July 12, 2013

My First Few years Of Retirement: Time Management

For most of us retirement means an extra 50 hours or more a week to fill. Work and commuting no longer define our daily schedule.  We become responsible for effective time management. The "success" of our satisfying retirement will depend, in large part, on how we learn to use that extra 2,600 hours a year.

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.

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42 comments:

  1. When I was still working, my day was structured by appointments (made by someone else) to see patients. I never cared for that part of my job. I loved my profession and my patients, but the structure assigned by someone else never felt right to me.

    I'm still learning what it means to manage my time in retirement. The funny thing is that now that I theoretically have all the time in the world, I feel a little stingy if I have an obligation to do something that I did not schedule, and would rather not do.

    Because my work life required such a tight structure to my day, perhaps that is why I am leaning towards a looser structure. I no longer have a housekeeper since being retired. Our house is rather large (we'll downsize at some point) and I am pretty fastidious when it comes to keeping things neat and very clean. But I do not have a strict schedule for housekeeping. Instead, I have a general goal of doing different areas of the house during the week, when the spirit moves me. It all gets done, but not dictated by a certain day of the week or time. Same approach with things like paying bills, meal planning etc.

    Thus far, this looser schedule seems to work well for me, and it is consistent with how my husband schedules his days as well. Fun stuff that we want to do outdoors is of course dictated by the weather, so we remain flexible on when we can enjoy a bike ride or a hike. The one part of my day that is scheduled (by me!) is my workout time at the gym with my two close friends who are also retired.

    I'm so new at this, that I do not yet have any concerns about feeling productive. It still in many ways feels like I am on a wonderful long vacation. It will be interesting to see if this loose way of scheduling my day still works for me as time passes, and the reality that I am really retired sinks in!

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    1. I have this odd reaction when I don't have to leave the house during a particular day: a strong sense of joy. I imagine it is a reaction to all those days I spent away from home for my job. But, never getting in a car or even opening the front door makes me feel like I've won a game. Now, more than one or two days like that and I get antsy. I'm not a hermit!

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  2. I, too, am a user of a daily list/schedule and I, too, tend to put something down after the fact and then have the mini-joy of then crossing it out. Maybe silly, but also a mini-affirmation/small pat on the back. And I am so very thrilled - still - to have time for the little things in my life as well as the bigger events.

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    1. So, I'm not alone in putting something on a list just to cross it off...welcome to my world, Steve.

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    2. I think Bob probably has you beat, Steve. I just checked and his weekend to-do list extends to November 9th. He'll make a list for me and then ask if he can cross it off! Gotta love him!

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    3. I've read, and my husband concurs, that as people move into larger roles within an organization, they lose the sense of satisfaction at ever actually completing anything, because at a certain level, no project is ever really completed. They just continue to morph and change into infinity.

      As a result, my husband loved the satisfaction of completing tasks at home - the laundry, the grocery shopping, paying bills. One year into retirement, he still enjoys preparing a daily to-do list, and yes, crossing off each completed item. I find it endearing, personally. :-)

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  3. I thank you for your honest and candid sharing of adjusting to retirement. You are very humble and open. Some of the things you share are like looking in a mirror...things you just can't talk to just anyone about. Seems my time management changes yearly....the needs ebb and flow. You are very correct...you need to manage your retirement time or it just passes or you can overmanage it and it is drudgery. I think I have finally arrived at a time where I do all three you mentioned. It is great to have a place where we retirees can openly share things so personal and yet not be vulnerable.

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    1. This blog is like going to the doctor's office, without worrying about insurance. Thanks, Linda.

      If there are two key things I have learned in twelve years of retirement it is that everything changes and everything has a season. Whatever situation I am in today is not likely to last. It takes a while to be OK with that, but then it is quite a liberating discovery.

