April 27, 2016

Can You Enjoy Doing Nothing In Retirement?


The short answer is, No. Can you enjoy doing nothing no matter what stage of your life? Probably not. But, I understand the questioner's intent: without work and a schedule can you simply relax and do nothing meaningful during retirement? It that an OK choice?

The answer is actually a bit more complicated than a simple, No. There is every reason to do very little (maybe even nothing) right after you begin the retirement stage of life. There is a natural need to decompress, to shake off the stress and pressures that were part of your life for decades of employment. Not having to commute, deal with clients, customers, or bosses, respond to an alarm clock too early in the morning....all those things stop, at least for a time, when the paycheck does. 

For most folks, this "kick back and let the world pass me by" period is one of the first, concrete signs that you are really retired. How long does it last? This depends entirely on you, but most people pleasantly wallow in the warm waters of inactivity for several months. Your body and mind need this break. Allow it to happen.

After a time, you will start to move to the next phase that begins to ask, "How am I going to fill all this time? What am I going to do all day?" These questions are your indication that your body has released the pre-retirement stress and is now looking for a direction and schedule. Okay, so how to move forward?

Importantly, one of the first things many retirees do after this initial period of lots of nothing, is too much. Suddenly the daily schedule is overflowing with volunteer commitments, coffee with friends, visits to the library and art museum, meals out, signing up for classes at the community college or university, helping family members with child care or babysitting, exploring new hobbies or starting up old ones again....there aren't enough hours in the day.

It is easy to go from feeling too unstructured to not having a moment left to simply be. Again, this is entirely normal. We are programmed to be productive, to contribute. Long term we are not happy unless we are doing things we enjoy. The trick is to find the proper balance between work and play, commitment and freedom. 

Maybe not surprisingly, many retirees are deciding after they stop work, they want to start again. Some can't figure out how else to bring structure to the day. Others are a bit more positive in their motivation: starting a business or turning a hobby into a money-making venture is now possible. Part time work is a viable option for many. Extra income, staying in touch with people, and feeling needed are reasons often cited why part time work is attractive. Whatever your motivation, re-working or un-retiring is a valid choice. And, this time around, you control what you do and how long you do it. 

So, you don't want to work and you don't want to do nothing. What to do to stay busy and motivated? Until actually living the life you won't really know what might unfold. My suggestion is to make plans. Get excited about doing the things you have not done during your working years. That might include travel, visiting family members, painting or playing the guitar, writing poetry, building a bookcase, restoring that old Harley in the garage, tutoring kids in math...virtually anything that has interested you in the past or present. 

Then, remain flexible. Be prepared to make corrections in your direction. Be OK with deciding one thing you thought you'd love isn't the answer, but something new you just discovered may be.  

If you'd like to see what others are deciding to do with their new life, check out this blog post. You might find the motivation and idea you are searching for right here: So What Do You Do All Day?




29 comments:

  1. When I first decided to retire from teaching, a very dear friend who had retired the year before gave me a great piece of advice. She said, "take a year to get to know retirement and then make it your own." I followed this and am glad I did. Instead of jumping into so many things to fill up my days, I eased my way into it. Now, 2 years later, I volunteer, travel and do crafts but leave myself plenty of time for family and friends and just plain doing nothing.

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    1. That is a solid approach. During our working years we are conditioned to produce and operate at a high level. Naturally, we have a difficult time adjusting to the opposite environment. Our tendency is to immediately fill the void. But, as you, I, and most others figure out, we need time to just relax and explore what makes us happy.

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  2. I've always felt, if you're doing what you love it's not work. So, I continue to write and paint and create. It's what I was put on earth to do. Just took me a while to figure that out.
    b

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    1. Creativity is a lifelong pursuit that is only dependent on your attitude and motivation. You are one of the lucky ones: you have so many outlets for your inner artist.

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  3. To quote Leslie Nielson "It's hard work doing nothing, because you never know when you're finished"

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    1. He was a tremendous actor and had some quotes that equalled Yogi Berra. This is one of them.

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  4. What a great post. People who are contemplating or headed for retirement understandably have mixed feelings. There might be excitement and relief about having all that time, along with some anxiety and unease about navigating uncharted waters.

    My daughter asks me periodically if I'm bored. "I am never bored" is always my response. And it's true. I have lots of interests that keep me engaged and active, but I also treasure my "do nothing" time. I might sit in the back yard and read while keeping an eye out for hummingbirds. If I am at the cabin, I like to sit by the creek and...just sit.

    Today is a good mix. I spent some time this morning meditating and reading inspirational materials. In a little while I will go to kung fu class. This afternoon, I will work on one of my projects. If the weather is good, I'll take the dog for a walk. Tonight I'll go over to my daughter's and read my grandson bedtime stories.

    Your advice to give yourself permission to have some "do nothing" time during the transition from work to retirement is so wise. What emerges to catch your attention might surprise you. Then, as you suggest, make some plans.

