Maxed Out & advice for creatives @ SXSW 2014

by Katrina on March 13, 2014

I haven’t had time to do much writing lately, but I am doing a whole lot of TALKING…

Below is the presentation I gave at the South by SouthWest conference (SXSW) this morning. I share my “maxed out” story, and then focused the talk on specific things high-tech and creative professionals can do to make their workload a bit more manageable. The advice can be boiled down to this:

  1. Work from home
  2. Work out
  3. Work less

Maybe it will be a good reminder for you, too.

Funny story: My former boss (“Stella” in the book) is also attending the conference. We had lunch after my talk. She’s been amazingly supportive about the fact that I write about those years I worked for her. If I ever end up a character in someone else’s memoir, I just hope I can manage to be half as classy about it as she’s been.

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Is your book club reading Maxed Out? Check out this book discussion guide, which can be used for workplace book clubs as well as regular ol’ livingroom book clubs.

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I’d love to come to your book club!

by Katrina on January 30, 2014

Is your book club reading Maxed Out? I love talking with book clubs—both corporate book clubs or regular ol’ book clubs in someone’s living room. If you gather a group of 8 or more people, I can join for the last 30 minutes of your book club discussion either by phone or video conference (Skype, Google Hangout, etc.) to answer questions. Contact me at to set something up.

Be sure to use this handy dandy Book Club Discussion Guide to get you started.

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The problem with writing about being maxed out while you’re still living it is that some things you care about simmer on the back burner, (like this blog). Here’s a quick round up of upcoming events and book news.


Temescal Library (Oakland, CA)
Feb. 8, 2014 at 3:00 PM

SXSW 2014 Interactive conference (Austin, TX)
Saturday, March 8th 10:00 AM

Sweet Thursdays—Reading, interview, and sweets! (Lafayette, CA)
Thursday, Mar. 20, 2014  at 7:00 pm

Author’s Dinner, a Literary Feast (Lafayette, CA)
Saturday, Mar. 22, 2014, 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm)

POWER Opening Doors for Women (Chicago, IL)
Thursday, June 5, 2014

More Events here>

Other Places My Writing Has Appeared Recently

Recent Press

I thought Maxed Out would mainly be of interest to Americans, but I’m pleased to say the book has been covered in print, TV, and/or radio in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Australia, and several other countries I never thought would care. Which only goes to show that women are maxing out all over the world. Below are a few recent press links.

Find more Press here>



Survey: Well-being & Your Work

by Katrina on December 19, 2013


—Update 1/21/14 The survey is now closed. Check back in the next week or two when I hope to share the results here.—

In the last few months, I’ve given dozens of interviews with print, radio, and TV reporters about Maxed Out. These are some of the recurring questions I hear:

  • Are some  jobs more family-friendly than others?
  • Are people in every industry maxed out?
  • How much control do managers have to fix this?

I don’t really know the answers; I regularly receive emails and blog comments from people in a gazillion types of jobs and industries, but I don’t know how they compare. So I’ve put together a short survey to find out!

Here’s where you come in:

1. Fill out the survey now. Start here>

It should take about 3 minutes to complete. I will not share your personal information. I plan to quote from the results in my writing and public speaking. I will also post the results here on my blog for your reading pleasure (hopefully by February).

2. Please share the survey widely.

Email the link to your friends. Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or wherever you hang out. I’m interested in hearing from people in a wide variety of jobs, industries, and locations. In order to be able to make comparisons, I would like to get as many responses as possible.

Thank you for your help!

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About the photo: You may be wondering what the above photo has to do with this survey. The answer is absolutely nothing. But photos of surveys are boring. Photos of meercats are cute. Hopefully it got your attention. Did you fill out the survey yet?

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In case you’re interested, here are examples of two other surveys I conducted in the past. The results were fascinating.

Who Clips the Nails?

Working Parents & Stress


In Maxed Out, I pepper you with statistics about how the U.S. lags behind most of the developed world when it comes to support for working parents. But that doesn’t mean life is perfect in those other places, either.

The letter below is from a mom of two named Susana. She works in Human Resources for a multinational company in Lisbon, Portugal. With Susana’s permission, I’m sharing her email here as a reality check that even in countries that provide the basic benefits we lack in the U.S.—things like paid maternity leave, and more support for breastfeeding—workplace culture can still be fraught with stress for parents.

