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Archive for May, 2011

How to Use a “To Do” List

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Making a list of what needs to be done is easy. How you deal with it once you make it is a different story. Assuming you’ve failed if everything isn’t crossed off at the end of the day isn’t wise. But not taking the things that really must get done seriously is also ineffective.

Somewhere between kindergarten and now, most of us have grasped the value of making a list of what needs to get done.  It’s the best way to keep a sense of control over having too much to do as busy adults.  In retirement, the “To Do” list can take on a different purpose.  For some, it becomes a way to confirm you have something to do.

So to use a “To Do” list effectively, it’s good to understand what you’re trying to do with it.

To remember what you need to do.  The common reason for writing things down is to not forget them.  This is important if you have a lot going on or if what needs to happen isn’t central to your own life (rides to soccer practice or the airport, for example).  For this use, lay the list out in chronological order.  Otherwise you remember you were supposed to meet that busines contact for breakfast after you’re on your way to pick up your cousin at noon.

To corral everything you really need to get done today  This one is the most likely to get you in trouble.  Just making that list is good if you don’t have  a lot on your plate and need to jog your memory.  But making an unrealistically long list of things that you insist you are going to get done with too little time just sets yourself up for failure.

If you have so much on the list that it’s not likely you can finish it, you need to do more than just make a list.   Your first step needs to be an honest assessment of how much time you have.  Next make a quick estimate of how long each thing on the list will take.  Then figure out what you have to cut.

Telling yourself you’ll just make it happen when you have 35 hours of work for the 7 hours available is Stress City.  Instead, look at each item on your basic  “dump” list and ask

  • How important is getting it done?
  • What happens if I don’t get it done?
  • Is it really mine to do?

Use your answers to create the spine of your list–the big projects for the day.  Then fill in with lesser priorities that can be handled around those tasks.  (If you have 15 minutes before a meeting, you can handle a few e-mails or make that reservation, but prep for the meeting first.)

Be sure it’s your work, too. Quite often, we end up saying “yes” to other people’s work.   (The adage “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person” is, unfortunately, very true.)  There’s a trick to dealing with these situations though.  You have to say “No” right away.  Once you say “yes” or even “maybe” or simply refrain from saying anything, you’re stuck with it.  That’s because it usually takes exponentially more time to get out of it than to do what wasn’t yours in the first place.  This is just as true with family members as on the job.  Think before you say “Yes” and if you aren’t sure, say “No” and then decide if that’s really the right answer.

To manage your time.  To do this well, you have to do the time estimates and the prioritization suggested above.  And there’s one other thing.  You have to take what you say you’re going to do with the day seriously.  Have you ever had a day where you can’t believe how much you got accomplished?  Usually, those experiences come when something is limiting you so much that you don’t let yourself have those easy little distractions like spider solitaire or rehashing last night’s ball game.

Getting yourself in that groove works best when you really do need to get everything on that list done and there’s a positive outcome for you.  (You can leave work early for something important,  for example.)  But if you can teach yourself to focus well every day, you will gain an immense amount of calm.

To validate your relevance.  This–and remembering what you need to get to–are more likely reasons for a “To Do” list if you’re retired and don’t have a purpose-centered effort going.   Making a list every morning gives you a sense of purpose for that day.

But if this is why you’re making that list, consider adding another item every day:  “Work on my sense of purpose.” Exploring how you want to include meaning in your lifestyle is time well spent.  People who have a sense of purpose are both healthier and more satisfied as they age.  It doesn’t need to be a ‘”save the world” kind of effort.  Just look for something you believe in that goes beyond your personal pleasure and see where that leads.


Yes to the To Do list.  Use it to build the life you want.


Why We Don’t Plan Well for Retirement

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Retirement is the brass ring until we reach it. Then it’s a muddled mess for many of us because we never really thought about what it was going to be like day after day.

Instead, we spent the years when we could have been figuring out a satisfying lifestyle day-dreaming about exotic vacations and deciding whether to buy a horse. Travel is an important aspect of the freedom that comes with retirement for many of us. But it’s like pepper or some other favortie spice in your life. You don’t need a lot to make things tasty and too much can just plain ruin it.

Same deal with taking on a new responsibility. That horse may be what you wanted as a kid. But as a kid, you didn’t know about the cost of boarding a horse or the price of hay or the frustration of not having someone you can rely on to take care of the animal when you want–or need–to be away. There’s way more to the idea in the here and now than scratching that fifty-year-old itch.

Why do we do it this way instead of really thinking about what should come next? There are two prevailing opinions. Some “experts” claim we don’t want to accept that we will ever be old enough to retire.  Some say we are not disciplined enough to do the work of better planning. I don’t think either one of these things is the source of the problem.

Why don’t we plan? Because we don’t realize it’s necessary. When we look forward to the point in our lives when we no longer have to commit most of our time to a job, we assume that will be enough to make life grand. The pure pleasure of not having to go to work will carry the day. All day. Every day.

But according to research, that euphoria lasts, on average, about a year once you retire. Then you realize you need more to look forward to than “doing nothing.” And that’s when the planning you should have been doing twenty years before can wait no longer. It’s also when–if you haven’t done anything to define yourself post-retirement before this–you realize it’s not a simple process or an easy fix.

