Endless Possibilities

“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.


21 thoughts on “Endless Possibilities

  1. Reblogged this on Live Da Life and commented:
    I totally agree with this post. Ironically, “retirement” offers so many options that sometimes trying a little of everything feels like you’re doing nothing. It took me almost a year to figure this out. I believe you can have anything you want but not necessarily everything at the same time. Someone told me recently that every time you say yes to something you ‘re not sure you want to do, you’re saying no to something else. The secret is prioritizing what’s most important to you at the moment and making daily decisions based on that.


  2. I always wondered what the authorised looks like and this is honestly my glimpse. From 70-80 hour work weeks with everything scheduled, I fear going full tilt into retirement will cause me not enjoy it.

    “What can we do today? Anything. What will we do? Probably nothing. I dunno”

    Anyone I’ve spoken to has said the transition to ER and full time retirement should be focused on what you want to achieve from it rather than a destination. If you want to come and consult for us, we’ve an opening for someone looking “experience” in a new field….

    Structure the bits your want to achieve and freestyle the rest


    • Maybe if you hate – really hate – the world of work, then you’ll love every minute of retirement. But I liked a lot of what working life delivered, even sometimes those seventy hour pressure weeks where you really felt you were contributing to something worthwhile…


  3. What an awful problem to have! Too much free time. I’m sure we all pity you so much. 🙂

    When it comes to getting things done around the house, I found a system that works for me. I set up a recurring Google reminder for it. First I’ll figure out the timeframe. How often do I want to vacuum the rug? How often should I wash the bedsheets? Change the kitchen sponge, all sorts of things. I even have annual reminders for things like “clean out and wash the fridge” and “donate clothes to Goodwill.” Then I get an email about it. I call them my auto-nags. So then I have an unopened email sitting there in my inbox, and I’m not allowed to delete it until I finish the task. Not a strict timeframe, but I need encouragement / reminders.


    • Yes, poor me. So little to do, so much time to do it. It’s funny, I’ve so many draft posts written about the challenges retirement brings that I’m frightened to post them because I know how many people just crave to escape their jobs. I don’t want to rain on the parade – or at least I think I don’t! – I’m just trying to point out that it’s not without its challenges. And they are real challenges.


  4. I appreciate that you’re showing some of the “Dark side” of ER. This is definitely something I can see myself struggling with.
    The lack of structure in a day is probably going to be enjoyable initially, but could lead to that kind of paralysis you’re talking about. I can see this happening when I have too many projects assigned to me at work, so I would probably be impacted in retirement as well


    • I started this blog because I felt that very few people were writing anything about the challenges of early retirement. I was feeling guilty that I was beginning to find it difficult to fill my days. What was wrong with me, why couldn’t I get my act together like Mr Moustache? He has such a fantastic life, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he? Well, I for one suspect not, but unfortunately he can’t escape his current blogging persona and write “Ye Gods, I am bored out my skull today” even if he wanted to. But I can, because some days it’s the truth.


  5. Your reflections make interesting reading (honest!) and food for thought for those of us standing on the edge of taking the plunge. I am very close to making irreversible decisions so I am particularly keen to glean what I can about how to cope on ‘the other side’. I think work (by which I mean employment I suppose) fulfils needs for many people that it’s quite hard to recreate – structure, status, a feeling of being part of a productive endeavour that is bigger than you…so I am giving some thought as to how I can try and put in place some of that, without the formality of having a job. I have a fairly (I think) good idea of the things I will find hard and hopefully also of the things I will appreciate about reclaiming my time. we’ll see ;-). I guess I might find out I don’t know myself as well as I think!


      • Easier said than done! definitely leaving my current post (even temporarily, or just downsizing hours significantly) is irreversible – no point kidding otherwise. Plus once I show my hand in starting to negotiate then I have to be willing to quit completely. I’m getting there 😉


  6. I have found that I also do need to “schedule” things in, including households tasks, or the days just fritter away and nothing gets done. That is not to say that I won’t toss it all out the window if a great opportunity comes up! So I book into my calendar weeding the garden or going grocery shopping, walks with friends, sending a set of emails for networking for potential short term project work, even writing and posting blogs. I do pick activities to try that fit best with my life vision (next week is a pottery class, and I’ve got a new mid-week foodie club event to plan). I think I learned I was a “structure gal” and without structure I felt a bit lost. Even if my calendar is 75% play and 25% work!


  7. Sounds like you need to get a job!

    If you end up taking ‘getting fireds’ offer then can you tell me what he does (he won’t tell me). I’m interested because the business is a 100-bagger. I’m guessing its a print/design shop of some sort.

    For the love of god don’t start writing ebooks or doing matched betting, these are spiritually moribund activities and won’t get you anywhere.

    I’d also advise against listening to Ferris – I read FHWW and he’s definitely a moron. To put this into context though, I also fall into the camp that thinks kiyosaki RDPD is snake-oil. I am right though..

    I too have grave suspicions about MMM, ever since I stumbled across a presentation of his on t’interweb on running a successful cult. I also distrust people who homeschool, although his latest post seems to suggest he might have jacked that in. Only a matter of time before there is a kool-aid incident at one of their Ecuadorian love-ins..

    TBH going to a gym is a bit dubious – in my book only acceptable if it is a training aid to some other goal, it shouldn’t be an end in itself. Staying fit/strong/healthy is what ‘going outdoors’ is for.

    Now that I’ve given all this great advice you can sort all these things out and you may cheer up and be as happy and spiritually complete as me, this comes at no charge (but if you want to pay me a TEA style fee of 175 for this shit then thats OK too)

    PS keep up the good blog. Its interesting to compare and contrast you and ermine. the ying and yang of those newly on the other side of the fence.


    • Some excellent advice and observations Rhino. All true. Except matched betting, which is “spiritually moribund” but allows me to pretend I’m a professional gambler when I’m sitting in the Bannatynes Cafe trying to get on Paddy Power through their wifi.


  8. I’m glad you appreciate my input.
    The very fact that you have a top-ten real-ales section on the blog suggests that you have your head screwed on and things will work out well in the goodness of time..
    If you were to stretch it to 11, then try and sample ‘hophead’ by a sussex brewery ‘dark star’, very agreeable.


  9. Great post & terrific comments to read through. I gave notice yesterday and am excited to wind down over the next 45 days. It sounds like I better keep my Apple calendar ready to keep productive and not dawdle my time away! 🙂


    • I guarantee you will love it for at least the first six months. I know I did and I learnt a lot about myself during that time too once the fetters of the office were removed. Take advantage of the time and don’t be too hard on yourself for frittering away the time (as I often found and find myself to be!) And well done for getting there.


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