How Busy Am I?


June 23, 2017 by Jean

imageRecently, several friends and family members have commented about how busy I am. It is true that I have a lot going on: work on my garden and volunteer work as a Master Gardener, at the McLaughlin Garden as part of my membership in the Foothills Garden Club, and as a member of my town Conservation Commission. Summer is the busy season for garden club activities, mostly visits to gardens. Although my chorale group is on hiatus for the summer (after a late May concert of songs from Carole King and James Taylor), I did turn out last week as part of a small group singing the National Anthem at a local business conference, and I have signed up for a series of summer workshops on vocal technique. And then there are my courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which mostly take place during the summer and fall. Several times in recent weeks, I have responded to comments about how busy I am by describing myself as “one of those retirees who’s so busy I can’t remember how I ever found the time to hold a job.”

But is this really true?  It is true that retirement has provided me with an opportunity to pursue many interests and activities that I never would have found the time for when I was working. And it is also true that, as I explained to a recently retired acquaintance, I sometimes get carried away with my enthusiasms. But do those enthusiasms and activities constitute a schedule of commitments similar to a paid job? The answer is an emphatic “No.” Last week, when I was arranging a get-together with a woman in my town who serves on the Board of Selectpersons, she raised the possibility of my running for a seat on the Board in next year’s election. My instantaneous response was “No way! That would be too much like having a job.” Retirement has brought with it a new standard of what it means to be busy. When people comment on how busy I am, they don’t mean that I am as busy as a person working 60-80 (or even 40) hours per week; they mean that I seem very busy for a retired person.

Here are some of the ways that my being a busy retiree is different from being busy at work:

  • When I was working, being busy meant that virtually every minute of my day (sometimes every minute of the week) was scheduled; being busy in retirement means that I have some part of the day scheduled on more than half the days in a week.
  • When I was working, I often skimped on sleep in order to get everything done. In retirement, I get enough sleep and almost never set an alarm, waking up spontaneously and full of energy.
  • In retirement, as when I was working, I spend a lot of time reading. The difference is that now my reading is shaped by interests and enjoyment rather than by the requirements of my work.
  • When I was working, I struggled to keep even part of one day a week free for relaxation; in retirement, I take time for relaxation almost every day, and I set aside time for solitude by scheduling few commitments before noon.
  • In retirement, no matter how busy I am, I can almost always take advantage of an opportunity to pursue an interest, activity, or new friendship – even on short notice.


I think that when retirees say they are so busy they can’t remember how they ever had time for work, they don’t mean that their retirement activities have constrained their time as much as their jobs did when they were working. What they are really saying is that they can no longer imagine living with the kinds of constraints imposed by paid work.

10 thoughts on “How Busy Am I?

  1. JeanR says:

    Great topic. You are certainly making the most out of your retirement. What you said about not having to set an alarm hit home with me. Since February I took on a commitment that has caused me to get up with an alarm three days a week and that gets old quickly. Thankfully, that commitment ends next week. When you work, your every day is directed by someone else, when you’re retired you are busy as you want to be, or not.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I don’t mind setting an alarm occasionally for something that I’m really looking forward to, but three days a week would get old fast. Right around the time I retired, I saw a very funny video that began with a woman waking up to her alarm clock and then saying, “Wait, I’m retired; I don’t have to do this anymore!” The next scene showed her outside in her bathrobe, with a rifle pointed at the alarm clock sitting on a tree stump. I laughed so hard; exactly how I felt!

  2. Karen D says:

    I appreciate your posts very much. I wonder if you meant to say that your choral group performed songs of Carole King and James Taylor? Your writings have set a very high bar! Thank you.

    • Jean says:

      Thanks for catching that typo, Karen! I used to work with someone named Carol Taylor, and I think my sleepy morning brain got stuck on that name.

  3. Brenda says:

    During my years working, many of my non-work interests were put on hold, packed up and ready to go for retirement. As a result, since retiring, I have had to pace myself so as not to become too busy. For me, I found that volunteering can be a time-sucking vortex if I’m not careful. It’s a wonderful problem to have, though!

  4. GARY says:

    Perfectly said Jean! I couldn’t have stated retirement time any more succinctly.

  5. Dr Sock says:

    I have always wondered about retirees who say that they have never been so busy in all their life. Perhaps they had very laid back jobs? Certainly in my former career, I had very little time for leisure activities; my work took up almost every minute of the day. For me, the freedom to spend my time how I wish in retirement feels like a huge luxury. I like the distinction that you make: “very busy for a retiree.”


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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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