For many people, retirement means freedom. Freedom from work and freedom from schedules. Freedom to live on one’s own terms and freedom to do as you please. It’s time to sleep when you want, eat when you want, and do what you want.
That we can do as we wish every day is certainly true. We can sleep late or get up early. We can eat foods we love or eat nothing if we so choose. This approach may work when on vacation but as a strategy for retirement, it will mean squandering precious days with aimless activity.
Most people understand that life is short. There is no value in wasted time. Yet, we neglect making a roadmap for how to use some 20 or 30 years of retirement.
Squandering Money and Squandering Time
As a child, I was regularly admonished not to squander my money. My mother lived through the depression of the 1930s and learned how to scrimp and save, make do, and do without. As well as teaching me how to reuse and recycle, she gave tough lessons on how to manage money including how to save and how to be careful before assuming debt. As an adult, I learned the value of paying down the mortgage quickly, saving for retirement, buying insurance, making diversified investment choices, and taking the long view in terms of asset growth. In retirement, I’ve learned about tax planning, withdrawal strategies, and living with a fixed income.
Unfortunately, nobody ever urged me to take the same careful approach with time. I was never admonished not to squander time. Squandered money can usually be replenished but time can never be replenished nor replaced. Money grows in value in the long-term but time won’t grow in value. Once it’s gone, it’s lost forever.
Perhaps you are squandering your retirement time because you have only vague plans and goals. Given the complete choice of how to spend time often leads to wastefulness. Wasting time is like wasting life.
I regret the many ways in which I squandered time on senseless pursuits during younger years. I think of the time wasted in useless meetings, many of which I convened! I think of time spent doing things that I should have delegated. I think of hours used commuting from the suburbs to the city. I regret spending time with people who I disliked. I wasted time pursuing useless activities including housework that didn’t need doing, shopping for clothes I didn’t need, checking emails, trolling on Facebook, and watching television.
Everyone’s time is easily stolen. Sometimes other people steal precious time and sometimes, we steal precious time from ourselves by choosing pointless activities.
Distraction is one of the worst time bandits. Time gets squandered by disruptions or interruptions that take us away from important tasks. Learning how to concentrate without getting distracted by phone calls, emails, text messages or idle conversation is tough. Sometimes I wear headphones to limit external distractions when writing. Internal distractions are more difficult but concentrating on finishing one part of a project or one ‘to do’ item keeps me moving forward.
Closely related to distraction is another time bandit, multi-tasking. Trying to do two or three things at a time often leads to an accident or a mistake that takes time to fix. Who hasn’t rushed to prepare a meal and neglected to watch a pot of soup or potatoes while preparing a salad or setting the table? Of course, the pot boils over or something spills leaving a mess to clean up. I won’t go to examples of texting while driving or worse. Trying to split attention leads to wasted time. Focus on just one task, though difficult, usually means finishing faster with better results.
Procrastination is another common time bandit. Sometimes I waste precious time doing household tasks instead of tackling a writing project. I can spend two hours cleaning my desk or organizing files instead of sitting in front of my computer and writing a blog post. Most often, this happens when I’m feeling overwhelmed or when I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to write. When I worked, deadlines motivated me to get moving but, the only deadlines in retirement are those I set for myself.
Unnecessary worry is a vicious time bandit that creates anxiety. It’s a robber of sleep and equanimity. Too often we worry about things over which we have little or no control. Understanding that we can’t control most of what happens helps to curb unnecessary worry. Other useful techniques include using problem-solving skills learned over a lifetime, managing stress, and avoiding over-thinking situations.
Dealing with Time Bandits
With awareness of how time bandits contribute to squandering precious retirement time, I’ve paid more attention to how I spend my time. I decide on two or three things to accomplish in a week, a month or a season. I try to allocate time every day to work on these goals. Last summer I decided to read all the books that one of my book clubs would be discussing in the next year. With fall approaching and longer evenings, I’m determined to finish a couple of knitting projects that I abandoned when summer came. Last winter, I decided to improve at playing bridge and took bridge lessons.
Since I know my tendency to procrastinate, I try not to defer things that matter. For writing projects with no deadline, I keep to a routine and give myself small rewards when I finish a blog post. I try to catch myself when I find diversions that keep me from spending time on monthly or seasonal goals. Because many activities are time wasters. I try to moderate the time spent on social media, watching television, or bingeing on a favourite Netflix series. As for unnecessary worry, I keep a worry list in my journal and find that writing helps me identify what actions I can take to control worries.
Finally, on the topic of squandering time, Benjamin Franklin famously asked “dost thou love life?” and answered this question by saying “Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
It’s your choice — will retirement time be used for purposeful activities or will it be squandered in useless ways?