OurNextLife.com // Early Retirement, Financial Independence, Travel, Adventure, Mountain Livingwe've learned

The Unstructured Early Retirement Dress Rehearsal

When was the last time you truly took a deep breath? For me, it had been a really long time — weeks? months? — since I had consciously filled my lungs, appreciated that breath, and then let it go. #thingsiwontmissaboutwork That is, until I took two days off last week to reflect and write. But those days ended up being so much more, teaching me new things, affirming others and — best of all — giving me space to breathe for real for the first time in forever.

A New Approach to Weekends

I’ve been trying this new thing lately of treating weekend days not like these precious bits of time we have to cram everything into, but instead as mini early retirement days — days that I treat just like any other, but in which I happen to have full control over my time. Instead of thinking all week, “What all do we need to get done this weekend?” I make no plans, and when Saturday morning rolls around, I ask myself, “What do I want to do today?” (Mr. ONL has been away the last few weekends, which is why this hasn’t been a “we” question.)

Last weekend I went for two long hikes, and the weekend before that, I did the same thing. Both weekends I also wrote a lot, got some quality doggie snuggle time, and still had time to read and veg out.

All of that was spontaneous. And super heartening, too. A lot of the conversations we’ve been having with you guys lately have revolved around the question of goals and structure, and I’ve said that we’re craving less structure, fewer goals, while many of you believe that you need structure. Certainly we all need different things, and it’s also completely contextual — we’ve had SO MUCH structure for years, especially from all the work travel, that my gut has been telling me that what I really need is the opposite of that. It’s not just about escaping from the rigid calendar, but also about having time to let my mind wander, time to actually get bored.

Learning What Sparks My Creativity

I’ve realized recently that I really get creative only when I reach the point of boredom (or maybe near-boredom), and it’s been ages since I’ve had the luxury of that much time to get to that point. But hearing so many of you say that structure is helpful to you has gotten me worried — am I wrong about not wanting structure? Do I actually need it more than I think? Do I actually need clear, time-bound goals in order to get things done?

It’s both super awesome and quite a relief to see that the answer is no. I’m under no illusion that these few days of pretend early retirement are not necessarily replicating the real thing, but they’ve been enough to affirm that, when given the freedom of no structure, I do actually get up off of my butt and get things done.

But the lack of structure itself isn’t enough. I’ve found that I have my best ideas out in nature, with no one else around, when I have the time and space to breathe for real, when I hit that point of What else should I think about? I love my weeknight hikes when I’m home, but they are usually a race to get in my 10,000 steps before the sun sets, which is not the same thing.

OurNextLife.com // The Unstructured Early Retirement Dress Rehearsal -- an experiment

The Extended Experiment

To test out my theory of motivation and productivity under unstructured conditions, I decided to take off from work last Thursday and Friday to give myself a full four days of early retirement dress-up/writers retreat.

The plan was not to structure the time or put parameters around it. I’d try to write in different places — at home, at a cafe, and on the comfy couches at a local hotel — but wouldn’t schedule any of it. If I felt like going to visit a friend, I’d visit a friend. If I felt like getting on my bike or hitting the trails, I’d do that stuff. I wouldn’t do chores around the house or run errands, because even though those are the norm on weekends, they won’t be an everyday thing in retirement.

It’s impossible to assess from a test this short what my motivation will do long-term, and if I’ll stay focused on my goals of writing books and making documentaries after we retire. So I didn’t try to test that. Instead, it was all about the question of: What happens when I have my days to do with as I please, with nothing scheduled and no real structure other than the sun rising and setting?

What I Learned

Besides affirming that I’m not going to waste my time on the couch in early retirement, the four day respite from work was so much more than a short staycation. I felt a renewed sense of excitement to live where we live. The trees looked greener, the mountains sparkled, the streams took on new beauty. And every day felt filled with possibility. Instead of “How will I fill the time?” every day’s question was “What can’t I do?”

