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Retiring Means You “Have Time.”

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

One of the biggest pluses of retirement–at least before we get there–is that we have 100% control over what we do with our time.  But once we have that control, what happens?

All too often, it translates into stuffing anything that comes along into our days and calendars to make sure we are “busy.”  The very thing that we yearned to get away from becomes the modus operandi all over again.  I cringe when people brag “I’m so busy now that I’m retired that I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”  Is that what you retired to do?  Be “busy?”

Going from “not enough time” to “all the time in the world” is a big change.  As we move through our career years, that eventuality becomes more and more alluring.  But once we get to actually make the transition, an interesting thing happens.  We start to recreate the “crazy busy” of work life with all kinds of commitments and involvement.

Understanding why we do this might be good.  I think it’s a case of seeking the familiar.  We know how to be busy.  We’re not so good at relaxing.  We might also be subconsciously resisting the assignment of “doing nothing” that the current cultural mindset assumes for this stage of life.  (I personally detest that role.)

The first weeks of retirement are easy.  You sleep as long as you want.  You linger over your coffee and actually notice how wonderful it smells and tastes.   You go out in your yard and really see what’s there.  You putter with a plant that needs help or a errant brick at the edge of the patio.  You start to look at travel brochures or check out websites.  But after a while, all this time becomes unnerving.  Then comes the  “I have to fill it with something!” reaction.  That’s when we start saying “yes” to everything that comes along.

“Do you want to join my book club?”  Sure!

“My health club is running a special promotion.  Do you want to join?”  Yeah, that might be fun.

“The volunteer fire department needs volunteers, are you interested?”  I’d love to.

Never mind that you are dyslexic, loathe being a gym rat, and faint at the sight of flames.

So is there a better way?  Yep.

The first thing is to know what you really like to do and where you truly want to put your time. So if you haven’t done that part already, some of that newfound time needs to be spent on learning more about yourself.  Really.

This kind of discovery appears selfish to many, but it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your community.  When you know what you like and want to do, you end up doing that instead of “anything that comes along.”  People who are doing what they love are happier and healthier.  Plus the community gets the benefit of that focus if you decide to work in some way, either as a volunteer or for pay.

The second piece of a good time management strategy for retirement is to leave room for the unexpected. We need to learn to leave gaps on the calendar for starters.  That, in and of itself, can be scary to many of us.  A blank space is so….empty!  Taking an hour or two might be relatively easy.  But how about a day?  A week?

Try scribbling “save for as yet to be determined adventure” over an entire day.  Then, when that day arrives, do what sounds like fun at that moment.   If you’re really gutsy, try a whole week at it.  Then watch how you actually use that time.  Do you sleep longer?  Read more?  Watch TV that you’re not really interested in because you don’t know what else to do?  If it’s this last one, go back and read the previous paragraph again.  You need to know more about yourself so you can focus on what you truly find enjoyable.

The third step is to find out how you like to structure your time. Predictability is a good thing in the right dose.  All of us need some amount of structure.  How much is your call.  Do you need a morning routine to get your day going well?  Or is it better for you to start the day a different way every day.  (I was going to say “morning” but maybe you don’t get up in the morning.)  Some of us like standing commitments, like a bridge club or golf tee time.  Some of us run from that stuff and always will.  Either way works, as long as it’s your way.