January 14, 2016 by Jean
As my second year of retirement begins, I am taking stock of how things are going. My last post (Taking Stock: Finances) focused on how I am doing financially; this one focuses on how I am using my time. While finances tend to be the biggest worry about retirement and something people think about and plan for well in advance, time is both the great lure of retirement and its great unknown. I probably wasn’t unusual in spending years thinking about how I would finance my retirement before it occurred to me to consider how I would spend my time in retirement.
I have always had a strong relationship with time. As a child, I made long complicated time schedules to structure my summer days. Recently, an old college roommate reminded me about the hourly schedule that hung over my desk in our dormitory room. I didn’t always stick to that schedule; it was more of a guideline. What I needed then (and still need now) was structure with flexibility. During my years in academia, the academic calendar provided that combination of structure and flexibility by alternating semesters of busy and highly scheduled hours with wonderfully relaxing periods of flexible time between semesters.
In my retirement, I’m still experimenting with how to get the right combination of structure and flexibility, productivity and relaxation. Some of my retired friends arrange their lives so that most of their time is committed, but that seems too rigid for me. Before I retired, I assumed I would need a combination of scheduled time and free time, and I thought I might want a regularly scheduled weekly volunteer activity that would anchor my time and provide needed structure (see Transitioning to Retirement: How Will I Spend My Time?). I have found instead that I prefer my structure to be more flexible, in the form of scheduled activities that last a few weeks or a few months – the 8-week senior college course that I took last spring, another 8-week course that I taught in the fall, my 10-week singing workshop from last spring, and the 3-month master gardener training that I hope to begin next month.
Because I like structures and routines, I naturally tend to structure my time and to do similar activities at similar times each day, but I can be flexible about this. I probably spend the most hours in the day doing what I also spent the most time at when I was working – reading. At any given time, I might have three books in process, a challenging intellectual work (e.g., sociological theory or social history) that I read in the morning, a less challenging non-fiction work (e.g., garden books) for afternoon, and a novel for the evening. I also try to spend time writing (primarily blog posts) at least three days a week, usually during the morning hours. I take time to exercise on most days – first thing in the morning during the warmer months and mid-day, just before lunch, in the cooler months. I usually have some house-related project that I work on in the afternoons at least three days a week – garden projects in spring, summer and early fall, stacking firewood in the late fall, and indoor projects in the winter. I am less likely to schedule evening hours than daytime hours, and I find that I still like to distinguish weekends from weekdays by making weekdays more scheduled and weekends more relaxed.
At the end of one year, I don’t have any sense of being at loose ends with too little to do. Nor am I concerned that I might run out of things to do or get bored. My interests and the list of books I want to read seem to keep expanding. I do sometimes feel restless and find myself flitting from one thing to the next, usually when I’m trying to avoid some unpleasant chore or experiencing a writing block. I’m working on strategies to keep myself focused on work that I find difficult – creating deadlines, committing myself to making some progress by the end of the day, promising myself a reward at the end of a task, or setting the timer and forcing myself to keep at it until time is up.
Figuring out how to manage retirement time, like figuring out how to manage retirement finances, is a learning process. The learning curve has been fairly steep in the first year, but I am enjoying that learning process and expect to get better at this as time goes on.