Only in my wildest dreams did I imagine that retirement would bring such a plenitude of social activities that I would need to learn to say ‘no’ to some of the opportunities. As one of my former colleagues observed, “I’m like a kid in a candy store!” Before retiring, I had subscribed to the common belief that time would be the one things that would be in surplus and that I would suffer boredom without work to stimulate me. Not true!
During the past few weeks I have struggled to find enough time to get to the gym, to finish basic household chores, finish projects, see friends, and to meet volunteer commitments made in the early phase of retirement. I had to decline a couple of great invitations because of courses I’m taking or meetings that I agreed to attend. Worse, I missed a couple of events because I had neglected to calendar them accurately — how I miss having an assistant to do the scheduling! It was uncharacteristic for me to miss an appointment as I had always prided myself as super-organized and reliable about keeping commitments! My days and evenings were beginning to feel like a whirlwind. I had to start saying ‘NO’ — first to myself and then to requests from others.
To manage that desperate feeling of being over-scheduled and overwhelmed that I experienced so often during my career days, I took stock and set some priorities based on my aspirations and dreams. I evaluated how I’m spending time in my retirement to keep some of the most precious asset I have — my time. Some basic time management techniques have been helpful in regaining control of my life.
Why use time management when it’s your own time?
There is a simple answer — even in retirement you still want to get the most out of every day. You want and need to keep accomplishing things that are important in your life plan.
Thus, time becomes a more precious commodity in retirement. It needs to be managed as carefully as it was during those days of corporate life without taking on the stress associated with too many responsibilities. How else will those dreams and aspirations be realized?
In coming to this realization, I made an 90 degree turn on some of the resolutions with which I began the retirement journey. I had vowed not to live with a schedule — to sleep when I wanted to sleep, to eat when I wanted to eat, and to live each day as it evolved. As the months passed , it became obvious that more structure was necessary if this gift of time were to be used effectively in managing my life aspirations. ‘Floating along’ was no longer working.
Re-gaining Control of Time
Use of a daily/weekly time log for the past few weeks made me realize how much time I was using for daily crossword and Sudoku, for checking and responding to emails, for online searches, for over-reading the daily news. The hours I spent driving to courses, to the gym and to meetings was surprising as most of these activities happen in venues close to home. Hobbies and projects designated in my annual ‘dreams’ plan appeared in the logs; however the time devoted to these activities was lower than expected.
This log formed the basis for change.
Although I resisted it, I had to develop a schedule to make sure that priority projects such as keeping up with my blog posts would receive the required time and attention. Putting all of my commitments back into an electronic calendar which had been an essential tool before retirement, showed where there was slack time. The daily reminders of important events in my life come by email so I don’t miss appointments. Diligently using the schedule takes discipline but it has turned into a wonderful electronic assistant. For those readers that don’t find an electronic calendar useful, a purse or pocket calendar will do the same job — keeping you on track with priorities and ensuring that you don’t miss important appointments.
In creating the schedule, maintaining an element of flexibility was important. Flexibility gives freedom to accept offers for interesting social activities that come with a short notice. It also ensures that there is some breathing space which is essential in combatting the stress associated with your schedule controlling your life. After all, retirement should allow some ‘goofing off’ without guilt. Structuring the days and weeks has also safe-guarded an amount of leisure time allowing for those moments when listening to your inner child and allowing for some play makes a day happier.
Like many others who have recently retired, I have a long list of ‘little jobs’ that were set aside to be completed after retirement. In developing my weekly schedule, I have devoted a bit of time to getting rid of irritating tasks that form the ‘little jobs’ list. For these tasks, I set time boundaries with the rationalization that leaving some of these tasks unfinished hasn’t affected my quality of life up to now and likely won’t affect the quality of my life if they are deferred for a bit longer. Because the list is lengthy, it will take several months for complete elimination. There is, however, a strange satisfaction that comes from dealing with these small irritations — a satisfaction that clears the way for focusing on more important priorities.
Working at the ‘little job’ list has led me directly into getting rid of clutter accumulated over many years and spread throughout my house. Some of the ‘little jobs’ grow larger because of too much stuff. Sorting through many ‘things’ has helped me to understand the value of living with less. Retirement is the beginning of a new phase of life so it is a great opportunity to test the need for the surfeit of clothes, books, dishes, utensils, sports equipment and furniture. I have listened so many times to some of my yoga teachers talking about the necessity of eliminating old baggage to allow new beginnings. While I’m sure they are referring to negative thinking, getting rid of some of the clutter in my house is freeing me to think differently about the fresh start that retirement provides. Interestingly, as the physical clutter is going out the door, so is some of the emotional clutter!
Finally, regaining control of time means choosing with whom you spend your time. When I refuse some invitations from my husband or others — for club dinners/banquets, breakfasts, etc., I sometimes have a moment of guilt. I refuse these invitations because I have spent years going to ‘rubber chicken’ dinners with too many speeches and making light conversation with people whose names I don’t remember the next day and who likely don’t remember me. Instead, I hang out with people who I know and with whom I like to socialize — and I do this with or without my husband’s company as I also respect that he may not want to go with me to some of the activities that I attend. When we do spend time with each other, we can appreciate the gifts of our relationship without feelings of obligation or regret.
I also choose to spend time alone as I quite enjoy my own company and spending time alone is one of the luxuries of retirement. Time alone nurtures the soul and is a sure-fire strategy to keep you feeling energized and happy. It’s an important self-care strategy that I value above all others. Even small amounts of time used for thinking, listening to music, reading, or doing nothing are precious and will only be gained by successful priority setting.
By introducing some basic time management into your retirement days and weeks, you will be more organized and more focused. It has allowed me to regain a sense of control while allowing enough ‘slack’ to keep the retirement thermometer at a high level.
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