April 19, 2018

Managing Your Time: Do You Schedule or Go With The Flow?


Time management during retirement is an important topic. For some of us, we like to go with the flow. Our day evolves with minimal preplanning. What fits our mood or suddenly becomes available is what is do. Certainly, the basics happen on a regular schedule. But, overall, our daily calendar is a minimalist's dream.

Others would find that approach bothersome. Time is a priceless resource. We don't schedule every minute of the day, but we have certain activities and goals that make the grade. Letting things simply unwind would never cross our mind.

I am an interesting (some might say, odd) mix of the two. After 17 years of retirement, I have tried all sorts of approaches to my day. My natural tendency is to schedule everything: alarms that tell me when to take pills, when to go on a walk, when to water the pots, write a blog post, food shop, Even nap times have been determined ahead of time. 

I tried the unscheduled, "what will be will be," approach. Except for a doctor, barber, or repair people visits, I woke free of anything specific to accomplish that day. Not surprisingly, that was a bust. It drove me crazy. I'd realize it was late afternoon and I hadn't done anything "productive." 

Now, I am four weeks into an experiment that is an attempt to blend the two. Since my energy and productivity are highest before lunch I do things that require functioning brain cells or energy: writing a blog post, working on my next book, or food shopping with Betty. I don't schedule specific times, just certain activities.

The time from lunch to dinner  is for things that require less of me: reading, working on a hobby, yard work, Twitter promotion. This is also when I give myself an energy kick in the butt by going to the gym or bike-riding. Again, I don't set a timer, rather just hope to accomplish each by dinner (notice how everything is determined by when I eat!)

After dinner, I leave free for some time watching Netflix shows with Betty, more reading, listening to music, and time with a different hobby. Occasionally we have a concert, play or other activity that requires leaving home. 

So far, so good. I don't feel either over or under scheduled. I don't feel "unproductive" or wasteful of my time. I do think it makes sense to match my energy level with what I do and when I do it.

What about you?  Are you a believer in scheduling your day, knowing that once gone, time is gone? Or, did you leave that approach back at work when you walked out the door? Now, each day is a buffet; you will choose what is best for that day and your mood? 

I am a month into my latest attempt to make the best of use of my satisfying retirement - not too late to take a great idea from you and give it a try.


40 comments:

  1. I confess to managing my life with a digital To Do List which synchronises on all my devices, and yes it includes the need to blog, all my administrative tasks, routine household jobs as well as appointments. I don’t schedule the times or rely on alarms and if something doesn’t get done (as is often the case) it carries over to the next day..

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    1. My problem with a strict To Do list is too much gets shifted to the next day and that frustrates me. But, if it works for you....

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  2. Bob, your four week experiment is a nearly an exact replica of what has always worked best for me. “Thinking” projects are usually handled in the morning, “active” projects are most often done in the afternoon and “wind down” activities usually fill the evenings. What seems to work ideally is to have a short To Do list for each day that I pull from my ongoing (longer) list of tasks and special projects. The “short list” includes any critical items (calls to make, emails to send, bills to pay), my exercise plans for the day (it’s amazing how easy it is to “forget” to exercise when a note is not staring me in the face) and a few other tasks or projects that I’d like to accomplish that day (like an errand run, travel planning, research on a new printer, cleaning out a closet). If I schedule nothing and then fritter the day away, I feel like I wasted a gift of time that cannot be replaced. If I over-schedule or assign specific times to specific tasks, then I feel like I’m back in the workforce. Since I’m a planner and not impulsive by nature, my “short list” works perfectly to keep me on track. Plus, it makes me happy by providing a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day – a wonderful feeling!

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    1. So far so good. I have made it just over a month now and am still refining what makes the list.

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    2. Mary, I'm a new reader of your blog (found here-thanks, Bob), and I like your topics and writing style. I also follow Bob's and your daily routine, although my active stuff is in the morning and thinking stuff is afternoon (and wind down in evenings). I have an alarm at 11:30am to stop whatever I'm doing and walk the dog/bike ride/work out until 1pm, then lunch, then reading all afternoon. That is, guilt-free reading all afternoon!! If hubby suggests something else interesting or fun for the day, the schedule can get tossed out the window! Gotta love retirement!

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    3. Welcome, Leslie! In June I will have been retired 18 years...what a great ride!