From Susana:

I finished reading your book, and I had to write to you to say that I loved it.

First of all, I’m not American, I’m Portuguese and I’ve always lived in Portugal, where we have some good help from the government, like paid parental leave, but also lack other necessary help like public daycare.

Despite some of these differences, while I was reading your story it was like I seeing myself, as I feel so much like what you described. I have a 5-year-old son and an almost 2-year-old daughter, and especially since my daughter’s birth I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I don’t like the life that I’m living and feel we deserve better.

My husband and I both work full time, and my husband is very hands on at home and with the kids. In Portugal it’s not common to be stay at home parents. You’re supposed to work, and if you don’t you’re seen as a lazy bimbo (the word in Portuguese is “dondocas”). Working part-time or from home is not well seen either.

To make it worse, because of the financial crisis that we’re living, the company where my husband works sent him to work abroad on a project, and since our girl was 2 months old, he worked in another country during the week and came home only on weekends. This lasted for 18 months, and it stopped because we couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown and my husband and children were miserable. So he informed his superiors that the travels had to stop, and found a way to work from here.

Since then, things are much better for us, and the kids are happy again…but deep down inside I continue feeling that I don’t have enough time for my children and my family as I wanted, and as I should have. I would love to work part-time, but a year ago when I mentioned it at work, I was advised to not ask for it, as I could risk being fired.

For your statistics :-) in Portugal we have the following good things:

  • 5 months of paid parental leave for the mother after the birth of the baby.
  • At least 2 months of paid parental leave for the father, and the possibility to share the mother’s leave.
  • After the return to work, the mother or the father have a paid absence time of 2 hours per day to breastfeed or bottle feed the baby until he’s 1 year old, and if you breastfeed, this leave has no limit of age.
  • Paid sick leave for pregnant women, when there is a risk pregnancy.
  • Paid absence time from work for medical appointments related to the pregnancy, even for the father.

On the other hand…

  • There are very few public daycares (run by social security or the government), and private daycare costs about the same as a national minimum salary (€ 485, which is about $ 650 per month), which makes it very difficult for most couples to have more than 1 child.
  • Public education is granted from age 5 on, so until that age families spend a lot of money on daycare.
  • The average number of babies per woman is 1.28 (way below the USA).
  • Part-time work is seen as something bad, and work from home is almost non existing.
  • Flexible work schedules exist but are not the most usual, and a person is a good professional if he works very long hours.

Until 2 months ago I was having an internal “struggle” with myself trying to balance work and family, I was even looking for a new job, but after my vacations in August (and before reading your book) I finally accepted that I am on the “Mommy Track” (We recognize the “Mommy Track” when we see it, but we don’t have a term for it. We just say that someone is “encostada” or “parada,” which means that you’re standing still). I’m going to stay on the Mommy Track, because I can’t do it all and my family is the most important.

I realized that I can’t change jobs because I would lose the flexible work schedule that I have now, and the work flexibility that I have, that allows me to work full time and manage to raise my kids and be there when they need me the most.

A few days ago here a TV ad came out, from the Portuguese national electrical company, and while some people praise it as so beautiful, it made me sad and a bit depressed, as it shows a typical day of a typical Portuguese mom. No one seemed to notice that the father only appears at the beginning and the end, sitting down and looking at the kids, and the mom does it all, and only stops way after the kids are in bed.

And in the end she has a happy look on her face like her life is perfect.

The title and message is “our energy is present in every moment of your life, but the biggest energy is yours.”

I thought it was really lame.


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Check out my new book! Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink

Pick up a copy for yourself, and another for a maxed out mom you love. Selected by Parade editors as one of the “top picks for parents.” Selected as a “mom must read” by


Guest Post: The Book I Never Planned to Write

by Katrina on November 19, 2013

Liz O’Donnell’s new book, Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman (Bibliomotion, Nov. 2013) looks at the choices women are making, both at work and at home, as they struggle to make ends meet and still take care of their families. Based on interviews with women around the country, the author explores themes like how couples divide housework, the media influences that shape us, and how women are redefining success. In this guest post, O’Donnell explains the book she intended to write, and then the one that actually got written. read full story


MAXED OUT in New York Times Motherlode

by Katrina on November 5, 2013

I’m thrilled and honored that my book is getting some New York Times love. Read it here: “Being A Working Mother Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry.”

