Many older Americans say they want to retire because they dislike working, but finances force them to stay on the job. Others would like to work longer but hate their job. Then there are those who would enjoy working longer if they could reduce the demands, stress, or boredom associated with their current job. All these cases represent common problems that can perhaps be solved by redesigning your current job. That’s what I did.
I have had basically the same job for 31 years. At year 29, I started looking down the road at retirement. I also examined my work life. I realized that there were parts of my job I really liked, other parts that were tolerable, and some aspects were boring or stressful to the point of being intolerable. I was not ready to retire emotionally. I wanted to extend my work life, but redesign my job in a way that maximized the non-financial benefits working provided. This is what I did:
1. I stopped taking on projects that elevated my stress or controlled my calendar. Years of stress take a toll, as do the antics of folks who can assign arbitrary deadlines. After an extended period of self-examination, I identified the types of projects and clients that were the primary sources of these life-killer stressors. I then negotiated with my office colleagues a plan under which I would no longer work on these projects or for these clients.
2. I minimized interactions with others who made my job harder, not easier. We all know people at work who are helpers and others who just get in the way. I internally identified those folks in my office who were not helpful. I then decided (again internally) not to work or interact with them whenever possible.
3. I stopped using paper. This strategy may seem strange, but it was remarkably effective for me. Piles of paper are stressful. They represent tasks that may be undone or overlooked. A mess of paper also signifies a disorganized work life. Several years ago our firm implemented new office systems that made a paperless office possible. I have fully embraced this opportunity. I do not allow paper in my office. I rarely carry work papers with me, even to business meetings. I teach a college class without paper. Everything is stored digitally for easy access from anywhere. Using digital storage forces me to stay organized. Being organized without paper is relaxing.
4. I adopted technology to allow me to productively work at any time and from any location. I don’t like being stuck in the office. Working is a lot more enjoyable if you are able to choose the times and places for doing your work within limits. Going paperless allowed me to extend my office beyond specific physical parameters. My office is wherever I am with a computer and an internet connection. Our office systems provide seamless remote access to all of my digital files and business software. Now I can work at any time during the day that I choose, wherever I am. This also creates opportunities for taking more stress-busting breaks during a conventional 9 to 5 workday. Having time and place work flexibility is much closer to retirement bliss than I expected.
The steps I have described were remarkably successful. My mood and productivity have improved exponentially. Last year was not the most financially rewarding time for me. But, at my life stage, money is less important than having a work life that can emotionally support me as I progress toward retirement. I am fortunate that these job redesign options were available to me. They may not be available to everyone. But it may be worth your time and effort to redesign your job in your own way.
Mark Patterson is an engineer, patent attorney, baby boomer, and author of The Failsafe Retirement System. He blogs on matters of personal finance and retirement planning at Tough Money Love and Go To Retirement.