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  3. I notice your daily activities make no mention the word “news”. At the risk of drifting off topic, (perhaps a separate post is in order?) let me mention that an entry on my “to do” list is “reduce or eliminate news consumption”.

    I know I spend precious time on news, simply based on curiosity and habit. And a desire to stay informed. I start my day with the local paper (real paper), then check the headlines online and inevitably get sucked into some interesting stories and from there, down into the rabbit hole. During the day (in between projects, reading, grandkids) I’ll occasionally check up on the latest news updates. Then it’s the evening news, dinner, reading, followed by an hour or two on some cable news program. Perhaps a Netflix movie instead.

    Add it all up and we’re talking serious time, surely better spent on more positive and productive endeavors. Not just wasted time but following the news is a mood-altering exercise…. especially these days. I have a feeling I’m not alone and I’m interested in any comments/suggestions.

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    1. I can relate, Fred. While we do get the New York Times and read it each morning, I have stopped watching TV shows or spending any time online chasing down the latest scandal. I used to waste at least an hour a day in this way, but stopped when I realized it was just upsetting me.

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  4. I am pretty free-form when it comes to schedules. Dave is much more organized than I am. I think it's the writer/artist in me that needs to be moved in the moment.
    b

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  5. I've a blend of the 2. I find if I have too many days with nothing scheduled I go a bit bonkers. I've got the classes I enjoy going to (yoga and zumba), walks & dinners with friends need to be pre-planned (their schedules more than mine), and the theater plans (tickets to different local shows). But other things are more just "the day"... our favorite food store has senior discounts on Wednesday (so why not shop that day, only issue is to avoid rush hours), my blog reading and commenting can occur at any time of the day (limited brain cell activity needed). Then there is the weather dependent stuff - is it nice enough to work in the yard today or get the SUPs out? And some days there's nothing but flow (like today!) when there is nothing on the schedule at all. I'll have to think about energy level through the day now to see if that could help me format my days. Thanks for that thought.

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    1. You are welcome! We are just back from taking the dogs to a park. Low brain activity, for sure!

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  6. Before I retired I had a weekly schedule all worked up with every hour of the day accounted for (some time was just left open). But now that I'm retired I find that I am just not that guy. I say this all the time, you just don't know who you will be in retirement until you get there and try it out. I was very different when working, who knew? :)

    So now I tend to plan my week around recurring events and planned events. I have regular lunches, go to university two days a week, and have season tickets to our new soccer team here in Atlanta. That's really all the structure I need. Everything else just fits in between those commitments. I spent most of my working life dreading some meeting or deadline - so now I enjoy the absence of commitments. I sleep so much better.

    Turned out that I was wrong about a lot of things I thought before I retired. I sleep much later than expected, stay up later at night, I read more, watch less TV, and I'm also trying to ween myself from spending too much time watching the news. Local news is just depressing (who got killed and what burned down) and national news is annoying and out of my control anyway.

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    1. A news fast is good for everyone.

      You have more going on than I do, in terms of planned activities. Last year and this have been rather empty of many commitments. Except for teaching Junior Achievement classes in the Spring and Fall, I have cut back on committee work and even going to Diamondback games. I do plan on taking a life long learning class in the fall. The nearest campus is about 20 minutes away...not bad.

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  7. I lead a combination schedule. My volunteer activities and meetings and exercise classes are scheduled, but I like the flexibility retirement allows to not plan every minute of every day. I like knowing I have something specific scheduled most days - otherwise I might spend the entire day on my computer and end up not having accomplished much of anything all day.

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    1. Your approach mirrors mine, Meryl. Tomorrow (Friday) the biggest must-do is a haircut in the morning. With the weather being very nice right now, I may spend some time bike riding even though that is not usually a Friday activity.

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  8. I'm just approaching full-time retirement, and I panic a little on days when I have no work deadlines. As a writer, I've often used deadlines to prod me to just get stuff done -- to slay that procrastination dragon. These unstructured, no-deadline days feel dangerously loose, as it there's work to do but I'm putting it off. I'm going to try your morning/afternoon/evening approach.

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    1. It is working for me. You'd think after 17 years I would have figured what works best long ago, but that hasn't been the case.