There’s an interesting back story to this story.

Two months ago, K.J. Dell’Antonia from the New York Times parenting blog, Motherlode, interviewed me by phone. She’d just finished reading an advance copy of Maxed Out, and wanted to focus her story on guilt, (a subject I address a lot in the book), so we talked about that for a while. Before we got off the phone, Dell’Antonia said she’d definitely run a story, she just wasn’t sure when. I was thrilled, because I’m a big Motherlode fan.

Then…nothing. As the weeks went by, I started to wonder if really it was going to happen. But then yesterday afternoon her story went live, and it’s a terrific piece.

It starts with all the apologies we make when we find ourselves in situations where it’s impossible to do everything well, includes a short except from the book, and concludes that we need to stop saying sorry for things that are beyond our control.

It has been a common mantra over the past few decades for women to chide ourselves for trying to do too much. “Put the emails aside at home,” someone might say, reading the paragraph above. “Why let the child play hockey if you’re too busy? Buy something for the teacher appreciation lunch. Help one child at a time. Prioritize.” Ms. Alcorn argues that that meme — the idea that you can do everything, as long as you’re strategic about it — contributes to our feeling of failure when it truly all is too much. Not everything that overwhelms us is our choice.

It’s a good, thoughtful story. But here’s the kicker: Soon after it was published, Dell’Antonia sent me a personal email, apologizing for taking so long to get the story up.

I’ve discovered an inherent irony in writing a book about maxed out moms: The journalists most likely to favorably cover the book are busy moms themselves. I’m grateful that they’re making time to cover the book at all. No apology necessary.

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UPDATE 11/13/13

Motherlode published my piece today responding to the comments on the original story. You can find my response here.


What I’ve Been Up to Lately

by Katrina on October 30, 2013

Years ago I caught part of an interview Josh Kornbluth did with Barbara Boxer on a local PBS show. Kornbluth (a Bay Area writer) was asking the congresswoman how she finds the will to keep going when people are always looking for opportunities to put down women like her, women in power.

Boxer said something like, “You need to have inner applause.”

What she meant was you can’t get hung up on your mistakes, because you’re going to make them—they’re inevitable. Women who do hard things, especially the ones in the public eye—politicians, business leaders, authors—they have to learn to cheer themselves on, even (especially!) when the trolls come out.

Sometimes, the trolls can be anonymous comments on a TIME story. And sometimes the trolls are even more insidious, because they lurk right there in our minds. They’re our own inner critics, our own yearning for perfection.

Inner applause drowns out the trolls. Inner applause is the part of you that says YOU DID FINE. NOW STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT AND GO TAKE A NICE BATH. Women in particular often need to cultivate their inner applause. (Sheryl Sandberg does a great job describing the gender confidence gap in Lean In.)

Since my book came out two months ago, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work on this. My publisher (Seal Press) and their team of publicists have done a bang-up job getting the word out. I’ve been doing interviews almost every day since late August. (Some of the interviews can be found here.)

After every interview, I immediately think about what I did wrong.

I rambled. I didn’t talk enough. I talked too fast/slow. I should have said this instead of that. I say “um” too much. I say “like” too much. My Upstate New York accent is showing…

Many of the interviews are for blogs, regional papers, or radio shows, but there have been some big national things, too, like this (live!) satellite interview I just did with MSNBC The Cycle.* Check it out:

After it was over, I thought of a couple things I wish I’d said differently. Then I made myself watch it and realized I slouch! What’s happened to my posture? And I look so tired…which I am. But you know what? I did fine. (Cue inner applause.) And as I keep telling Ruby and Jake about learning guitar, practice is what makes you better. I hope to get more opportunities to practice soon.

And I hope that you will join me in working on your inner applause. What’s one thing you’ve done recently that you’re proud of?