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  4. This is a great post, Bob. You have such awareness (can I say for a guy) and insight into your own being and behavior. There is a yoga phrase called, "Stillness in Action," that describes the transition into retirement. As you discovered, just filling time, whether with or without a to-do list isn't usually the solution. Learning how to slow down is a huge challenge for many. In the end, you do a great job of explaining the concept of reinvention. It takes time, effort and an willingness to admit one way isn't right and try another. Every person who is retiring should read this post.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Cathy. I have a very understanding wife and children who allowed me to stumble around for awhile before figuring it out.

      A good example of time flexibility just happened a few minutes ago. Betty and I were going to drive up to Jerome today. I'm re-doing a travel book I wrote several years ago and felt I needed fresh pictures of the town as well as updated information about restaurants and places to visit.

      As I was sitting on the back porch typing these comment responses we decided to postpone the trip until a cooler time of year. There is no reason why we had to go today, so we changed our plans. That flexibility is an important part of retirement.

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    2. I meant to add to my comment, Cathy, that I'd be interested in your feedback on what people you coach are most concerned about. As a retirement life coach I imagine you have some special insight that might help us all. Maybe a guest post or Q & A would be fun.

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  5. Really nice to read this today. I am 9 months in and although I love all my free time, I still experience a free floating anxiety around having so much of it. I too spent a lifetime working a full-time demanding job and bringing up two children so life was so busy that I never thought about time, only that I never had enough of it.

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    1. Good morning, Kelly. You may be adjusting better than you think. Looking at the smiling pictures of you on your blog you look quite content.

      Time anxiety is a very real phenomenon. I guess it is like having an unlimited supply of anything...too much of a good thing brings about worry.

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  6. I ascribe to a quote I heard many years ago - Do life so life doesn't do me. I also believe that time, space and money are those things that get used up, no matter how much or how little we have. It takes a conscious effort to leave some time, space and money free. I am only 3 months into retirement and find there's no end of things to do outside in NE Alberta from the time the snow goes in the spring until it comes again in Nov. It helps that I enjoy the outdoors. You had a previous blog about tending to various areas of life and I pay attention to tending to the physical, spiritual, relationship, community areas. In the words of my sister-in-law, there always seems to be a list of things left undone. The joy and privilege of retirement is the freedom to manage the time without the constraints of job timelines. I am still basking in the slow mornings - I love not being out the door by 8AM and not being mindful of bedtime because I have to get up and go to work the next day. In the end, body, life and seasonal rhythms prevail.

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    1. Nicely put, Mona. The old line about "life happens while you are making other plans" also fits this situation.

      As you note, eventually the rhythms that make you happiest sort themselves out.

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  7. Different people - Different schedules – Bob and I are about as different as two people can get but we work!

    Weekdays the girls (We have two daughters) had a laid back, creative, loud, light rules atmosphere. Make messes, grow, learn, and enjoy life. On Fridays we cleaned up all of the messes and got ready for Dad to come home. Saturday was what the girls and I loving called “Eggshell Day”. We had to tread lightly in the morning. Dad was decompressing from the two or four plane trips and several different time changes. Then by afternoon it would be fun times for everyone. I’m amazed at how the girls and I could easily switch from one way of life to another but it worked for us!

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    1. I thought my wife might add her perspective on this subject!

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  8. Cari in North TexasFri Jul 12, 11:21:00 AM MST

    I've been sort of practicing my retirement time management skills the last few years without realizing it. Your experiences and insight are very helpful, Bob, and I can appreciate the fact that you tried several different ways before finding one that fits for you right now.

    My current job has me working full time in February, May, August, and November, then one week a month (the same dates) in the other months. I always look forward to the off time and build project and task lists in my head, sometimes on paper. But I find myself just wasting time or doing things not on the list. Nothing urgent gets left undone, but many little "gee this would be nice to fix/change/do" items never seem to get completed.

    I have found that the law of inertia really is true for me - a body at rest tends to stay at rest (i.e. on the couch) and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. I just need the discipline to move from the body-at-rest phase into the body-in-motion phase :-)

    I like to lump all my errands and out-of-the-house stuff into one or two days, then I really enjoy not getting in the car the other days. I'm driving quite a bit in my job, so a day without driving is heaven!