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  9. Hi Bob, your experiment sounds like what I've been doing since the beginning of my retirement 3 years ago. I have some set activities that really must run on schedule -- twice a week hikes with a hiking group, my personal training sessions at the gym, volunteer work at the local theatre. Some other things have a loose schedule that have to be done on some general schedule but there's flexibility (think of tending the garden). Then there's the "do it when you feel like it" stuff -- for the most part strictly recreational activities like reading, listening to music and so on. Perhaps these are the items that some people keep pushing off if they aren't scheduled but it hasn't been a problem for me. One thing for sure retirement shouldn't be a job full of scheduled deadlines with a performance review of every thing you do. Really it's all about balance and remember -- in retirement you are the boss.

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    1. I had to put reading on my afternoon list because I found myself reading too much each day. For a bibliophile that is hard to imagine, but true. With 3 or 4 books going at once, I have to be careful not to let that part of my life crowd out other things I enjoy.

      I'm interested: what type of volunteer work do you do at the local theater? My wife and two of my grandkids are theater types. I wonder if there is some niche I could fill to spend some quality time there.

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    2. Hi Bob, for the community theatre I am a "Front of House" volunteer. Essentially these are the people that you see on the way into the theatre -- greeters, ticket takers, ushers and so on. It's a 750 seat theatre and a full show will have about 20 volunteers performing various roles. Most community theatres run on a shoestring and can use all the help they can get. The bonus as a volunteer is that I might get to see about 1/2 of a performance on a night when I am there. I began doing this about 2-3 years before I retired and quite enjoy it but it's not for everyone. For sure it's not just take the tickets and then join the audience inside for the show (those that don't last long usually thought that's what they were signing up for).

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  10. Because I am a non planner, I rely on a couple routines and scheduled commitments and let that be it. I began a morning routine awhile ago that includes prayer and meditation, stretching, and checking my notes and writing. efore i get out of bed.i have scheduled exercise times and out of the house times and leave the rest. Having said that, I do usually make a note to myself of one project I'd like to do each day. I haven't set an alarm except for a couple of really early travel requirements in years. Like you, I let my body clock and my energy be my guide.

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    1. I seem to naturally wake up around 6:30. Except when there is something scheduled before 9, I haven't set an alarm in years. In Phoenix, in the summer, it starts getting light by 5 AM, so by 6:30 I have given up the battle! Betty is a night owl. Her preferred schedule would be bed around 11 and up at 6. That's not enough sleep for me.

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  11. I do manage my time in Retirement mainly because I am someone who just likes structure in their lives. I do have days where I don't plan and just go wherever the day takes me but usually I like my list and ticking things off. I like Barbara's comment about letting the body clock and energy be our guide.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond.

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    1. That's basically what I have been trying for the last month- matching my activities to my energy and body clock. I like the results.

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  12. I'm a lifelong scheduler, but I've relaxed my scheduling routine in retirement. I always have a to-do list for the day, and I tend to assign certain kinds of activities to certain times of the day (going for a walk, serious reading and writing in the morning, gardening in the afternoon); but I also schedule in time for sitting around doing nothing, and I'm willing to depart from my to-do list if I just find myself in the mood for doing something different. And I try to reserve at least two days a week with no outside activities or social engagements. -Jean

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    1. "I schedule in time for sitting around doing nothing." That reminds me of a post I wrote a few years about the need to plan for spontaneity! It sounds kind of silly, but for us recovering Type A people, some times we have to.

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  13. I sit down on Monday mornings and jot out in a notebook an "On My Mind" list. It is sort of a stream of mind and emotions mixture of anything I think I need to do, anything I want to do or start doing, anything I might dread doing or facing, anything I have scheduled for the week (appointments of any kind) or anything I'd like to do at a specific time (attend a community meeting or watch a special on TV for example), and anything else literally on my mind, including items such as "what am I going to do about X, Y, or Z). I still keep a monthly planner (not online) and refer to it for any entries I've made, as I jot everything out. The major benefit is that it serves to clear my mind for the upcoming week and let me easily assess what days I can make "free" and which I can't. I can also connect or consolidate items, for example to make trips into town more efficient. The major downside is that the "must do" items generally do get done during the week, and crossed out or lined through, and on time, but other optional items, even though "on my mind" may get bypassed. Bypassed items get carried forward to the next "On My Mind List" though. To some extent the "On My Mind List" also helps me identify things I may not be as interested in doing, as I sometimes think I am! If I consistently bypass "plant flowers" or "bake bread," maybe I'm not as keen on doing that as I imagine.

