Keeping up a routine in retirement

By Ginny McReynolds

You might be free of the old 9-to-5 but experts suggest sticking to schedule or finding your natural rhythm.
Balancing your own retirement with your spouse's is important. Photo / Getty Images
Balancing your own retirement with your spouse's is important. Photo / Getty Images

When Solomon Noy retired from his 20-year career as a correctional officer, he was used to 12-hour days on the job.

In the decade since he retired, he says he has stuck with those 12-hour blocks. Despite liking to do "whatever comes up," Noy says it was important to him to maintain a routine because that's what he's used to.

Although many people heading toward the ends of their career might rank "Having no schedule" at the top of their retirement bucket list, this doesn't always result in a happy existence.

As noted retirement writer Ernie Zelinski said in his 2010 book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, "Losing structure and routine can create much havoc ... time must be filled to pass the days, but empty time results in boredom and joyless living."

Like Noy, most retirees have worked long enough that the structure of the organisations that employed them has become their own. If you worked from 9 to 5, for example, you are accustomed to fitting your pre-work schedule into the early hours between say 5.30am and 8.30am.

When you retire, although there is no real reason to live on this schedule, you just automatically do.

Some retirees want to see for themselves what their own "natural" schedule or routine might be when they are left to their own devices. As many retirees have done, Suzie Chock Hunt, a retired educator, decided to turn off the alarm when she was finished with her career. She learned that she normally awakens around 8am rather than 5.30 or 6 as she did when she was working.

Hunt's enjoyment of retirement and appreciation of the value of life in her second act demonstrates one of the important lessons for all retirees: pay attention to your own sense of time. It's easy to imagine that after decades of working, we might go to extremes in how we use time. Many people may think they still need to be productive eight hours a day, without even considering that eight-hour days were simply a product of the thoughts of social theorist Robert Owen during the late 1800s as part of the Industrial Revolution.

Owen's slogan was "Eight hours of labour, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of rest."

Still, some of us still feel we need to stick to a strict daily schedule like the ones we were on for years, while others may just decide to ad lib and see what works for them. Whatever the result, it's a good idea to think about what comes naturally to you. Take off your watch for a couple of weeks and pay attention to when you're tired, hungry, energetic, and reflective. This is your natural clock. Once you have a sense of what works for you, you can fit in other interests and activities around that.

One concern of some retirees is how to balance their retirement schedule with that of their spouse's. When the couple once spent only a few hours together each day, they are now with each other all day, every day. Having your own individual activities is important, says Hunt, but she agrees that balancing that with your spouse's schedule is important. Even if you are on your own, it's important to stay flexible enough to accommodate unexpected opportunities, especially for socialising, which requires considering someone else's schedule.

David Rasul, a retired counsellor, keeps his weekends largely unscheduled to spend time with his wife, who is still working.

He says calming activities are also essential. "This is a must for solitude and reflection."

Sociologist and epidemiologist Esteban Calvo reminds retirees that, unlike working long years in one or two jobs, the transitions in retirement are not irreversible.

"People can change multiple times in retirement," he says. "You can design your new life, but you don't have to do it forever. A lot of companies need short-term consultancies - work for a year or two - and then you can have a second retirement."

Whatever one does in retirement, it's remaining stimulated that's truly important, Calvo adds.

- Washington Post

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