3 Min. Read

How to Give Your Life Structure in Retirement

A woman with a planner giving her life structure in retirement

Whether you’ve been carefully laying the groundwork for your retirement for years or make a split-moment decision that it’s time, the sudden influx of free time accompanying actual retirement tends to catch many people off guard. Now that you have all the time in the world, it can be surprisingly difficult to decide what you want to do with all of your time.  

Rewire Yourself 

For Barabara Tolliver-Haskins, retired vice president of operations for one of Lincoln, Nebraska’s largest employers, State Farm Insurance Companies, retirement was a long time in planning. “Believe it or not, when I was in my 20s, they talked to us about good health, saving, and 401(k)s.” By the time she retired and moved back home to Florida, she felt ready. 

Looking back, Tolliver-Haskins says moving from worker to retiree is more than a classification; it’s a transition. “Not just of the physical body,” she says, “but the mental piece.” It’s a shock to the system to one day have to get up at 6 a.m. and the next be able to sleep well past sunrise. You have to work to change your thinking to realize your job now is to enjoy time, not watch the clock. It helps to stop setting an alarm before you go to bed. Let your body tell you when to get up; reset your body clock.”

Prioritize to Structure Your Days 

“I left earlier than I expected,” Elaine Anwander said as she explained her transition from a hard-working market research analyst to new retiree. “They offered a buyout, and several of us were there with our hands up.” 

Awander found stability in asking questions about how she wanted to spend her time and using the answers to give her days structure. What things around the house have you been meaning to get to? Where have you always wanted to go? Look at what you need and want to do, and prioritize the items in a list. “The lists you create can make your transition go much more smoothly,” says Awander.  

“Then,” Sean Finley, life coach and owner of More Than Money, says, “you can build structure.” Allow yourself to look ten years down the road. If you’re 65 now, what do you want to have achieved by age 75? Those places you want to go? Plan the trips. Those walls you want to repaint? Schedule time with an interior designer. Then, think hour by hour. This can be your project for the first six months of your retirement. You can have fun with it. Doctor appointments? Those are have-tos on the calendar. A trip you’re planning for next May? That’s a have-to that needs planning. You’ll need clothes for the trip, so there are going to be shopping days that you’ll need to plan.” All these things fill your calendar. You build out your days much like you used to for work, but now, you’re doing these things for yourself. 

Have Aspirations You Can Work Toward 

Just because you’ve stopped working doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve something. “It’s important to have aspirations,” says Anwander. “Just because you don’t earn a paycheck anymore doesn’t mean you can’t have things you want to do with your life. For me? Mine is writing. I’ve always wanted to write a book.” Set a deadline for yourself to reach a pet goal. Schedule time to work on it, and then keep those appointments with yourself. 

Keep a Journal  

To tie everything together, support your calendar with a morning journal practice. “A journal can show you how much you accomplish each day, each week, month, and year,” says Finley. “Start your day with an inspirational quote from a book or daily email. Then, decide on Sunday or Monday what your weekly challenge is going to be. Maybe that’s walking for an hour four times a week. Then, list three of your most important tasks for the day. The payoff comes at the end of the day when you review your day.” You note the three amazing things that happened that day and give the day a number rating from -2 to +2. At the end of the week or month, you can say, “This was a good day, week, or month,” and you’ll know why. 

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