But beyond that hippie dippy stuff, I learned and affirmed some important things that I think will serve us well once we pull the plug for real next year and are no longer just playing early retirement dress-up on the weekends:

The morning is the best time to be active — I found that if I hit the trails or pavement right after breakfast, I was in a great mood all day, and my productivity soared. The days when I saved outdoor stuff for later in the day, it felt like more of a chore, and I didn’t have the benefit of the endorphin boost to fuel my day.

No structure = More stoked = More productive — Though I was strict with myself in avoiding plans, if I even had a sense going into a day (“Today I really should try to write out of the house”) that I should do something, I was generally less stoked about the day than if I left it entirely unstructured. And the days when I was most excited generally were those where the words flowed effortlessly and the outdoors stuff was most fun.

Changes of scenery are important — I’ve been making a big effort to hit our local trails lately, which has been awesome, but the downside is that I’ve covered every inch of ground on our most accessible trails a few times in the past few weeks. While I still see new beauty in it every time I’m out there, I’ve found that my best creative inspiration has happened when I’ve traveled to new trails, or sought out new vistas. So I need to keep making an effort to change the scenery.

Solo time is key — By virtue of our schedules, Mr. ONL and I have not been in a same place a lot lately. And while we’re a couple who can hang out nonstop for days on end without getting sick of each other, I’ve found myself really enjoying this solo time in unexpected ways. Besides giving me time to let my mind wander without having to try to articulate anything out loud, I’ve found that the solo time allows for greater spontaneity, because I can do exactly what I feel like doing, without having to take another person’s preferences into account, even if all that means is extending my hike to check out some spur trail I’ve never gone up before. I have always scheduled my time, even on weekends and vacations, so this is a pretty huge lesson for me. I also love hanging out with Mr. ONL more than just about anything, so it’s been a big surprise to see how positive solo time has ended up being. I now see that it will be beneficial to dedicate some time to solo activities when we’re retired in addition to all the stuff we’ll for sure want to do together.

Proper chairs are still important — This one is silly, but I bet I’m not the only one this applies to. I so strongly associate work with sitting at a desk that I thought I’d experiment with writing in other settings that don’t feel like work. But, man, those places — a slouchy couch and then another slouchy couch — did a number on my back. So lesson learned: either write at a desk with a proper chair, or write at the counter where I can type standing. ;-)

Your Own Dress Rehearsal

I really can’t recommend the dress rehearsal early retirement highly enough. It has been a great learning experience for me, even just on the weekend days. Approaching them differently has already taught me a lot about how I function in a time environment that’s the opposite of our current work lives.

Have you ever done an experiment like this? Other people may not worry about the structured vs. unstructured time question like I did, but a dress rehearsal could help answer other questions, too, like whether you’re happy retiring where you live currently, or want to move. Or whether you can expect to interact much with your current friends after you retire, or will need to expand your social circle.

We’d love to hear from you guys on if you’ve ever done something like this and what you learned. Or if you want to do a dress rehearsal, and what you’d hope to learn from it. Share your thoughts in the comments!

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

102 replies »

  1. This gets me thinking its time to try out my own retirement dress rehearsal. I just might need to take a day or two off in addition to the weekend to enjoy it with no structure. I think my day(s) would include going out for coffee and being around people. Early mornings are my cup of tea too! Good idea. Thanks!

    The Green Swan

    • Do it! The dress rehearsal is SO worth it. And I really do think that having more than a weekend is beneficial. I love the idea of having a morning coffee ritual that isn’t focused on drinking it quickly and getting right to work! :-)

      • Enjoy your early retirement. This is an FYI for later life. I’m 74. My retirement is nothing as I planned. i forgot that I still need to do the basics; clean, shop, do laundry, etc.
        My sister & I do multiple things for our 94 year old mother so she can live alone. Just in a major vehicle accident & between getting checked out & trying to replace my vehicle and get ready for a vacation that has been planned for over a year I have had to do finances for my mother, order prescriptions, clarify medication doses. This is all in a 10 day period. Enjoy! I ‘m jealous that my age group didn’t have this focus.
        Threadie 55

      • Thanks for weighing in! We keep hearing from folks who are already retired that they still feel overly busy, and don’t have time for everything they want to do — so lots of prioritization will definitely be in order! Good luck taking care of your mom!

