This is part three of a series I am presenting on the first few years of my retirement. Two Fridays ago I wrote about some of the financial struggles my wife and I faced. Last Friday was about another biggie of retirement: relationships. If not properly addressed marriages can either bloom or whither under the stress of full-time retirement.
This week's post is about how I struggled with, and finally became comfortable with, the use of my extra time. I won't say, the "mastery of the use of my extra time" because it continues to be an issue for me even after 12 years.
As regular readers know I spent a good part of my working life traveling. Time management was a critical part of my business. I had to balance dozens of clients as far apart as New York City and Honolulu, keep them happy, and attempt to keep my home life afloat. I had to find enough time for chores around the house, family vacations, and attending my kids' various school functions and performances.
I became the master of the to-do list. I'd have my weekends planned six months in advance. I'd even go so far to write something on the list just so I could cross it off and feel a sense of accomplishment (silly, right?). While this approach allowed me to juggle a lot of different responsibilities while working, it was a dangerous path into retirement.
Like a lot of men of my generation whose wives stayed home to raise the kids, when I stopped traveling and working, I was entering a world that had functioned smoothly without me for quite awhile. My job was to integrate into the system, not blow it up and start all over again.
Wrong Choice, Bob
Of course, being a guy, I chose the "blow it up" option....not my best decision. It took me a few years to understand that the finely tuned system I had inherited was that way for a reason. I had to grasp the critical importance of the three different types of time: us, you, and me. Woe to the person, male or female, who doesn't understand that virtually all of us require some time to be alone with our own thoughts and interests.
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.
Surprise, surprise, this was a no-go. Not only did I feel pressured to meet a made-up schedule but I was doing most everything just so I could check it off the list.
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.
Finally, a system for me
Finally, 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.
Previous posts have detailed the struggle many newly retired folks have in this area. Fear of boredom or being unproductive are common. The loss of set daily parameters catches many off-guard, me included. It takes time to understand how to use your time in a way that is satisfying to you. There is no one way to manage your day after retirement. I have discovered no shortcuts through this process. Each person finds his or her own mix of structure and freedom.
When we were younger we seemed to have all the time in the world, so we ignored its passage. When something isn't valuable you don't keep track. Retire and time becomes very, very real. It's passage is either a joy or as burden. Days pass so quickly you lose track, or they seem to crawl from moment to moment.
That difference can make or break your satisfying retirement. A time management system that works for you is a skill you must master. And, part of that mastery is having a passion or interests that keep you engaged, excited, and motivated.
Next Friday the last in this series will detail my very real struggles with discovering something to do with my time, something to define my life after work. I entered retirement without any interests, hobbies, or passions. That was a big mistake. Effective time management without something to manage doesn't work.