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    1. Your last comment reminds me of my attempt to keep at the guitar. I have started and stopped at least 7 times over the years. It finally occurred to me that it must not be that important if I keep quitting. If I pick it up now, I'm happy to remember where the notes are. Apparently, that is enough.

      The On My Mind" is an approach I don't I've ever encountered before. My Google calendar is important to me, but a keeping a stream of conscious journal and weekly prompt is interesting.

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  14. I like to think that I do my best work in the morning so if there's something pressing, I usually get at it first thing. So sometimes my energy level will dictate the schedule. I will usually assign 2-3 hrs for the very physical tasks. The season often dictates the to-do list. I start and end my day with reading and sometimes settle down with a cup of tea in the late afternoon with a book, especially in the winter time. Each day is a combination of activities that need doing and want doing - some fun, some work, some planned, some unexpected. I like to leave open space for the unexpected and spontaneous. I'm usually outside in the afternoon or evening for something physical depending upon the season. I schedule activities more than time. Like B. E. Johnson, I maintain a monthly timer for the very reasons that were cited in that reply. Scheduled appointments help to ground the week. I make lists of things to do, things to read, things to see, things to read. I learned a long time ago to make manageable lists and to just move on to the next thing rather than try to get it ALL done. Retirement has opened up the schedule to allow for more spontaneity.

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    1. Good examples of a system that work for you, Mona. Retirement does open up our schedule but doesn't through it out the window.

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  15. Since I downsized and moved from the suburbs to the city, there is a lot more to do/choose from, and my day does not revolve around house and yard work. I tend to get up when it gets light. I have an everyday routine of tasks (including reading this blog) and I exercise almost every day (Fitbit keeps me on track to meet walking exercise goals, extended continuous activity rather than all day puttering around the house, and I add hand weights and walk aerobics exercises on alternate days). Part of my routine is to read a small section in a couple of non-fiction books, one being something spiritual or inspirational, the other on something that interests me like history or art. I like to do all these things in the morning.
    I read and do needlework during the afternoon, watch something on Britbox or Acorn TV in the early evening. I fit housework in somewhere during the day, in small doses.
    I look at headlines on national news websites, but I agree that it does not add anything positive to my life. I never pay any attention to local news. I never involved myself in any kind of social media. Christian Science Monitor has in-depth, thoughtful, interesting, informative articles about current events around the world. I would like to find other sources like this for news.
    Otherwise, I have two to three activities on my calendar each week, typically a museum visit and lunch, lecture or class, and an early morning walk at the arboretum/botanical gardens. I add shopping and errands, outings with others as they come up. But I always schedule things in advance and then allow myself some flexibility. I like to have a plan and know what I am going to do on any given day and for this week and the coming week. I try not to schedule too much because I don't like to feel busy, I like to go places when it is least crowded, and try to avoid days of bad weather and anything that requires driving at night. I think this is a nice mix of peaceful times, activities that use my mind, and exercise.

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    1. I agree, Barbara, you have a good mix of activities, both scheduled and "go with the flow."

      For news, think about the BBC. They are accurate and unbiased. It also helps to get the perspective of someone outside this country. Their blend of world, U.K. and U.S. news is good. I read them on a mobile app, but you can the BBC on any computer or tablet.

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  16. Like you, I'm a blend. I have two classes scheduled every week; and a one-day job every two weeks. B and I have dinner pretty much the same time every night. I typically make a list of what I'm supposed to do tomorrow. But beyond these rather feeble attempts at "scheduling" I pretty much go with the flow.

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    1. BTW, I like your latest article for USN&WR, Tom!

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  17. I found early on in my retirement that my brain needed some kind of structure so I did schedule everything. But once my retirement lifestyle and routine set in, the schedule became much more loose. I just have things I want to do or get done and/or accomplish during the day, week, month, etc. It's pretty fluid now that my brain has shed decades of school/career productivity driven conditioning. Retirement can be a mind-trip during the transition period.

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    1. We all have years of social and parental conditioning to reassess at some point. Upon retirement productivity is in the eye of the beholder.

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  18. I am trying hard to not replicate the over-scheduled life I had during my career. Many days of the week have one or two things in the calendar - yoga, walking group, volunteer activity, writers group, etc., but I try to leave some big chunks of time everyday. Depending on the weather, opportunities that arise, or my mood, I spend that time writing, doing art, with my grandchildren, in the garden, hiking, skiing, and so on.

    Jude

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    1. I am still an over-scheduler, though my new system noted above is helping.

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