to email them out, then people would give feedback, ask… It’s the whole thing, so it’s much more often, much more taxing than it even seems.

Erin Falconer:

So instead of just saying no, offer an alternative. And I think being clear of voice and practicing what you’re going to say, so again, you’re not in the reactive camp, you have a plan. I know I’m going to be asked to take minutes in the next meeting. What will I say in a concise way that does not apologize for my behavior, but is also productive? And I think in that case, for example, when I was asked I said, “I’ve spent the week thinking about whatever project we were working on. I think I have a lot of valuable things to say.

Erin Falconer:

I would love it if Jack could take the note minutes this week. Maybe we could go around in the circle every week with somebody else alternating because I don’t want to be distracted and I think you’re going to like what I have to say on this,” whatever the project. It’s very hard to argue with that. It’s very hard if you’re reasonable and you’re providing value and you’re showing you’re providing value. And I’ve got to say that although there’s a lot of fear behind it and there was angst, I think at the very least subconsciously, but probably consciously, you’re going to garner respect out of that.

Erin Falconer:

What happens though is we repress… In this minute’s example, as I became hipped to the fact that this wasn’t so kosher, I started to get really upset and really irritated. But I was really in my head about it, and so it could have easily gone the way if I didn’t prepare that I start to be snarky, I start to make comments under my breath. Or worse, I have, “Well, I’m not doing that, it’s not fair.” And then it’s awkward for everybody. It’s a reactive reaction and that can have negative consequences.

Erin Falconer:

Again, you want to get on the proactive side of everything that you can. If you have a real difficult time saying no, again, if it makes sense for you to say no and only you can answer that, it is just really about practicing. Start small even in your personal life and start to say no like with a friend who’s maybe crossing a boundary and start there and say, “Okay, I’m really going to work on this because how far I can get in my career and the way I feel about my career depends on it.

Erin Falconer:

It depends on my ability to have a voice and feel confident that I am well aware of my role, who I am and where I can go, and I’m going to stick to that. But I’m going to do it proactively, not reactively.”

Celeste Headlee:

It’s interesting to me because kind of what we’re talking about through all of this is how to remain productive or how our desire for productivity gets entangled with gendered expectations on us and causes problems. Your book is a productivity book, How to Get Shit Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything so They Can Achieve Anything. It’s really interesting to me that this is the first productivity woman book specifically for women that’s been written in more than a decade. Why do you think that is?

Erin Falconer:

Because I think we’re too busy with our heads down trying to get stuff done that nobody is really. I don’t feel that women have reflected on it in this way. By the way, I didn’t come to write this book because I was like, “This is a book that needs to be written.” What happened was… It’s a much longer story of how I got to even writing the blog and all of this stuff because I had a wild and bumpy crazy road to get there.

Erin Falconer:

But I started out being a writer for screenplays, and long story short that failed spectacularly. And I found myself very down and out, no money, no car. It was a really bleak situation. I put out 100 emails on Craigslist to get any kind of job, just literally anything, I had no money. And I said, “If I didn’t get a job, I’d have to go back to Canada. And if I did get a job…” I was like, “If I get a job, I will take it and I will put a plan in place around this, and I’m going to make something happen.”

Erin Falconer:

And I got one response out of the 100 emails, the submissions, and it was to be a copyright editor at this very small self-improvement startup. Anyways, out of that, Pick the Brain was born. Pick the Brain became a big success, then I was able to raise a million dollars for another company that I was working on called LEAFtv. And after all of that, I got hit up by a New York agent, lit agent who wrote me and said, “We’d love you to write a book.” And I was like, “Yeah, I get a lot of these filler things because of the blog, and they’re all whatever.”

Erin Falconer:

And this person was very persistent, so I look them up and I was like, “Oh, wow, this is a really legit agency.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll have a call.” And then I started to get really excited about it because in my writer head, I was like, “Oh my God, this is it. I’m going to write a book after all these years. I’m going to… Oh my God, I can’t believe it.” So I started workshopping all these ideas and I got on the call with her, and I was very pumped. I was like, “So what would you like me to write about?” And I go, “I’ve been working on these ideas and dah, dah, dah.”

Erin Falconer:

There was a silence on the end of the line and she’s like, “Well, we thought you would write about you.” Then there was a silence coming from me and I was so deflated. And I was like, “What?” And they were like, “Yeah, you’ve done this, and you’ve done this, and you’ve done this.” I got off the phone and I was like, “I got to think about it.” I was so upset and I was like, “I’m not doing the book.” And then the next morning I woke up and I went to my office, and I looked around, and I had the great fortune to work with a lot of great female colleagues.

Erin Falconer:

And I looked around and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re all suffering from the same disease.” We are just going, going, going out there collecting trophies, but nobody is really in the moment. Nobody’s really living this, they’re just going through it. And I started to reflect on my own life and I was like, “Wait, I have done this, and I have done that, and I have done that. And it’s not rocket science and I’m not like carrying cancer.” Especially from where I came from in those dark days, I was like, “These are pretty impressive things.”

