One of the biggest changes accompanying retirement is the change in how we use our time. For most adults in full-time jobs, work schedules provide the structure that the rest of our lives are organized around, and freedom from those time constraints is the central dream of retirement. We imagine lives that will be simultaneously rich and relaxed, full without the stresses of our work lives. But this freedom can be a double-edged sword; it can leave us feeling unmoored.
No one WANTS to feel unmoored, adrift, or aimless. That’s not what we expected from retirement.
Each of us had hopes and plans for our retirement “someday”, and when that day came, we were probably overjoyed. The first few days and weeks were wonderful – no time clocks to punch, no alarm clocks to obey, no boss to please, no subordinates to manage.
Some of us begin our retirement by doing lots of things we had put off doing before because we didn’t have time. But now we do. So golf, tennis, travel, playing with grandkids, lunches out, dinners out, shopping, antiquing, reading, etc., we dove into with enthusiasm.
And that may have gone on for a while. Until one day we realized that simply spending all our time on recreation was not very fulfilling. It began to seem kind of aimless and self-indulgent.
Other began retirement by signing up for all sorts of volunteer work, classes, projects, and creative pursuits, filling as many hours as possible with activities. This was enjoyable, until it became tiring.
I have tried the two basic approaches to making the best use of my time: fully scheduled and completely unstructured (the go-with-flow approach). For the first few years my daily calendar looked just like my work calendar: 15-30 minute blocks of time assigned to various tasks and activities. I scheduled the normal stuff: gym, paying bills, reading, chores, etc. But, I also scheduled time for relaxing, napping, and reading. If I didn’t really want to read at 2:15 on Tuesday, tough. It was on the schedule.
Then, I gave a valiant effort to use the go-with-the-flow system. I’d wake up when I wanted, eat when I was hungry, and do what I wanted when I wanted. This was even worse. Without a structure I didn’t know what to do. Days would simply pass without meaning or memories. I think I was even more nervous under this system because I didn’t have anything to tell me how to account for my time.
He was not happy with either approach: scheduling every moment or having no schedule at all.
Most people feel euphoria when they taste the freedom that comes with their first pension cheque. Their time is now their own, to do what they want WHEN they want. After six months or so, though, if they haven’t determined what they will DO with all that time, they usually feel let down or depressed.
Many new retirees feel a sudden loss of identity, especially if they derived a sense of status or power from their former jobs. This is a different life, with different rules. It isn’t about money or power now – it’s about the meaningful things you can do with the rest of your life, as well as making use of the leisure time at your disposal.
Maybe you worked for someone else for 30 or more years. During all that time, you may have had little time to think, let alone plan for yourself. Now you must decide how to spend your hours, days and weeks. If you strongly identified with your job and felt close to co-workers, you may (perish the thought!) find yourself missing your old place of employment.
So now we know that structuring time is a problem for retirees. What do we do about it?
SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF TIME MANAGEMENT
Bob Lowry, Thelma Mariano, and Barbara Bomberger all recommend what I call the Goldilocks solution: not too much, not too little, but just enough scheduling to make you happy.
Each person has to develop routines to structure the day. Whether you are doing volunteer work, caring for grandkids, taking classes, playing golf, or reading romance novels, you need to have routines.
I have a few morning routines, probably because I am not a morning person and need all the help I can get. These include what a friend once called “opening up the house” (opening curtains and blinds, changing thermostat controls and the like), I also do something to my bed, force myself to eventually change clothing, and have my cold caffeine out on the patio in peace. Lastly, I always decide on dinner and take items out as necessary (my goal is no restaurant meals, and this requires planning for me not to be unhappy).
I force myself to do no “work related” activities after dinner as a rule. Since designing quilts is an avocation as well, this rule occasionally gets shot by the wayside. In general though, I keep my evenings free for reading, movie watching, going for walks, visiting and the like. I have also found that this helps with sleep issues.
I do all my errands on one day, during the week, and I never, ever, do errands on the weekend. I save them all for once a week, get them done, enjoy the time out and return to my nest.
…I settled on a time management system that I continue to use: a blend of schedules, to-do lists, and free-flow. I need the comfort of knowing what I want to do today. I like a list that helps me remember to tackle tasks that I should do. And, I need to be able to move anything from today’s list to tomorrow, next week, or next month, and feel OK about it.
A researcher in Taiwan studied several hundred retirees and how they handled the problem of time management. Here are his conclusions, as described by a blogger:
Retirees should … actively manage and plan their free time to ensure a happy and fulfilling retirement. This is the advice of Wei-Ching Wang of the I-Shou University in Taiwan, leader of a study published in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life. The study found that the effective management of free time has a far greater impact on a retiree’s quality of life than the amount of time the person actually has available for leisure activities.