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    1. I love your schedule for today. It is perfectly balanced between productivity, companionship, family, and mindfulness. Reading in your backyard is definitely not nothing - it is place to nourish your soul while you stimulate your mind.

      Nicely said.

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  5. Hi Bob,
    Very good post today!Here is my week in hours:3 days a week delivering bakery items for a total of 6 (paid!beer money if it is for me and going for supper is for my wife).Volunteering at a Thrift store takes about 8 hours.And the big one is exercising ,11 hours a mix of swimming, biking and running.There is a bit of time left to fill and I hope to get some ideas from your blog.My wife's schedule is filled with even more activities .

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    1. Nice schedule, Harry. I envy your dedication to exercise. I am not even close to 11 hours a week, though I certainly should be.

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  6. I enjoy being retired and am doing volunteer stints visiting older ladies in a retirement home. One of them has dementia and I read to her. I keep busy but most of it is doing what I choose to do. We exercise too, as the above commenter does.

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    1. Volunteerism is such an important part of retirement for so many folks. That feeling you get when you are helping another is impossible to replace. Thanks, Terra.

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  7. I'm doing "it" (nothing) and I enjoy every day, every minute of it .. just passed my 2nd year of retirement.

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    1. Absolutely nothing, or nothing that fits a "normal" description? Tell me more, Steve.

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  8. I guess that would depend on the definition of "nothing". Being an ex-workaholic, on that rare took vacations, at times worked 6-7 day work weeks not counting the hours at night at home after the invention of the computer ... comparing that to now, I'm doing "nothing". You are right, my doing "nothing" leans more towards "fits a normal description". I started downsizing my life, possessions, finances thinking I would retire and live on the road full-time. I found out later with my mixture of hounds I didn't feel like that was a good option.

    That downsizing also led to a simpler lifestyle to where I must say I almost in "hermit" status. I can go days if not weeks not driving anywhere. I live outside very small rural town so my nearest social entertainment is 25 miles away. Yet ... I've always enjoyed hibernating from society with music, books, my daily dog walks in a field and watching ballgames on tv.

    My daily routine does not consist of too much at all and would bore most people. It does change at times based on seasons or weather but overall it's close to the same. Now, if I didn't have three dogs, which I love having them, I no doubt would spend more time traveling and blogging about it ... so I guess I would then be doing "something" more than "nothing". :)

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    1. You are doing what you like in a way that satisfies you. For more retirees than you might imagine, that is quite "something." Too many folks still put pressure on themselves living in a way that isn't authentic to them and their values.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Steve.

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  9. Just bought a Park Model in a senior resort in Arizona. We can avoid the Colorado winters there, and the Arizona summer's here!! This purchase is so exciting to us and we keep as busy as we want in each location. Do a lot or do nothing...totally up to us.

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    1. Two couples I know own Park Models at RV resorts in the Tucson area. They enjoy our winters and go back to the Pacific Northwest in the summer. They love the lifestyle and I imagine you will too. Congrats on your major decision!

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  10. Most of what I do is some form of "maintenance". Cleaning, laundry, cooking, shopping for necessities, doctor appointments, exercising, hair cuts, fixing what is broken, and on and on. How did I do all this and work? I think work expands to fill the time because efficiency doesn't matter anymore. Of course I do have free time and most of it is spent with family or reading or Tai Chi and I play a couple of instruments. I have volunteered off and on but not at the moment. But what I have missed, and I think it is important, is a creative outlet that really satisfies me. I was in IT and worked on a project basis. Developing a project from conception to completion and knowing that it is satisfying a need is a great feeling. One that I still miss. I think you, Bob, get that satisfaction from your blog. It is like a lot of little projects. Crafts, painting or photography did not do it for me. Maybe I was too impatient and did not give them time to develop into something worthwhile. And does it really have to be worthwhile. Maybe it can just "be".

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    1. I floundered for several years before deciding writing was important enough to me to launch and maintain this blog. Still, I keep searching for new creative outlets though, like you, but am not a crafts or painting person either. I am taking a break from playing the guitar to type this response (on sore fingers!) so that is one outlet I am pursuing. I am not very good but I keep strumming away.

      I understand completely your description of taking something from conception to completion and how good it feels.