Erin Falconer:

And I had no idea, I had no feeling for this. I was just going, going, going. And it was in that moment that I was like, “Wow.” When I think about it and I think about the way my male colleagues operate, and I think about my female colleagues, it’s like night and day. When I think about going out for work with… Sorry, going out with my colleagues for a drink after work, all of us, the women are talking about work, and irritation over this email that was sent, or what we have to do by next Friday, and it’s all about work.

Erin Falconer:

And I would look over to the male colleagues and they’d be sitting there popping a cap off a beer and talking about sports or talking about things that were going on in their lives. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is a real, real problem.” And so I think that, why has a woman not written a book on productivity? I just don’t think it’s occurred to anybody. I just think again, we’re just so busy doing and not reflecting or being that we’re not questioning anything.

Erin Falconer:

We’re not questioning norms and we’re certainly not really setting out to change them, and that is one thing that I think that this pandemic, while it has been wildly taxing, it opens up, I think the opportunity to change some of the infrastructure. In other words, working from home while a problem, if you’re forced to work from home and you can’t do anything else is a problem. But if you can start to think, how do I operate the best? Am I a morning person? Am I an afternoon person? Am I an evening person?

Erin Falconer:

And start to get a handle on your processes, I think now is the time when you can start to have ownership, because there is so much flexibility and I think there will continue to be flexibility as we go out into the workforce about really owning what works for you and then making the case for that. Because I don’t think we’re going to get this chance again. Well, as I said, it’s been hugely problematic. I think it’s incumbent upon us to see that there is an opportunity there if we just do the work to understand what our needs are. This is the quickest way we’re going to have to have the met.

Celeste Headlee:

It’s difficult though, Erin. At pickthebrain.com, I understand the very first article was published in 2006.

Erin Falconer:

Yeah. It’s crazy.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, it is, it’s nuts. But the website is dedicated to self-improvement, working on your personal productivity, edifying yourself, all of those things. And yet it’s not what people often associate with self-improvement, right?

Erin Falconer:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Celeste Headlee:

How do we end up in this self-improvement trap where self-improvement ends up becoming just a task-

Erin Falconer:

Another thing to do.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, another thing to do?

Erin Falconer:

Believe me, this is one of the things that I struggle with all the time because I see that so, so much. And I see that’s one of my bigger frustrations with social media, is that there… At first on like Instagram when like wellness and self-improvement started to take off, I was like, “Oh man, awesome. We’re not just talking about fashion and beauty. There’s a real movement here to do better for ourselves and for those around us.” And then it so quickly-

Celeste Headlee:

Almost immediately.

Erin Falconer:

… fell off the rails into like this, how can I curate the perfect life? That is so far from what I think the essence of self-improvement is. It has nothing to do with perfection. In fact, it has to do with discovering and the acceptance of flaws and shortcomings, and metabolizing those so that we can move forward and step into the things that make us feel good and make us feel whole. And that message is just so hard to convey in 140 characters in a tweet or a filtered picture.

Erin Falconer:

And so I feel like so many people do feel like, okay, I’ve got to do this. I got to be meditate. I got to meditate, I got to do yoga, I got to drink 60 liters of water a day. And again, like to your point, now all of a sudden we’ve just created a longer-to-do list. And my whole thing is about shortening the to-do list and just doing the things that move the needle after again, careful audit, move the needle for you forward.

Erin Falconer:

Because otherwise what you’re doing is moving the needle for other people forward. You’re moving other people’s agendas forward. And the more you are off task with those very specific things that help you move forward, the more disconnected you feel, the more exhausted you feel, and the more rudderless you feel. Like, “Where am I going?” You think you know where you’re going, but honestly, a lot of us are not actually going in the direction we think we are, or not at least with the precision that we think we are.

Erin Falconer:

So self-improvement for me, when I… One of the things that I struggled with the book is when I finally got around to the idea that I actually really did want to write the book, was I absolutely hate the word productivity. And one of the first things I said to my agent was is “Do you think it’s okay if I try and coin a new term?” Because if you look at the very word, product-ivity, it is product-centered, it is not person-centered.

Erin Falconer:

It’s about input, output, input, output. There’s no nuance and there’s no allowance for the human condition, and certainly not for the essence of femininity in that process. My agent said, “Absolutely not, stick with classic. We’re not rewriting English words, but you can talk about that.” And so that’s one of the things that I do like to talk about. And while I don’t think that productivity-centered things are good necessarily for men or women, I do think that again, a man’s ability to compartmentalize and just get through the nuts and bolts of things lends itself more to the input-output model, where it just is completely obliterates any kind of feminine sensibility or feminine ethos.

