Retiring (Early or Not), and Time Management

Philip Greenspun, a sometime MIT professor, writer, and founder of an open-source enterprise software company, retired from regular work at age 37. He’s just written some good stuff about retiring early; most of it applies to retirement at any age. Very readable. Section headings include Be Happy or You’re a Loser, Tattoo Your Net Worth on Your Forehead, Time Management, Concrete Steps Toward More Happiness, and, of course, Prepare To Die. He talks a lot about the necessity of creating social interaction and learning opportunities as a retiree. He’s got separate pages on Investing and Where To Live, with a focus on the best places for the single male retiree … some interesting comparisons, like a beach place on Prince Edward Island (100 acres for $150,000) instead of Nantucket (a smidge for $5-10 million).

As someone who has been essentially retired since 1991 (not financially, but in terms of my time), Philip’s time management section drew my attention. He says: “Most people have terrible time management skills. … This limitation is of no consequence at most jobs. The employer tells the workers where to sit and what to do and when, at least for eight hours per day. If you’re retired, however, nobody tells you how to organize your life. If you have goals that you’d like to accomplish and your time management skills are poor, you might end up disappointed in yourself.”

To be more efficient, he suggests such things as making a list of goals to accomplish, with subtasks; scheduling lessons, excursions, and activities in advance; and not reading news or email in the morning “because it will scramble your brain with lots of disconnected ideas.” [That’s sometimes what I’m seeking.]

My situation is somewhat the reverse of the one Philip describes: I don’t have many goals I want to accomplish, and none with an end-point, and my time management skills are good (thanks, Mom and Dad!). I don’t place a high value on efficiency or on accomplishing a lot of activities or results. I’m curious, and I care about learning, in the broadest sense; it’s important to me to connect, with God/Spirit and with humans and other animals; and I need to experience beauty, in art, silence, nature, language, architecture, material goods, travel, photography, general aesthetics.

So without planning much, I am drawn day to day to experiencing those things — learning, connection, beauty — more than I’m drawn to anything else. Some days I want to scramble my brain with lots of disconnected ideas, because then I can synthesise them, challenge my brain, and glimpse some new order. Other days, I feel a stronger need for connection, or beauty (and often all three are intertwined), so I take the advice not to read email or news and instead meditate, walk, participate in a eucharist service before I turn on the computer.

There are some time-managementy skills I use, like bunching errands together so I only have to drive once or twice in a week; cleaning the shower while I’m in it; cleaning toilets, clothes, and dishes, and sweeping floors, straightening rooms, and dusting surfaces, when I notice they are dirty and not waiting until they pile up; doing activities when they match my circadian rhythms (like working out between 3 and 5 p.m.); and breaking up onerous chores (usually involving phone calls or interpersonal conflict) into smaller bits.

When I procrastinate, it’s usually because I’m faced with doing something I flat out don’t want to do or because I’m ambivalent about it and only my subconscious knows why. Meditation can help in both cases, but it still hasn’t gotten my thousands of photos organised. (I think I am conflicted about how to, and whether to, organise both print copies and digital copies, and how to categorise them in either case, because the categories seem to overlap so much … dogs, friends and house in one photo — does it go in the dog book, the friends and family book, or the house book? … or a photo of a fabulous garden in a photo taken on a trip — travel, or gardens?. The only steps I’ve accomplished in a year are to sort through all the print photos, remove them all from their photo albums, boxes, etc., and throw out about 400 of them. Now the survivors lie in wait in the closet.)


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