  2. That’s a great idea and something I’m going to try. I think solo time is really important too – it gives us time to chill out in our own way and we can then describe our day in a fresh way. Thanks for the blog.

    We also dress rehearse living on our retirement monthly budget. So we only allow ourselves a monthly budget that will be the same as our passive income when we retire in less than two years’ time. The rest is invested. By doing this we now feel confident that we’ll survive on our retirement income and learn early where the spending pinch points are.


    • Definitely try the dress rehearsal in terms of time usage if you can! And I love that you guys are doing the dress rehearsal on spending. We’ve debated doing this, but ultimately decided there are some things we’re okay paying for now that we won’t pay for once we quit (thinking mainly about hiring a plumber, paying people to plow our driveway, etc.), and those would mess up that spending plan. But we’re pretty close to what we’ll be able to spend in retirement anyway, so we’re not expecting a huge shock. But so smart of you guys to ID those pain points ahead of time so you can either eliminate them or find work-arounds! :-)

  3. I will second the need for a proper chair! I had my Dad make me a small standing desk for my laptop in the living room, so I’m not tempted with too much couch sitting.

    I think our biggest obstacle is going to be the fear of not getting a paycheck anymore. I’m realizing this as I am about to tell my boss I am quitting my job this morning. I’ve known for a good 8 weeks that my new dream job means a 100k paycut, but I am still sick in the stomach about it. The logical side of my brain, and the ingrained attitude of chasing money is really hard to overcome.

    • Oh my goodness, it’s a big day! Does that mean that your official letter finally came through for your teaching position?! Let us know how it goes giving notice! And sending lots of good vibes your way! I know you’re taking a big pay cut, but it’s for basically the best cause ever. :-)

  4. Love the idea of performing a trial run on early retirement! Like you, we also derive a great deal of enjoyment out of our early morning hikes and find the peace and quiet of our surrounding environment inspiring. It’s so easy to get caught up in our busy day-to-day lives, that sometimes we forget what a little freedom and lack of structure can do to nurture our level of creativity. Thank you for the reminder to take some time and just breathe!- Mrs. FE

  5. Sounds like a wonderful early retirement dress rehearsal! Though I couldn’t stage a dress rehearsal at this point in my life, I have been rebelling against all the hyper-productivity advice out there, and my own over-scheduling tendencies. I do have my best ideas when I’m walking around (pushing a stroller) and able to have some mental free time. I’m glad you experienced this too!

    • I LOVE your approach! Productivity is overrated. :-) We all NEED that time to just be out in the fresh air and let our minds wander — it sounds like you’re getting that, which is so great!

  6. What a great idea! Mr. PIE and I recently found ourselves at home on a weekday with the kids at school. We had a relaxed lunch on the deck and tackled a few projects both solo and together. Felt like a mini version of what is to come and was very pleasant!

    • Thanks, Mrs. PIE! How cool that you had what we could call a “micro retirement”! ;-) And that you made good use of it and enjoyed it!

  7. Always a good idea to take a test run when planning anything. Is Mr. ONL planning to do the same?

    We’re not at the point yet for a dress rehearsal, too many things on the short term goal list to accomplish first.

    • Mr. ONL is less of a to do list thinker than I am, so he’s less in need of an experiment like this. :-) We both think he’ll transition just fine to the unstructured time of early retirement, though his struggles will likely be more around not feeling like a good provider anymore. It will be interesting to see! And I hear you on the goal list, but it’s really never too early for a dress rehearsal! I learned a lot from it, which would be equally useful whether we were retiring next year or in 10!

  8. Oh I love this experiment. It is funny how it takes ‘effort’ to be unstructured since we are so used to being structured. I’m with you on the exercising in the morning, otherwise it just gets too hard later in the day. I actually find it hard to stand up for too long (we have adjustable desks at work).
    What kind of stuff are you writing?

