The first few weeks after I left my job, I was on a constant “freedom” high. There were no meetings, no deadlines, no fires to put out, and no alarm clocks to set. Those feelings of elation eventually lessened and I felt a bit overwhelmed and disoriented. What day is it? It’s a long weekend? Wow, where did the month go? Time can pass quickly with nothing to show for it, and dealing with this has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced since retiring (knock on wood).
Forgetting the pointers I learned in countless time management workshops, I burned my day planners. I tried to function with a “whatever happens” mentality but soon realized that being retired doesn’t mean not having a schedule. It is just a different schedule, a schedule based on your life, your interests, your needs, and not those of your work.
Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, presents a matrix on the Four Quadrants of Time Management. In this matrix, time management is divided into four quadrants:
Q1: Crisis and Emergencies,
Q2: Prevention, Planning, and Improvement,
Q3: Interruptions and Busy Work,
Q4: Time Wasters.
It is obvious that Quadrant 2 is the place we want to be, but most people spend the majority of their time in Quadrant 3. You can find a lot of matrix information and “how-to’s” online. Here is a site and a YouTube video to get you started.
It has been five months since I officially re-directed my life, yet I still get anxious about free time. I spend a lot of time in Covey’s Quadrant 4. It’s all about being accountable and learning to shift the focus of that accountability without a 9 to 5. For instance, my friend Kathie retired five years ago and discovered a passion for writing. She sets aside two hours five mornings a week to write. “It gives me structure and accountability to myself,” she says. “I don’t book anything else in that time.” And she sticks to it….morning coffee dates are definitely out! It’s working for her because so far she has published the illustrated chapter book If the Sky Could Dream, a children’s book entitled Let’s Fly, and is working on a novel.
I decided to follow Kathie’s lead and have started dedicating two hours every morning to writing. These two hours are my anchor. I also have activities Monday, Tuesday, Thursday evenings, and Friday afternoon, and knowing that I can schedule my time to allow for other things such as art, housework (well I’m not quite there yet), and just relaxing. What do you like to do? Do you allow time for your favorite activities? After all, you are retired, and now is the time to enjoy and appreciate things.
My friend Lori retired six years ago. I was still working and envied her freedom and energy. I remember she told me it was easy to have the energy when you were choosing the activities you wanted to do. She wasn’t exhausted from working all day.
“The thing that I’m working on right now is getting up at a fairly consistent time each day. I think I fooled myself into thinking that more time in bed meant a clearer, more focused mind, and therefore the ability for more intentional living to occur. When in reality, I felt more time-pressured and less likely to experience joy. I believe that having fewer expectations allowed me to find the space to feel joy. So, in a sense that does require conscious effort since our society is so accomplishment and reward-driven based on a competitive/capitalist model. I’m not sure if doing a lot is a goal for me. I believe it has more to do with contentment and being OK with where I’m at.”
Well said, Lori. Although free time can make some people feel anxious (ahem), it is important to accept that it isn’t necessary to be busy 24-7. Being busy is not a status symbol. It is just as important to relax— do what needs to be done, but do things that bring you joy.
Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and
their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the
brightest gems in a useful life.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet
A study by Wei-Ching Wang of the I-Shou University in Taiwan found that the effective management of free time has a far greater impact on a retiree’s quality of life than the amount of time the person has for leisure activities. His recommendation was that the government implement programs to educate people on how to manage their free time better and enjoy their retirement.
Leisure consists of all those virtuous activities by which a man grows morally, intellectually, and spiritually. It is that which makes a life worth living.
— Cicero, Roman philosopher
I think Wei-Ching is on to something. Time is one of the most valuable resources we have, so it makes sense to manage it well. And it is okay not to fill every waking moment with a planned activity. Mindfully doing nothing, or reading, or meditating is not wasting time, but rather recharging. Now and then, my Bluetooth speaker barks out: “Battery is low. Please recharge.” There is a good article here about relaxing and taking time out to recharge. The words “wasting time” have such a negative impact on our soul and how we see ourselves that we should stop using them. Check out this short video to find some more positive definitions of wasting time.
The opposite of wasting time is multitasking, and most of us have become quite good at that over the years. But, now we are hearing multitasking is not very good for us. Christine Carter, Ph.D., and author of several books, including The Sweet Spot How to Accomplish More By Doing Less says studies done to record the brain functions of multitasking people have found that short-term memory is affected. It only makes sense. How can you pay attention to one thing if you are doing several? Think about it the next time you sit down to watch some TV. Do you pull out your phone right away and check Facebook? Text? I love the way movie theatres have ads before movies to remind patrons to turn off their phones. There is some really good information at Very Well Mind about multitasking and brain health.
We can’t spend all of our time in quiet solitude, communing with our higher selves. So how do we find that balance and feel good about our use of time? It may take you a while to find what works for you. If you are a list person, don’t stop. I still use a day planner and the calendar on my phone. I tend to forget things or bite off more than I can chew, so keeping track helps me be more intentional. I like to make a list before I go to bed. Some people prefer to make that list over their morning coffee. A list gives you direction.
“I’m a list maker as well, which helps me a lot,” says my friend Fran, who retired two years ago. “I enjoy making that pen line across the finished activity or thing I was supposed to do for the day. I love crossing it out when finished. It helps me to get done what I need to do, but if I don’t get it finished, there’s always tomorrow. ”
Choose one of these three ways to handle a task fast:
- Do it yourself.
- Hire an expert to handle it for you.
- Decide that it isn’t worth doing and strike it off your to-do list.
— from 1001 Ways to Enjoy Your Retirement
Many people have big plans for their retirement. Painting the house, cleaning the garage, taking a trip. Once those are checked off, what happens? How do you go about the business of just living? Here are some things I have been doing:
- say no to things not important to you
- join a recreational sport (or competitive, whatever suits your fancy)
- take up a new hobby
- join a faith community or other group of like-minded people
- re-evaluate your goals often as they will change
- turn daily tasks into habits
- face each moment with gratitude and appreciation
SGI has an ad campaign for distracted driving and I think the slogan also relates to time management in retirement. “Keep your eyes on the road ahead. Everything else can wait.”
Managing your time is easy. Don’t try to manage it. Just live your life.