Here are some important reasons for not waiting that long:

Retirement will probably last a long time. One of the biggest laments from those who’ve been retired for a while is that they didn’t realize the duration of this stage of life. You might live as long in retirement as you did in the workforce. Stepping into it with no clue about what you want to do with your time–besides play–is just as ineffective as stepping out of high school with a primary focus on playing video games.

A satisfying retirement requires a sense of purpose.  Research from a variety of perspectives has concluded that those who have a reason for getting up in the morning live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives than those who drift once they leave the workplace. But “purpose” implies “work” and that’s the last thing we want when we fantasize about when it comes to life after the rat race. To give yourself the good life you deserve, it’s important to see purpose as a guiding light rather than a mandate to submit to.

What you choose as the focus of your life can change as you learn more about what you like in retirement. And it doesn’t have to be anything that qualifies you as the Altruist of the Year. What you define as your purpose does need to be consistent with what you personally value. For some, that’s family. For some a special charity to volunteer with or create. For some it will be on learning something you’ve always wanted to or perfecting a skill you’ve already been dabbling in. It has to be bigger than your personal pleasure though. Focusing on that is what gets stale after a year.

Retirement planning is not a single decision. The conventional approach to retirement is thinking in terms of one thing: when will I have enough money to stop working? But that’s just the price of admission. Once you retire, you face many more decisions. How to fill the days, weeks, years. Where to live. Whether to include work in the mix.

Even something as “simple” as how you want to relate to your family is  multi-faceted. Many retirees move to be nearer to grandkids, but that doesn’t mean the young family is automatically going to have time for you. Equally possible, they may assume you’re willing to provide free childcare during the workweek. That new “job” may not be what you had in mind. Exploring these issues before you get that far can avoid the hard feelings that result from being used or ignored.

Yes, it’s soothing to just assume life will be wonderful once you retire and to count on that one simple decision–when will I have enough money–as your plan. But you’ll be a lot happier once you get that far if you take the time to look deeper long before that.


Finding Love after 50: Myth or Magic

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Love after 50 is real, whether you’re still with the person who made you starry eyed at 18 or just getting to know a new “One.”  There’s no better time to be “looking for love.”

Why?  Because we’re finally to the point of admitting who we are and not trying to be someone else for the sake of “love.”   When you’re honest about who you are and what you need, it’s a lot simpler to find it.  Speaking your truth is one of the pluses of dating at this stage of the game.

But you don’t need to be a snot about it.  If you want someone special in your life, insisting that person believe exactly what you believe will limit the field considerably.  Identical doesn’t equal interesting.  It’s not necessary to believe the exactly the same thing.  What’s necessary is an honest respect for each other’s opinions.

Love is about unconditional positive regard.  You like that person and believe in him—or her.  Even when he or she doesn’t do the very best in terms of what you need at a specific moment, you hold true to the idea that this person is worth having in your life.

Finding someone who can hold that kind of respect isn’t likely to be a case of hanging out at the right bar.  It’s not even a slam dunk if you hang out at the right church.  Finding Mr.  Right (or Ms. Right) is far more likely to happen if you are not focusing on that at all.  The way to find someone to love is the way to find your own best life—act on what you believe in and then take advantage of what presents itself as a result.

That may mean joining an organization that addresses an issue or cause that’s important to you.  But it can also mean taking a class in something that intrigues you or joining a sports league or club to play a game you’re either already love or want to learn.  There’s another teeny piece to this though.  Do the things that are likely to involve both men and women.  Think photography and hiking rather than quilting or handball.

Get sober about what you’re looking for, too.  By this point in life, we’ve had a lot of experience at this, both good and bad.  Ruling out the guy who has the same first name as your ex or the woman who’s taller than you is silly.  The best relationships are surprises.  Thinking you have the complete list of what you do and don’t need is silly.  Try things you’re interested in and see what happens.

Patience is also essential. It’s not all sunshine and roses once you find “someone with potential.”  Too often, we fall back into all the old “couple” habits that didn’t work before and then wonder when the relationship withers.  Plus, the “biological clock” isn’t part of the project anymore so we’re more aware of what we are “giving up” to get involved with someone.  At this stage of the game, it’s “all about me” for both of you. That is going to be harder to work through.  It’s still worth the effort.

In addition to ditching the ideas about what “happily every after” looks like, we need to ditch the whole Prince Charming thing.  (Cinderella has to go, too.)  Stop assuming your guy has to be a Hollywood hunk.  And guys, June Cleaver has left the building so get used to the idea of carrying your share of the load if you want to live with someone.

Part of the problem with love after 50 is that we give up too easily.  We get turned off because he has bad breath (instead of explaining to him that he has that problem).  We decide that she’s “not the right one” because she has grandkids and loves to spend time with them.  We decide that because it’s not perfect it’s not “the right one.”

The truth of it is the only way to find the perfect match is to be perfect yourself.  If you still think you are, you haven’t learned much in your 50+ years.  So get active living your own life.  That will help you find people to date who like to do the things you like to do, who want to learn the things you’re interested in learning.  From there you can find the one who makes you laugh and lends a hand when you need it.  At any age, the best strategy for finding the right person to spend your life with is to become best friends.  That requires give as well as take—just like it did in kindergarten.