    • I’ve often wondered what our “natural state” is, and if humans thought in terms of everything they had to get done back before the modern era (they must have, right?!). While I’m sure the to do list will always be a reality, I learned a lot from this experiment and saw that I want to prioritize unstructured time as much as I can, especially given that my inclinations are to think at all times about what I need to get done! And yeah, it’s pretty much morning exercise or nothing. :-) At the moment, writing for the blog and starting to experiment with short stories, but have bigger long-term plans! ;-)

      • Interesting question. I suppose back then it was more about where the next meal was going to come from and now we have supposedly more leisure time but it has been taken up with work. I think a bit of structure is ok as long as the things your are doing are intentional, like writing projects. But I’m a bit OTT with my to do lists, and they are always never ending!

  9. I like the thought of not having to get something done on the weekends and just relax – at least half my time off becomes “project time”

    Solo time is a big one also, Mrs AE had been getting a ton while I am at class, I haven’t been getting any!

    • I definitely didn’t find that I need LOADS of solo time, but I hadn’t really thought about wanting any at all, and this experiment showed me that some is a good thing. :-)

  10. Mr. AR was already retired when I spontaneously decided I’d had enough employment related nonsense to fill a lifetime and did the same, so I had the benefit of seeing him struggle with the question of how to fill the days when you suddenly find yourself without work and alone. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been alone in retirement and I’m fine with that. We tend to be together nearly 24/7, something that initially scared me to death even to contemplate (I like my alone time), but has worked out much better than expected. We’ve rediscovered our mutual love for working on projects around the house, going on aimless sightseeing drives and enjoying the quiet together. He’s about to undergo two medical procedures, each of which will require extended recuperation and rehab, so our reality will change once again as I become the primary driver and caregiver, but I’m good with that as well. I’m not certain a dress rehearsal would have been of benefit to us, but we certainly have stumbled onto a lot of retirement realities that were unexpected. Happily, most of them (like spending nearly every minute together) have worked out well. Some have required adjustment for me, particularly with regard to time. Mr. AR is still much, much better at being okay doing nothing at all, and I still struggle with that. I’m not a relaxer by nature, but I’m learning. I have to make a conscious attempt to slow down and smell the roses, but I’m starting to pick up the habit. I love the stillness of the very early morning, and tend to get my alone time at sunrise, sitting with the dogs and a cup of hot coffee watching the sun come up over the lake. It fills me with a calm serenity and reminds me that life is more that padding bank accounts and making double car payments and getting the dishwasher emptied. If it weren’t for all the medical, dental and vet appointments I would gladly give up clocks and calendars, but even in retirement there are overbooked days and scheduling conflicts! A day with truly “nothing to do” is a rare treasure indeed. It’s great that you were able to tap into how retirement feels with your experiment, but I think you’ll find the reality is infinitely better than you can project while working. I love every minute of it, mundane or not. I expected the biggest issues for me would be lack of purpose and not being surrounded by people (I was an HR Manager), and the reality is those things are the furthest things from my mind. I relish the wildlife, the sounds of the mountains, the clean air and great water, the time to share with the man I’ve loved for nearly forty years, and each day of good enough health to enjoy it all! How wonderful for you that you’ll have decades to do so. What an accomplishment! Hats off to you for making it happen sooner rather than later.

    • What a beautiful comment. :-) Your love for Mr. AR is so apparent! I suspect, like in your case, that Mr. ONL will more naturally take to slowing down and being still, and it will take me more time to adjust. I’m so used to being completely scheduled that right now the novelty factor of unstructured time is high — but I’m sure in reality I’ll find something more like a middle ground, where I’m partially scheduled, but allow myself unstructured time as well. I hope Mr. AR’s medical procedures go as planned and he recuperates quickly! :-)

  11. It’s really hard to fully feel “unstructured” because even if you pick a weekend to do it, it’s confined to two days. I wonder if expanding it to four gave you enough time to really internalize the dress rehearsal of early retirement? I always tend to think of my time in chunks, even if it’s weekday/weekend, and so even unstructured time has a relatively near term end bound.