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*A Note About Live Satellite TV Interviews: Here’s the thing you wouldn’t necessarily know about satellite interviews by watching them. They are REALLY WEIRD. You sit an overly air-conditioned studio, alone, with giant lights aimed at you from every direction. You have a little microphone in your ear and stare into a red light as you talk, pretending that you can see the friendly news anchors who are interviewing you when all you can see, if you dare to look down (which you shouldn’t, it makes you look shifty-eyed) is yourself, smiling inanely from the television monitor with an image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

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If you loved Maxed Out and want others to read it, please consider writing a review on Amazon, Audible, or GoodReads.


Do You Let Him Clip the Nails?

by Katrina on October 24, 2013

A few years ago, I put together a survey called “Who Clips the Nails?” I wanted to find out how parents in two-parent households divide up childcare tasks.

At the time, the media was reporting that men were doing more chores and childcare, and that the “gender wars” were over. But I was skeptical. After all, not all chores are created equal. It’s one thing to take turns dropping kids at daycare. It’s another thing to do the thinking tasks, like clipping the nails, sorting the kids’ clothes that don’t fit, setting up doctors and dentist appointment—the things that require planning, that take up more of what I call the psychic burden of parenting.

More than 300 people filled out that survey. Not surprisingly, the results showed that mothers overwhelmingly did these psychic burden tasks, even in families where both parents worked. The most interesting finding, for me, was when I asked how people felt about this. Many women were really angry about the unfair division of labor; others blamed themselves saying they were too controlling, they didn’t let their husbands help.

With that in mind, I’d like to share this exclusive excerpt with you from Getting to 50/50 by Joanna Meers and Sharon Strober. In the book, the authors argue that working moms and dads can have it all, if men and women divide chores equally at home.

Excerpt from Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All, by Joanna Meers and Sharon Strober

Chapter 7: The Great Alliance: How Your Husband Solves the Work/Life Riddle

Creating an equal partnership

We want to be very clear with our women readers here. You may be the one with the stretch marks, or the one who stays with a baby in its first months at home. But the minute you start thinking about “my child” instead of “our child” you are setting yourself up to be in this alone. read full story


Cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

I write a lot about unhappiness. Specifically, the unhappiness that affects millions of overworked, under-appreciated moms and dads who live in the country that has the most hostile conditions for working parents in the developed world. (Can you guess which country that is? Rhymes with “God Bless.”)

But today, I want to turn your attention to a more uplifting topic: Happiness!

Photo of Christine CarterI recently had tea with Christine Carter, a widely-recognized expert in the science of happiness, and the author of my favorite parenting book, Raising Happiness, to ask her this:

While we’re waiting around for workplace and economic reform, what can do we for ourselves, to keep from burning out?

Carter immediately launched into the concept of “flourishing.” Before I get to her advice, you first have to understand a little about the research on flourishing. Flourishing is basically a scientific term for people who are regularly happy, but it’s actually more than that.

When you flourish, you don’t just feel different, you are different.

“Seventeen percent of adults are ‘flourishing,’ meaning, they live in a different state of consciousness than the rest of us,” Carter says. “For every negative emotion they experience, they experience at least three positive emotions. Most of us experience the opposite—one positive emotion for every three negative ones.”

If we can reverse that ratio and enter a state of “flourishing,” studies show our actual physiology changes. We become more fluid verbally, and more creative; we become better at solving problems; we have more energy . . . the list goes on.

“It’s not just that you’re doing different things when you enter this state,” Carter says. “You have a different engine.” In other words, when you’re flourishing, your brain is actually working better. You have more resources. Which, of course, makes you feel good. It’s a positive spiral.

How does one “flourish”?

The short answer: We have to get our ratio of positive to negative emotions at 3:1.

This may sound like a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing. To feel better, we must enter a state of flourishing. To flourish, we must . . . feel more positive emotions. But stay with me; it’s all based on sound science.

read full story


We have three winners!

by Katrina on October 2, 2013

Thanks everyone who participated in the audiobook giveaway. I learned from your comments that most of you would listen to the audiobook while commuting or doing chores (good use of multitasking!), and that you have many creative alternatives for the word “pajamas” which include “PJs,” “jammies,” “jimmie jams,” “pa-joo-mies,” and the less common but delightfully subversive “undie-wears.”

Using three winners were chosen and they are…

  1. Kristine (listens to audiobooks on her commute)
  2. Lindsey (preferred term: “pjs”)
  3. Jessica Jenkins (has crafty plans for how to use the audiobook in household negotiations)

read full story