Filling Up 8 Extra Hours in Retirement

Most of your day will be spent lingering over little pleasures.

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Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you read the word retirement? Skydiving? Climbing Mount Everest? Saving the world? You’re thinking non-stop excitement, right? Or maybe you’re thinking hammocks, shuffleboard, and Bermuda shorts with black knee socks.

Some soon-to-be retirees wonder how on earth they will fill eight hours a day of previously engaged time with something, well, engaging. Others nearing retirement are thrilled with the prospect of so much extra time to devote to new passions. I’m here to tell you they are both wrong. The thing is, you don’t really have eight more hours to devote to new passions or even to boredom. Yes, mathematically you do, but trust me, you don’t. Here’s where your time goes in retirement.

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Sleep. Now you get six, maybe seven hours of it. You have an alarm clock that wakes you up and you are never happy about it. When you retire, so does your alarm clock. In retirement you will not hit the sack before you are tired and you certainly won’t get out of it before you are good and rested. What does this mean? About an hour or two a day. Now you’re down to six hours to fill.

Taking it slow. Think about your morning routine. You hit the snooze button a few times, then jump out of bed with a racing heart because you overslept. Again. You hurry to brush your teeth, shower, and drink your coffee while scanning the headlines. No time for a real breakfast. Grab a bar resembling breakfast and eat it in the car. Get on the road before rush hour.

There’s no such thing as hurry in retirement. In fact, while all that hurrying is going on in the world, you’re still sleeping. When you do get up, you are rested from eight or nine hours of slumber. You drink your first cup of coffee slowly while you read, not scan, the newspaper. You read the entire article about the SEC’s case against Goldman Sachs. You go online to look up credit default swaps because, while you’ve read the phrase many times, you’ve never had time to find out what it actually means. You see a link to a book about the subject and go to your online library account and reserve a copy.

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By the time you’ve had that second cup of coffee, eaten breakfast, and resolved to get out of your pajamas, two more hours have passed. Now you’re down to four remaining. You barely have time to exercise and shower before lunchtime.

Long lunches. Hour-long lunches are for working people. When you meet one of your retired friends for lunch, it’s two hours. Minimum. You aren’t in a hurry to get back to your desk and neither is she. So you have a nice lunch with interesting, unrushed conversation. On the way home you stop at the library to pick up that book and peruse a few others. There goes another hour.

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You now have two hours of previously work-filled time to devote to all those longed-for retirement activities: learning to play the piano, brushing up on your Italian, and reading the stack of books collecting dust on your nightstand. But you also need to tend your garden, tidy the house, and cook dinner.

The problem with retirement isn’t relegation to a life of boredom. The problem is trying to explain to your sleep-deprived, harried, working friends just why you haven’t had time to skydive, climb Mount Everest, or save the world today. Believe me, they won’t understand when you tell them, “I just don’t have enough time.”

Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.