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    1. That is an interesting schedule you have. I would find it challeging to maintain a proper balance with those large on/off periods.

      Like you, I too find the law of motion is a powerful force, esp. the "rest" part. But, I just got back from a 2 mile walk at the mall so I guess I'm not hopeless.

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  9. Being a person who hated tight schedules and dreaded having demands on my time, I am finally living 'freely', and loving the sense of relief it gives me. I can see how a 'to-do list' person would have a problem with this freedom, but once you get over that it's really sweet.
    Like Betty, I'm an artsy type and we tend to be more 'go with the flow'. It's good to know we found opposites and still managed to work it out and get along. You lucky guys, you! ;)
    b

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    1. Betty and I are so opposite in so many ways, but the same in the key ones: commitment to each other, our kids and family, our belief system, and our sense of humor. The other differences just make life more interesting.

      BTW, I have pretty much taken the last three days off...a blank schedule and last minute decisions. I must admit I feel a bit of a sense of wasted time, but overall the experience has been a good one.

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  10. This is a cautionary tale for me; I am definitely a list-maker, and the type who will add something already done to the list just for the satisfaction of crossing it off. I may be helped in the transition into retirement by the fact that my work life has involved alternating periods of highly structured (teaching semesters) and unstructured (especially summers) time. During the summers, I think I've discovered the same system you eventually adopted -- a list of tasks to be accomplished that day without a schedule of when in the day they must be carried out and with the flexibility to change my mind. -Jean

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  11. I chuckled at you choosing the "blow it up" option, Bob.

    I keep a daily to-do list of five items with mundane things like make the bed and clean the cat box and am quite satisfied at the end of the day:-)

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  12. I've put most to-dos on my puter calendar. It's easier to ignore them there.

    Occasionally, I forget the first rule of marital bliss--she always is right--and suggest a minor change or two in our household operations. Big mistake. Every time.

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  13. Bob: Curious...what tool do you use? Calendar software, paper & pencil, or other?

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    1. For my to-do list I use a very old software program from a company that went out of business several years ago. It was originally designed for a PDA and Windows 95. Amazingly, it still works with Windows 7.

      For a calendar I use Google Calendar so my wife and I can share the same one on the cloud.

      My weekend lists are on a steno pad we keep in the kitchen area.

      All pretty low tech!

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  14. So happy I found this blog. I retired 04/30 after 35 years. Live alone in an apartment. Worked from home the last 7 years. My biggest issue has been "what on earth am I supposed to do with all this time on my hands?" I am neat and organized by nature. I can clean my apartment in about two hours. For the first few weeks I was kind of paralyzed. Tasks that needed to be done but which I do not enjoy kept getting put on the back burner because "I have all the time in the world to get that done." However, things didn't get done. I have no hobbies except reading, and few friends outside of work. I am just now starting to relax and accept the fact that I am not a go-go-go personality, and I don't need to be productive and busy every single minute. Once I stopped putting pressure on myself, I actually started accomplishing things. I'm starting to get into a loose routine. I am trying to find a church home, and exploring volunteer opportunities. I have several short trips planned. Anyway, the transition from working 10 hour days to not working at all has been difficult for me. It sounds like I am not the only one. I find it reassuring, as my best friend who is retired is a type A personality who cannot fathom wondering how to fill up her time....if anything she wishes she had more hours in the day to do everything she wants to do. Thanks for sharing, and allowing others to share too.

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    1. Your transition struggle is very common. You are not alone. For anyone who worked full time for many years it would be unusual if the transition was simple.

      Allow yourself all the time you need to put the pieces together. I tried to rush into things to fill the gaps and that didn't work. Your retirement journey is unique to you.

      Thanks for commenting.

