One of my biggest retirement fears is that I may not be able to find enough worthwhile activities to fill my days. I am interested in taking time to relax and enjoying the freedom of not having to do anything other than what I personally choose. But I do not think that I will be happy doing nothing for the next 20 years. I need to be able to look back at the end of the day and feel I have accomplished something of worth that gives meaning to those recent hours lived.
Although I am not yet officially retired, I have been “between jobs” for three of the past five years as a result of various corporate reorganizations. During these extended periods, I have had the opportunity to test drive my retirement, and attempted to live each day as if I no longer had a job. During my trial retirement, I developed a schedule to keep busy and engaged with life outside of a job. Although the order of these events varied a little bit, I find that my typical retired day contained all of these elements:
Out of bed by 7:00 a.m. I have always been a morning person. I enjoy seeing the peaceful world around me just beginning to awaken. And I feel that by targeting a regular time to get under way I will not find myself sleeping in later each day and missing this wonderful time. It is fun to look back at what I have typically accomplished by the time others are just getting out of bed. A little breakfast, a nice cup of java brewed, the morning paper read and I am off and running.
Writing 7:30-10:00 a.m. I was fortunate during my first work hiatus to have had time to explore my interest in writing. I have always liked putting thought on paper. Creating my blog has given me something to write for on a weekly basis, and the topic of retirement is near and dear to my baby boomer heart. I have even self-published a few books, something I would never have thought myself capable of a few years ago. At the end of the day I can look back on pages completed and experience a feeling of accomplishment.
Exercise for strength and flexibility 10:00-11:30 a.m. Once my creativity for the day has been successfully documented, I take the time to do a little exercise. I have a stationary bike, workout bench and some weights in the garage. As long as I have something worthwhile to read, the 40 minutes on the bike fly by. I also maintain a gym membership for $25 per month so I can get out of the house and workout some different muscles after a brief ten minute drive. My focus is on a combination of strength maintenance, flexibility and balance and includes yoga and Pilates. Once I have completed my routine, I feel I have done something of worth for me and my future health.
Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. I typically put together a sandwich or heat up leftovers. Then I take a seat with a view of our backyard so I can admire the ripening vegetable plot, appreciate the surrounding massive trees and savor the wild flowers blooming.
Miscellaneous 12:30-2:00 p.m. During this period of the day I keep busy with a collection of activities which can vary depending on the day and my motivation. I garden in the back and front yard, saving the $60 per week charge for a gardener to mow the lawn and tend the vegetables and flowers. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy cleaning the house. I find it relaxing to vacuum, wash the floors or do the laundry, and my wife loves me that much more for my chosen hobby. I try to spend 30 minutes each day on the piano, something I dropped after college but am so happy to be back doing. And I have a few hobbies and other interests that may find time on my dance card.
Walk the neighborhood 2:00-3:30 p.m. Whether just a wander of the neighborhood or a journey for groceries at the local store, I get out of the house for at least an hour every day. We are fortunate to have numerous restaurants, grocery stores, department stores and coffee shops within a two mile radius, so my options are many. It adds a bit more exercise to the day and I have a chance to say hello to neighbors who are similarly engaged. Should I feel a bit adventurous, there are numerous state parks a short drive away allowing me to walk amongst nature and appreciate the peace and quiet.
Reading, catching up on recorded TV 3:30-5:00 p.m. I take this time to relax with my Kindle or enjoy commercial-free TV recorded earlier. I limit my daytime TV watching to no more than an hour, knowing that before bed my wife and I tend to enjoy a sitcom or documentary together.
Cocktail hour 5:00 p.m.
I have been using this schedule for guidance over the past year and a half. A schedule provides the comfort of knowing that I have things to do. I believe I have a good balance of activity with downtime. For me, keeping engaged is not about staying constantly in motion, but rather balancing projects and relaxation. And once my wife is fully retired, we will increase our travels and share activities to additionally fill the day.
Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.