Erin Falconer:

We’re just not wired in that way, and so that’s why I talk about this idea of POP, the POP effect, which is actually what the original name of the book was going to be, the POP effect. And POP stands for personality, opportunity, productivity. And so my thing is in order to understand your innate and the intrinsic value of what you can and should be getting done in a day, “productivity,” you have to understand your personality inside and out who you are, what you’re made of, what you want.

Erin Falconer:

And then be very intentional about what the opportunity is around you that is real, and exists, and is in arms-reach, so that you can marry that opportunity with your personality and what makes you tick. And only once you understand those two things can you really look at, am I productive? Where can I up my productivity? Where’s there room for improvement? Where am I really doing great? And that should be celebrated, those kinds of things.

Celeste Headlee:

How are you doing with all this? I know it’s often one thing to know the right thing to do.

Erin Falconer:

Yeah, yeah, of course. Yeah, of course, of course. Believe me, I run into that imposter syndrome all the time because life is, it doesn’t matter how much you know and how much you’ve practiced all of these things, you can get thrown off kilter really at any moment. And the thing is to just have done as much work and as practice, flexing these muscles and being intentional about these moves you’re trying to make, so that when life throws a curve ball… I get knocked off kilter for sure and I think most people do.

Erin Falconer:

But it’s like, do I have the muscle memory to be able to ultimately pull me back into a place of balance? And it is not easy. For example, this week, you were a victim. We had something scheduled. I was over in my mind, I was not clear. I got East Coast time versus West Coast time mixed up and I left you and a team waiting for 30 minutes, and I just had the time wrong. That would not happen normally. I’m feeling overwhelmed because life, getting back into the swing of things with kids going back to school and all that stuff.

Erin Falconer:

And so those things, those like rocky waters will throw the best of us off course. I think the thing is, is that now it’s not that I don’t get thrown off course, it’s that I’m witnessing, oh, okay, this is a moment of choppy seas, but I know, number one, this too shall pass and I have the skills to take me through. And so it doesn’t make the seas any less rocky, but it doesn’t make me freak out. Because that can become a real kind of snowball effect, when one thing happens and then you get overwhelmed, and you miss a meeting.

Erin Falconer:

And then you’re like in your head and you’ve got a lot of negative narratives going like, “Oh my God, you idiot. I can’t believe it how stupid you look like so bad.” And then all of a sudden that sets the tone for like another bad thing to happen, and another bad thing to happen, and another bad thing to happen. That doesn’t necessarily happen to me anymore, but I do make mistakes, I do get overwhelmed. I just have to trust that I’ve done the work and I do have a real razor focus of where I want to go, and so I know that I can come back to it.

Erin Falconer:

But I also, even when there are things like knocking me off course, I am religious about taking time for myself every day. And those things are non-negotiable. I know it’s not for everybody, but I meditate 20 minutes a day in the morning. That is non-negotiable for me. I take a hot bath every night, unless I’m out for dinner or an event, that is non-negotiable. These things are carved out for me. I could not get done what I get done in a day if I did not carve time out for myself.

Erin Falconer:

So you have to really be ruthless about protecting yourself. Well, first of all, carving out what you need… Well, being aware of what you need, then carving out time for what you need, and then defending that. Because if you don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it. If you can’t find time for yourself, your boss isn’t going to be like, “Hey.” Your child is not going to be like, “Hey, mom, me time. Carve some me time out.” Your partner probably also not, not with any consistency, not with the consistency you need.

Erin Falconer:

And in my estimation, this consistency is daily. This is not a weekly thing, and I’m not talking about another thing that I think has been totally commoditized, is this idea of self care through social media. I’m not talking about like a Manny petty. I’m talking about real restorative time where you can self reflect and just feel yourself. Just feel your energy. It’s a chance to take a litmus test every single day of where you’re at emotionally and energetically.

Erin Falconer:

I always like to say, one of my favorite things that I like to say is, “Have you ever been sitting in an office, or meeting a girlfriend, or somebody, a group of girls for lunch, and somebody comes in and they go, ‘Oh my God, I had this idea.’ And they tell you something and you hear it and you go, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing. That’s an amazing, incredible idea. How did you think of that?'” And time and again, the person will say, “I don’t know, I was just in the shower and it hit me, and it just came to me.”

Erin Falconer:

And for me, this is not a coincidence, because being in the shower for most people, that two to five minutes a day, where you’ve got hot water splashing over you is the only time of day that you’re not thinking about a million other things. It is not a coincidence when you are not locked in a world of internal chaos that ideas present themselves, voices speak. And so you need to find your hot shower. I put that in quotes because we’re in the middle of a water crisis here in California, so I don’t want to encourage needless water spending, but you need to find metaphorically, your hot shower every day.

Celeste Headlee:

Erin, I want to thank you so much for your time and it’s such a pleasure to talk to you.

Erin Falconer:

Thank you much.