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  15. Just thought you & your readers may find this website for snowbirds interesting. Has specific information for activities in the RV parks of the Phoenix area, which are open to the public for this coming season. www.snowbirdsinphoenix.com

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  16. Interesting and meaningful article! I found it was a struggle to understand that my wife's schedule was written in stone and I had to adjust mine to hers. After 43 years I retired last year and am still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I loved the job and put in many hours so still looking for a replacement activity. Promised myself that I would take the first year very slowly with no pressure and it has been great! Thank goodness for on-line trading, starts some of my days with excitement!
    Conclusion: I think I will survive retirement!

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    1. You will survive retirement and it will look very little like you probably first imagined it. Allowing yourself time to think through your options and choices is very smart. Too many folks (men in particular) rush to fill the gaps left after the central focus of their lives has stopped.

      On-line trading? That will raise your blood pressure!

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  17. I retired 9 years ago to give my Mom full time care in her last years. Then, when she passed, we thought about selling her home, but decided to buy it so my husband could be on one floor as he got older. So we did a few months of packing, renovating, donating, and such. Since we settled in, I have done part-time work in my profession and we have taken several nice trips. Our kids live locally, so we are blessed to see them often. I didn't forsee any of this when in my 50's. My husband is happy to study new areas of interest much of the time, but likes having me near. We try to go walking several times a week at some interesting location. My new garden is taking shape after a couple of years of work. We help the neighborhood kids with their homework and look out for the elderly ladies on our block. I really have enjoyed the evolution of this new life. One aspect that has been very meaningful to me is getting together for breakfast once a month with my fellow retirees. Hearing about their lives and plans has helped me feel connected and given me good ideas. I enjoyed reading your stories, too! My husband used to work full-time and teach college courses at night in the summer, and I remember when he would be at home on the weekends we did the "eggshell" thing too!

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    1. I think my kids coined the term, eggshell, as it related to our home life during that time period.

      I like the description of how your life has evolved. Giving ourselves the freedom to change what has been our normal routine is vital.

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  18. What a helpful and insightful post! The first year has been very tough as a driven person.. Don't play bridge or tennis, really want some purposeful activity with bright people--looking for projects as a volunteer is a challenge! Most non profits either want your money or they want you to stuff envelopes.. Hoping they come around to realizing what an untapped resource this bunch of boomers might be...
    I highly recommend taking a long long road trip.. We are in the middle of a three month discovery of the entire Eastern seaboard.. Getting to see all that you missed while business traveling is fantastic, both for the marriage and for the brain... I suggest prioritizing all national parks, state parks and homemade ice cream shops.. Thanks!

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    1. Homemade ice cream shops...now there is a worthwhile tour.

      My brother in-law had a several years-long project to visit all the Major League baseball parks. Betty and I collect official stamps every time we visit a national park.

      A long road trip is a tremendous adventure. Glad you are enjoying yours!

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  19. I think the unwinding from career, raising kids, getting ourselves educated needs the perspective widened. For over fifty years we were deeply engaged in almost all of those. Now, the freedom is a huge adjustment... In most of those endeavors we were "valued" and it helped define ourselves.. Now we seek new definitions, directions, passions... And it takes time to adjust to the lack of "have to dos, ought to do, time sensitive " way we lived all those years... And be honest, we liked much of it!
    Feeding our lifelong curiosities was often taken care of through work and family... Now we are the feeders... Whoa, what to do next??!
    Keep the blog going, please!

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    1. You have provided an excellent summary of the transition from full time work to retirement in all its various shades.

      What to do next...exactly!

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  20. Learn learn learn---travel out of your comfort zone! Then do it again! Along the way, find your closest OSHER INSTITUTE, there are 112 of them, life long learning just for fun--no tests, homework, grades...

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    1. OSHER is a tremendous resource. Arizona State University has several OSHER campuses around Phoenix.

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  21. Time management? That is exactly what I hope to get away from when I retire in 4 months. Instead of watching the clock I want to watch the calendar.

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    1. Time management allows you to make the most of your calendar free time. Experience has taught me that if I don't manage my time I either run out or find myself bored and at loose ends.

      But, that is one of the great things about retirement. You will figure out the system that works best for you.

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