Getting Things Done In Retirement

I do admit it.  Every once in a while when someone asks what I do in retirement I struggle to answer.  I think back to my week and realize that yes I exercised three times, volunteered for an afternoon at the school library, walked the dog daily, did some errands, helped my kid with a school project, finished writing 1250 words on my book, got some fall maintenance done around the house, read a book, worked on some crafts, bottle a batch of beer and baked some muffins.  But those things don’t sound all that interesting or particularly important compared to most people’s answers or stories from work about their 60 hour work week and having three major projects due next week.

Then I realized the other day perhaps my standards are all wrong.  Perhaps I should consider what I didn’t do in a week.  I didn’t spend over 20 hours in meetings where very little work actually got done.  I didn’t have to write up project status reports for anyone which most people won’t read.  I didn’t have to answer questions from co-workers or other interruptions at least ten times each day.  I didn’t have to book a meeting room to actually give myself some time to get some work done.  I’m not busy and I really should be proud of that fact.  The issue is we have confused busy work with real work.  Busy work isn’t real work, it takes you away from doing quality, well thought out and useful work.

Oddly enough, despite my relaxed weeks I honestly think I’m getting nearly as much done as I used to at work but in a faction of the time.  Do you any idea how much writing you can get done when you can focus completely on it for a hour?  I can usually get over 1000 words done on my book.   And that just isn’t crappy writing but rather a nicely thought out and organized draft  of 25% of a chapter.    Could I be doing more?  Potentially yes, but given I have tried to write more in the past in a short amount of time and I usually end up with a hot mess of text in desperate need of a good edit.  In short, I just make more work for myself to do. So I spend perhaps two hours a week focused on writing and then I don’t worry about it after I hit my weekly target.  It means it takes a bit longer to write a book but honestly I think I’m writing a better book because of it.

More time at work isn’t a good thing and I often thought during my career it was a failure when you did put in those extra hours.  Now that I’m retired from that job I completely agree.  Work could be so much better for people if the focus was on getting the ‘actual work’ done first and then ignoring much of the busy work that fills peoples’ days.  Why can’t we have a more sane work pace?  People aren’t machines and putting in more over time has been shown to actually get less done and often poorer quality work that often needs rework to fix it.

So yes, I wasn’t ‘busy’ this week and I won’t be busy next week either.  But you know what? I like this pace of life.  I can see doing this endlessly.  Can you say the same thing about your current pace at work?

Early Retirement is Elitist

If you have been around the early retirement blogger community for a while you will notice we have a high number of members who were engineers. I initially thought that was a interesting fact as I drank the kool-aid of thinking anyone could retire early. Then after reading this article in the Atlantic, my realization that I was never middle class it hit me all over again. I have always been really am well off and honestly I like to think it is my own merit and skill but I should really should mention I was born with a significant leg up on everyone else. Yet the real truth of the matter is it extends farther than just me. The entire concept of early retirement in your thirties or forties is really a niche carve out mainly of the subset of the professional class (like engineers, lawyers and other high paying career tracks) who crave freedom more than anything else.

After all we personal finance bloggers continuously preach that it is all a matter of saving a high percentage of your take home pay and just about anyone can do it.  If you can save half that is great, but if you can push it even higher to saving 66% of your take home pay then your working career gets even shorter and starts to approach a mere 10 year career.

See by telling the story in terms of percentage we mask the little details like it a hell of a lot easier to save 50% of your tax home pay when you are making a combined household income greater than $100,000 per year (and in a lot of cases per person).  When in fact, the median family in Canada is only $70,330 per year (2015).  Now toss in the average house cost in Canada is $495,000 and suddenly saving 50% of the median income at that level gets a LOT harder when you could be spending around 40% of your income on just the mortgage payment.

I used to think I was somewhat noble for doing early retirement after all I was giving up the option to be really rich if I kept working…of course I conveniently ignored the fact I was already rich compared to most people just not multiple millions in the bank rich.

