“If you want something done, ask a busy man”. This used to be one of my favourite rejoinders to my boss in the office when he dumped another project on my desk. I liked using it because (a) it was clear that I meant that I was both the busy and productive man and (b) it inferred he was neither.
How I miss the old bugger. I reflected on this as the sleet beat against the windows on a dull winter Wednesday morning and I wondered how to fill my day? The possibilities, the things I could do, were endless. So how come I couldn’t seem to start on any of them?
Eventually, when the sleet subsided, I decided to give myself a kick up the backside, don my running gear and head out for a five mile run (okay, I admit, it’s more of a run/walk mix). Perhaps that would start my creative juices flowing? I plugged in my earphones and started a Tim Ferriss podcast to listen to as I ran, as I do find quite a lot of his stuff pretty motivational. He seems to be the archetypical busy man who gets things done.
I was quite surprised then, to hear Tim moaning on the podcast about his inability to fill his time productively. It’s not that he’s short of things to do, it’s that he has so many options he somehow fails to get traction on any of them. This has become a problem for him:
“What I thought I wanted – the freedom of infinite options – is not what I want at all. It’s very stressful. You burn calories in endless directions, you become fatigued and you end up getting no shit done.”
This hit home to me when I heard it, because retirement does deliver this exact situation – you do feel as if you have “infinite options” for your time. And often you have quite a long list of things you might want to achieve with it, from going to the gym, to tidying up the garden, cooking a nice fresh lunch and dinner, sitting down and finally starting on that ebook publishing (I will get ‘round to this Huw!) setting up my matched bets for the day (I will try to commit to this as much as Guy has!), writing up potential blog posts, tinkering with a website design I’m working on for a local group, making a few calls to see if I can land any consultancy projects…..and on and on my list goes. I’m sure you could write a long list of your own of “Things To Do” if only you had the time at your disposal that I do.
Yes, I have the time – but I increasingly find I’m failing to get things done and it’s really, really frustrating. Somehow the time drifts by and, before I know it, the sky is darkening and the day is beginning to draw to a close. And what have I achieved? Nothing!
The problem here is two fold: structure and self-discipline. (Or a lack of them.) Of the two, however, it’s self-discipline that’s the important one. Structure is quite easy. For example, I hate ironing and I hate washing my car. I could quite easily structure these tasks into my week – I could wash the car every Tuesday morning at nine and I could schedule an hour of ironing on a Wednesday evening at seven. But that seems rather silly, doesn’t it? I could do these tasks any time, so why bother writing them into some Time Management spreadsheet that Stephen Covey would be proud of? Well, one look at the pile of laundry lying in my wardrobe and the state of my car sitting in the drive answers that. What I’m currently doing isn’t working!
I’ve perhaps chosen two trite examples there, but it’s not the specific tasks that are important. It’s having a strategy and approach to achieving them that’s the key thing. Achieving tasks that you’ve set yourself improves your self-discipline. You’re making a commitment to yourself and it’s important that you see it through. I used to believe this wholeheartedly when I was working – if I wasn’t disciplined and proactively managing my time, then work could quite easily steal hours that I needed and wanted for myself.
An office working day is usually quite structured, with both a projected start time and an end time that you’d like to pack up by. In between, you might have meetings to attend, reports to write and projects to complete that are dotted through your day. In the slots of time that are unallocated, you might have an idea of what you need to do with them – nip out for lunch, pay some bills via internet banking, grab a coffee with a colleague. There will be some flexibility to the routine, but there will be things that are anchored in the day and which can’t be moved.
A typical retirement day is quite different. There is very little that is fixed in any given day that you can’t change. Yes, I could start with an hour in the gym kicking off at eight in the morning. Mind you, I could go mid-morning when it’s quieter. Or, even better, it’s deserted between half two and four in the afternoon, why not go then? But at night, some of my friends will be there early evening after they’ve finished work, so perhaps wait until then so that I can catch up with them? When I was working, this was a lot simpler. The gym was done either before 8am or after 7pm. End of story. With a more limited framework, I slotted it into a time and got it done.
It seems quite perverse that I’m beginning to think I need to structure retirement days to be a bit more like working days in order to the get the most from them. I thought that the whole point of retirement was to have a choice of “infinite possibilities” for my time that Tim Ferriss also thought he wanted. But, when you stand before your retirement day in the same way that you stand before a Starbucks menu, stumped by the endless list of options and unable to easily decide on which coffee you want, the “Paradox of Choice” applies to your time in retirement as well as your tasks. In order to tackle it, you need a strategy and a commitment to make your days productive for you in the same way that your working life once did.