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  11. I have just passed the 3 yr mark in my retirement. I have not missed employment, not once.
    I am casually employed for what Harry would call "beer money"; what I call "walking around $$. My time is filled with maintenance of home and self, as Judy refers to. After that, I allow the rhythms of the day and season to dictate the schedule. Because I have a pension income, I am free to "work" for 2 community organizations; I am committed to giving back. I host house concerts in a roots music house concert network, fulfilling my penchant for entertaining. Fulfilling family commitments and requests that include 2 grandchildren and an elderly mother are so much easier without having to juggle a work schedule. I have more time to say yes vs no, I have to work tomorrow. I have no excuse to not exercise or do those projects that have been on the back burner. I can indulge in daily reading and music.
    A fellow retiree recently commented that the unhappy retired people she knows were unhappy prior. Now that's a blanket statement, but it is true that if someone had few extracurricular interests while working, retirement may prove to be "boring". Retirement has proven to be a time of self exploration and an exercise in time management. It takes a motivated individual for self management. I do many of the same things I did prior to retirement; I can do them at a more mindful pace.
    I was inspired by Barbara de Angelis' book, "Real Moments" (I read this ~20 yrs ago). In it she says, "Your job is what you do to survive physically and to support yourself and your family. It is the profession you choose, the skills you develop. It's being a (insert role here). Your work is what you do to survive emotionally and to support your spirit. It is the lessons you are here to learn, the wisdom you are here to gain. It is the map for your personal Earth adventure."
    So like Steve says, it depends upon your definition of work and nothing. I do not believe there is any "nothing".

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    1. Nice addition to the discussion, Mona. I have been looking for some groups that offer home-based music concerts. That sounds like fun. I found one in the area we used to live but so far nothing closer to our new part of town.

      I agree that someone who is unhappy prior to retirement has a greater possibility of not being satisfied after retirement, but I doubt there is always a direct correlation. It really comes down to attitude and desire.

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  12. I've been retired for six months, and thought I would return to work (I'm 63), but the longer I don't work, the less I'm inclined to reenter the work force. My money panic has dissipated and I'm really enjoying doing whatever I want.

    I'm happy to see you suggest waiting before jumping into anything. I have a friend who is a bit older then I and still working. She claims she doesn't want to retire ever and keeps trying to 'work with me' to find something I want to do. I've dialed back my time with her, because she was fueling my sense that I need to DO something. And she seems less interested in me since I'm not 'doing' anything. Disappointing.

    DH & I have done some traveling and I'm getting back into meditation and writing (both of which fell by the wayside in the last few years of my work life). We also have more time to visit our grandson and other family members. And I'm spending a fair amount of time gardening. We have a lot of landscaping that needs work every year, and it's great to be getting a jump on it instead of frantically trying to accomplish it over Memorial Day weekend.

    I expect at some point I'll return to volunteer activities I enjoyed some time ago, but for now, I'm just enjoying my time and acclimating to not working.

    Great discussion.
    ---Hope

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    1. Often it is hard to maintain friendships with those who are still working. There are feelings of envy or false expectations that can cloud things. You are wise to distance yourself from someone who is questioning your choices. After all, it is your life and not hers.

      I just read a study that claims that delaying retirement makes someone healthier in the long haul. I find that suspect. Being healthier is a combination of several factors. The more that are under our control the better off we will be. And, in retirement you have much more control than while working full time.

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    2. Interesting thought, Bob. I hadn't considered that, but I have friends who are happy for me, and others who aren't sure what is left to talk about sans work. Glad to know that's normal.

      And I also suspect that study is off somehow. There are people, to be sure, who live to work, so maybe those were the majority studied. But most people I know love retirement after an initial adjustment.

      --Hope

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  13. Bob, this was a very timely topic for me as I continue to contemplate whether I am ready to retire soon. I like your point that there are different phases as one eases into retirement. That is a reassuring thought. For me the thought of going from my current extremely intense and demanding job to "nothing" is scary. But I like your idea of thinking of it as an initial period of adjustment that involves rest and renewal. The nothing phase then transitions to a balance of activities and pursuits as you make retirement your own (Ellen's great description). Like JudyC, in my work, I am involved in many projects, developing them from conception through to implementation. I do wonder whether I will miss that. I am finding your blog and everyone's comments so helpful as I try to decide on my retirement timing and make a plan.

    Jude

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    1. I am pleased you're finding some clarification here, Jude. The initial period of adjustment is absolutely esential to a successful retirement. Folks who leap from work right into an over-abundance of activities and commitments are in for problems. YOur body and mind need a time to breathe, to unwind. You need space to begin to think through what makes you happy and feeling productive. Those decisions cannot be rushed.

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  14. I'm just tuning into your posts and they're a really fascinating outlook and great commentary on how people progress to this self managed period of their life, I'm in my early 40's and were really adjusting to supporting our parents across the family who are entering their 80's it's amazing to me the difference in how people approach this stage of their life and the different outcomes they achieve, my mum has become politically active and joined 3rd age courses, my dad unfortunately seems to have dwindled in terms of his activity and interests. I'd love to find ways to stimulate him to re-expand his horizons and develop more 'efficacy' as I know he isn't happy with himself. As a hard working parent of young children who is always on the go, I am looking forward to a post work post mortgage period - from a distance it looks like an amazing space to follow your own interests after many of your work/family obligations reduce

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    1. Welcome, Jed. Everyone's retirement journey is unique and must be self-discovered to be a good match for the individual. There are some basic facts and realities of this stage of life, but the readers of this blog are very open about how each must find his or her own right mix. I hope your dad finds something that motivates him, some new passion to light his fire.

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