My kids for example are already better off than I was. I was the last of four kids so my parents decided to cut off my university funding after my first two years and co-signed a line of credit instead (not that I’m blaming my parents at all for that decision there were a lot of factors that lead to that decision).  But it did result in me owing $25,000 when I left university.  My kids haven’t got to high school and they already have over $40,000 each saved for their post secondary education. Not to mention the fact they now have two parents who work in the house and are available to help them with homework, attend school functions and otherwise support them in just about everything.

While I can’t predict if my own kids will ever go after FIRE themselves the reality is they would end up with a huge leg up over my own attempt as they will likely graduate post secondary education with zero debt.  Thus further enabling my kids to retire even earlier than I did if they also go after a professional  or other high paying career.

So the question becomes is FIRE really possible for everyone?  While in a pure theory sort of way, the answer is yes.  The reality is much different.  The difficulty of early retirement keeps getting higher the less income you make and the scale isn’t just linear.  For a family earning less than medium income the odds start to become vanishingly small.  You basically need to live in a low cost of living region with a higher than average local income to make it work.   So in the end I have to conclude FIRE is basically an elitist concept that is mainly limited to high income people and those that succeed at it will always be a minority as compared to the general population.

Do you think FIRE is elitist?  Why or why not?

Life After FIRE – One Year Review – Part III

I was considering stopping my one year review with the last post but then it occurred to me that I didn’t really get into something I feel is VERY important for retirees in general: self motivation.

The problem is summed up like this: your workplace typically provided you with lots of external motivation to do things.  If you don’t do your work: then you get called out on it and potentially put on a ‘plan’ to improve or face being fired from your job.  If you don’t complete something on time, you typically have to provide a reason why, a revised due date and again might lose your job if you keep doing it.  And due to this highly developed structure you typically don’t need to provide much self motivation to do your work.

But now imagine you don’t have that workplace any more and in fact there is no one checking in on your progress or lack there of on anything.  So if you don’t do anything on a project and just play video games all week and at the end of it you might feel guilty but there often is no initial consequence for not working on the project.  All your external motivation is gone in retirement for the most part and suddenly you have to use all internal motivation on everything which isn’t a muscle that you have developed all that much prior to leaving your workplace.

So this can be a very significant problem for any retiree and after a time it is easy to fall into a series of bad habits and then feel mildly depressed about the entire retirement lifestyle.  While I personally didn’t get that bad about things I did underestimate how significant this can be during my first year off.

You see I’ve always been one of those people that thought they had a decent amount of self motivation.  I didn’t typically need reminders at work about much of anything and I was proactive on keeping people informed on changes of status of projects I was working on.  But I did forget for a while the often quoted cautionary tale for engineers: what happens when you give an engineer an unlimited project budget and no deadline? They never finish the project because they keep improving it.

Thus I fell into a trap of endless research on my next book and kept delaying starting on writing it.  It was only over the summer when I finally told myself this was getting nuts did I start with writing out a table of contents and then start writing every weekday to actually get some progress done.  And so far that has helped, I can have weeks where I fall off the wagon a bit and not get as much done as I should but overall I’m much further ahead then I had been for the last four months or so.

So this is your cautionary tale for any retiree: do not underestimate how important self motivation is for getting anything done.  Feel free to use any and all tricks you need to keep it going: offer yourself rewards for getting things done, tell others about your deadlines so they can help remind you to keep working, sign up for specific training or appointments in the future to help drive you to get something done.  What ever you need, feel free to use it.

In the end, if you want to get anything big done you are going to need to figure out how to manage your own internal motivation.  And this is key because one of the major components of long term happiness is working towards a project you find meaningful.  You need to accomplish something that you care about and it doesn’t matter what that project is (running a race, being a better parent, helping out in your community) you need self motivation to get there.

This concludes this series of posts on my one year of FIRE.  Of course, please  continue ask any questions you have in the comments.

A blog about early retirement and happiness