Taking Stock: Time


January 14, 2016 by Jean

Clock Clip ArtAs 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.

12 thoughts on “Taking Stock: Time

  1. Reblogged this on Retirement Made Simple and commented:
    “The right combination of structure and flexibility, productivity and relaxation.” My retirement goal as well.

  2. Jean R. says:

    Sounds like you’ve got a great handle on how to manage your time and be productive. I never worry about running out of things to do, rather I worry about running out of time in my life to do all the things I dream of doing.

    I’m pretty structured with my time, too. I like the routine of mornings on the computer, showers and time for the dog. Afternoons are for appointments, socializing, work project or running errands, etc. Evenings I read, do handcrafts, watch TV, write, research, do laundry…whatever I feel like.

    I laughed at your hourly schedules only because I tend to do that, too. I go so far as to have a timer by me at the computer or reading otherwise I’d completely miss shower time and leaving for appointments.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, As I get older, the timer becomes a more and more important tool. At least when it goes off, it reminds me that there is something I need to take care of — even if it takes me a minute to figure out what I need to do.
      I hope to run out of life before I get everything on my to-do list accomplished. The alternative is to run out of things to do and sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting to die.

  3. Sue Tibs says:

    This is such an interesting topic, Jean! My needs and approach is similar. I am a few months behind your journey, and I find your blog helpful.

    About the topic of time in retirement …. My challenge is this: When I get in “the zone of creativity”, hours and hours can go by and it totally blows my plans for things that I really need to do — either more predictably (like when I eat, shower, or sleep) or more routinely (like my writing practice).

    For me, this “creative mania” feels seasonal, but don’t ask me what seasons I am talking about! 🙂 I’m glad that it’s not my normal state of being!

    In the first few months of retirement, I installed a free app on my iPad called ATracker. It really helped me to plan one day at a time and to track time spent on what activities (when I wanted to boost my exercise or meditation time, for example).

    Sue Tibs

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I am in no danger of becoming so absorbed in what I am doing that I forget to eat or sleep :-). I do sometimes stay up well past my usual bedtime if I’m absorbed in something, but I know that I can sleep in a bit in the morning (one of the benefits of being retired). One of the reasons I try to keep my scheduled commitments to no more than 2 or 3 days a week is so that the rest of the days are flexible enough to go with the flow if I really get involved in something.

  4. puppy1952 says:

    Thank you – I identified with much of this. I don’t want to commit to anything regular but feel I’m not doing anything worthy. I have a very flexible routine and have 3 portfolios for a club I belong to while not having to attend committee meetings which is great! I just need to stop feeling guilty that I’m doing things for my own enjoyment now rather than for others.

    • Jean says:

      Puppy, I wonder about those 3 portfolios for your club. Surely they are something you do for the group rather than just for yourself. Maybe doing things for your own enjoyment and doing things for others are not opposing categories.

  5. I think I am still rebelling against the rigid schedules from education…so now as I try to work through structure and flexibility, productivity and relaxation, I find I am being less scheduled, more flexible and finding new ways to relax. I am letting things happen now. I d have some loosely scheduled goals/activities. But if I don’t get done…oh well there is tomorrow. It is just nice to be in control of my schedule.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I think higher education is much less rigidly scheduled than K-12. I did not teach every day or every hour of the day and had lots of control over which days and hours I taught, when I scheduled office hours, what time I arrived at and left the office, etc. For me, the trade-off is between time flexibility and social isolation and what I really need to schedule (to make sure it happens) is social time.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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