I’ve been thinking about the use of my time lately, and as a person with an intense (sometimes!) work schedule, family responsibilities, and social and volunteer obligations, it often feels like I have NO TIME! Let me explain– the work I do is usually in blocks of days, leaving my home and traveling for at least 3 days, where I am in a different time zone, eating, sleeping, and trying to exercise, all off my usual “body clock”. As a result, and in order to keep forward progress on all of life’s requirements, I use a to do list to knock off bite-sized tasks that I can squeeze into the functional minutes of sometimes an hour here or there when I’m traveling. This routine started to transition over to my home life, where upon return, I had ‘catching up’ to do from my time away. And because of the nature of my job, I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years!
So, I guess you could say, it works. Tasks get done, more or less, and no one has come to repossess my car or turn off my electricity. Yet with all the attention to the tasks, I find myself asking, WHERE IS THE LIFE I WANT TO LEAD? Is there really any time available to create or enjoy that kind of environment which lends itself to flow–an ability to get into a zone- be it a project, a book, or a hobby, and reap the benefit of what comes from losing all sense of time due to enjoyment of the process? Is that a necessary part of life? I think it is, and I also believe it isn’t something to aspire to only in retirement, when there seems to be more time than ever. It’s something to learn and incorporate into your life right now, in ways big or small.
The tendency for the transition to retirement, especially for people who have been time-constrained, is two-fold: one approach is to start tackling, in earnest, the growing to do list that went off the rails at some point during their working career. This is especially true if the to do list involves long-desired house and home projects that a couple wanted to see done but could never find the time or attention to address. Basement and garage cleaning, photo organizing, thorough address of all stuff– decluttering and the like, are often on this list, and realistically could take months to accomplish. That’s the other attraction of the to do list– at the end of the day, month, year, you can say, I DID IT! Accomplishments are the driver of the endorphins which lift up our human spirits, and for new retirees it is critical to realize the lack of job-related lift needs to be replaced by another source of purpose. This is where the to do list can become a crutch to use to get through the natural difficulty in separation of self from a job-related identity when one retires.
The second tendency is for a new retiree looking for “problems to solve”. All of a sudden, the spouse’s method of roasting the chicken isn’t as efficient as it could be, according to the observing retiree. Or the kitchen “needs” to be reorganized- “Why are the spatulas in the drawer, not next to the stove?” This critical, and recent observation skill, to the retiree is a way to be a more useful contributor to the household management, but it can also cause tremendous friction between partners who are BOTH adjusting to a new reality of life together.
I’m not saying that a to do list isn’t necessary or desired in a retirement transition–it provides tremendous relief to have the time now to get those nagging tasks done, so that there is more time for life. But I think the incorporation of new life events–volunteering, projects, and hobbies, can be an even more rewarding way to start the next chapter, and there should be enough time for the to do list and LIFE to be lived, in parallel.