“Quality of life is not affected as much by the amount of free time that a retiree has, but on how effectively the person manages this time on hand,” says researcher Wei-Ching Wang. “Therefore it is important to educate people on how to use their free time more effectively to improve quality of life.”
Thelma Mariano analyzed the retirement time dilemma and determined that three elements are necessary for a happy and fulfilling retirement: purpose, structure, and people.
First, you must have a purpose in your retirement:
It’s important to have a game plan BEFORE you retire. Will you start a new career, go back to school or focus on travel, beginning with a cruise to Alaska?
When you get up in the morning, you want to feel excited about the day ahead. Visiting your grandchildren will help to fill up your time, but depending on your health, you probably have energy for much more!
Your life needs meaning, whether you find this through a different type of work, friends or adventure seeking. You may decide to develop a creative talent, which is an adventure of another sort.
Next, Mariano wrote, you need to create structure:
Of course you won’t miss that nasty alarm clock waking you up every weekday morning at the same ungodly hour! Sleeping in is a reward all its own. However, if you find yourself sleeping half the day away, you have a problem.
As a retiree you need to build some routine into your days.
Part of my routine is doing grocery shopping or errands in the morning, when it is less crowded. I also fit in my exercises before noon – whether it’s cycling, working out at home or walking along the river. This is so much easier than exercising after a full workday. I remember how hard it was to push myself when I was feeling tired! ….
Finally, your retirement must include plenty of opportunities for interaction with other people:
Your former job probably came with its own social network. It’s not always possible to remain friends with your colleagues, especially if they are still in the workforce for some time to come. Your schedules and interests may really diverge and you can find that you don’t have all that much in common anymore.
You may have family and/or personal friends who are also available when you are. Retirement gives you an opportunity to do more things together – have picnics on a warm summer day, go skating, see concerts….
This is also the perfect time to join associations or groups – everything from Toastmasters to origami work groups to hiking clubs. Some people enjoy volunteer work or getting more involved in church activities. Whatever you do, it is vital to feel connected to others.
Don’t quit cold turkey. Ask about working part time at your old job or in a consultant role, or look for a different part time job.
Do lunch. Make plans occasionally to meet friends you enjoyed working with.
Keep a schedule. Establish some rituals. Plan regular meal times and schedule times for other activities such as exercise, housework, social outings, or errands.
Volunteer. Find an org. with a mission.
Go back to school.
Plan time away from y our partner (if you have one).
Make new friends.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW YOU NEED STRUCTURE, HOW DO YOU PLAN YOUR TRANSITION INTO RETIREMENT?
I hope I have convinced you with the descriptions from experienced retirement bloggers that you need structure, and you need to plan for it.
Ask yourself a series of questions, as suggested by a couple of authors on retirement issues, and write down your answers.
–How will I spend my time each day?
–What do I really like to do?
–What will keep me motivated?
–Will my finances support my vision of retirement?
–Do I want a second career?
–What about working part-time?
–How will my family be affected?
–How will I get intellectual stimulation?
–How will I get a sense of achievement?
–How will I get social interaction?
–How will I get a feeling that I am making a meaningful contribution to society?
If you answer these questions and make a plan based on those answers, then you will probably NEVER have a time management problem while you’re retired. You will pass through several stages, but you know that as you change and your situation changes, all you need to do to restructure your plan is to go back through the questions.
Even after you pass the euphoric “Isn’t this wonderful?!” honeymoon stage of retirement, you’ll have the tools to revise your plan and make it suit your newest set of needs.
This next phase of retirement is called “disenchantment” by R.C. Atchley Just ask yourself the questions again, and see what your answers are this time. Adjusting to retirement may not have been easy for you. You may start to feel disappointed, or uncertain about what retirement means for you.
After you develop feelings of disenchantment, you may decide to take stock of your retirement experience so far and jot down some ways to improve it, as Bob Lowry described doing a few paragraphs back in this article. You may change your daily routine, add some new activities, take up a new hobby, or move to another location.
“Mastering a comfortable and rewarding retirement routine is the ultimate goal of retirement”, according to Atchley. Some elders do this sooner and some do it later. “Once a fulfilling and comfortable retirement routine has been found, this phase of retirement can last for many years.”
I’ve given you some new information gathered from experienced retired people and psychology experts. Now it’s your turn. If you’re not retired yet, will you sit down and think about how you’ll spend your days once you’re retired? If you’re already retired, will you take a few moments to reflect on your daily routine? Is it satisfying? Are you waking up each day excited about the activities you’ll be doing?
It’s true: you CAN structure time in retirement successfully.
I’d love to hear from you about your response to the information I’ve gathered for you here. Please leave a comment!