Category Archives: Happiness

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?

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.

Life After FIRE – One Year Review – Part I

Okay, let’s get the big thing out of the way. I’m so in love with my early retirement I can’t even see going back to full time work. I just enjoy this new lifestyle too much.  I will stand by my previous thought I won’t mind part time hours up to half time or so.  Just so far nothing as worked out along those lines.

So what are the positives of this new lifestyle?  Well it’s a long list but I enjoy the following the most:

  • That I no longer wake up to an alarm like 99% of the time (I did use it a few times to get up early for something and I didn’t want to oversleep).
  • I get to do things when I want to do them.  So if I’m tired I do less and when I’m in a grove I get more done.  This is so different from my old day job and I seriously enjoy this more than I thought.  The ability to adjust my day based  on how I’m doing is literally priceless to me.
  • I almost never feel stressed out anymore.  I, of course, still feel some stress but it really isn’t even in the ballpark of my life (which wasn’t really that stressful to begin with).  I honestly feel like hippie some days as I look at other stressed out people and resist the urge to tell them to just chill out a bit
  • I get to follow my curiosity where ever it goes.  So if I develop an interest in a new book series I can borrow them all from the library and read them.  Or research an term I found in a book or even watch YouTube videos to learn a new hobby.

Yet I should caution that not everything is positive.  I still have a problem in early retirement: I still have too much to do. What the @$%#? Yes, I know. You may hate me for a moment. The issue remains the same as before I retired. I have a lot of interests and things I want to try which is more than the time I have available. The side effect of this is that I’ve never been bored remotely even once during the last year. Yet I feel much better now as I don’t feel I’m squeezing in life at the seams but rather living it to its potential each day.

Part of that come from the fact I can now do things at my own pace as I mentioned above. I feel like for the first time that I’m not really ignoring parts of my life. I get to them all eventually it often take me weeks to cycle through all my interests. Part of it is that I choose to leave time for those quiet moments in life. If I’m out for a walk and something catches my eye I can stop and have a look. Or I can make sure to spend some time each day reading and not feel guilty over it.

Yet one lesson I have learned in the last year is how easily it is for time to go by without you realizing it. In the beginning I gave myself permission to do not much, yet over time I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted to create and work towards something big. Of course, what that is can be anything and it various from person to person but we all need ‘work‘ on something we find meaningful. I think this is so overlooked by many retirees regardless of age. You don’t stop wanting to achieve things because you left work. That desire is still there and needs to be fed with something. Of course what you find meaningful is highly subjective. I’m fairly sure some people would consider me making little trees for my kid’s D&D game a massive waste of time but I like the challenge of learning new skills, being a bit artistic and having a tangible product of the end of my time.  It means something to me and that is all that matters.

With that in mind perhaps my only regret in the last year was how little time I focused on my writing. I enjoy writing but I was still wasn’t doing it every day for most of the last year. I didn’t find a good rhythm for doing it until summer where I made it more of a habit and started writing my next non-fiction book which is the sequel to Free at 45 (I’m got a first draft of five chapters so far).

Which brings me to my next point. I’ve added some extra structure to my days during the summer. Not a lot more but just a bit more. Why? I found I was avoiding things too much which didn’t really need to be delayed like writing my latest book. So now I give myself permission to be lazier on the weekends and then write out a to do list for each week. I also include certain habits that I want to do in that list.  So going for a run three times a week is on it and writing at least a page per day on my book on average and drafting at least one blog post a week.  You might wonder why a ‘to do’ list.   Well I always liked using them at work previously and they do help me to make sure I don’t forget to do something.  But really the structure can be just about anything you want to help you get things accomplished.

Perhaps one item that seems a little silly but never the less I’m proud of my ability to bask in those little quiet moments in life a bit more. I can pause on a walk and just marvel at the light coming through the trees and not feel guilty for taking time. Life really does now move at a slower more sane pace for me and I don’t ever want to give that up now.

I also don’t regret leaving when I did. I could have saved more money prior to leaving and have additional savings to pay for some things that have come up over the last year but I really don’t regret it. Why? I don’t mind limits from the money. It keeps me in check for determining my priorities and not buying too much stuff that I won’t get around to using. Having too much cash I think would make me more prone to impulse buying or getting too much of a backlog of things to do. Which I know I can happen to me..see exhibit A: my video game collection is a bit too big and I have almost 100 games on my GOG.com account and I’ve barely finished like 11 of them. So to deal with that I’ve just banned myself from buying new games for this year. Or exhibit B: my Netflix to watch list still hasn’t gone down that much either in the last year.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the money side of the early retirement in a bit more detail. In the mean time, did you have any particular questions about my first year of early retirement?  Please ask away in the comments.