    • I definitely agree with you, and know that it’s just not in my DNA to have fully unstructured time all the time. I do think the four days gave me a much better sense of how it could feel than regular weekends do, but I know that I will probably always think in time chunks like you do. Just definitely craving far less structure than we have now, and this experiment gave me a lovely glimpse of what a middle ground could feel like. :-)

      • The hardest part for me was giving myself permission to have unstructured time. We go through so much structure in our lives that “not working” seems like a “waste” — but creativity doesn’t always flow as naturally when you’re working on it. In fact, it might be the opposite. :)

      • That’s great to know! I think that’s essentially what I’m doing now: working on the permission part. Having made that connection, though, between unstructured time and creativity really helps!

  12. Awesome article, and very well timed. Like you, Courtney and I just had a dress rehearsal, of sorts, this past weekend as well. We camped out in a campground in the middle of the desert. Very few people. We sat outside enjoying the peace and quiet, listening to the wind whip through the Saguaro cacti, watching the birds jump from rock to rock, from tree to tree, from cactus to cactus. The dogs were as calm as could be and laid out there with us. My wife knit. I mainly sat and stared, nodding off from time to time.

    It was a very similar experience to the one that you just gave yourself. No time constraints of any time. The entire day was open for, well, anyway. And this realization was definitely not lost on us. We understood what was going on – though not every day after retirement will be this relaxing, the days in which we NEED to relax can be just that relaxing. Why? Because we are in control of our time, just like you were during those 4 days of bliss.

    The one thing that we learned is that we want to do that more often. Our goal is to try and get out at least once a month with Charlie. We’ll find a camp spot somewhere around southern Arizona, pick a weekend and just go. Then, we don’t go anywhere over the weekend. We don’t even start the truck. We just…be. We walk. We hike. We let the dogs enjoy the new sniffs.

    And once retirement finally gets here, then all bets are off! :)

    • Thanks, Steve! Okay, how well does it bode for our retirement that in reading your account, I was thinking, “You just sat there?! I would be going crazy!” Hahahaha. It sounds like you guys had an awesome weekend — I’m just a busy body, and would need to find something to do. :-) But I actually *can* sit still if I have a good book, a sketch book and pencil, or if I can write. But I’ve learned that I only get to that point of doing something creative if I’m unscheduled and hit that point of “I’m bored. What can I do?” Then the ideas really start flowing. :-)

      I think it’s awesome that you’re focusing on getting out and camping more on the weekends while you’re still working. Given how close your end date is, you’d certainly be forgiven for just putting that off a few months, but I love that you’re getting out there nonetheless! When we first moved to the mountains, I assumed we’d go camping ALL THE TIME because it would suddenly be so much closer and easier to do so. But then I found that, since we already live in the woods in the mountains, I had less of a need to go farther out into nature. Funny how we react when we change our perspective! I see some parallels in your situation (y0u’re already camping every day!), but I love that you’re so drawn to nature and are making that effort!

  13. This is a lovely experiment. Especially since we keep hearing that retirement kills people through inertia and boredom. Training for retirement makes sense to me. I’m glad you’ve begun to figure out how retirement will work for you.

    • I was thinking about that retirement kills idea last week when Morley Safer died — he’d just barely retired! Of course, he was in his 80s, and I’m sure that his health precipitated his retirement, but it definitely made me think! We’re huge believers in trying to anticipate the challenges that will come our way in transitioning to retirement and in retirement itself — I’m sure there’s plenty we can’t anticipate, but mentally preparing ourselves to make the leap feels like it’s all upside, no downside. :-)

  14. Oh, the freedoms of “no children”. I remember days when I could wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” :)

    All that aside, we use our Fridays off for that sort of relaxer day. We try not to schedule “real” chores but rather do what we want. We get to have coffee dates in the morning, or poke around at a botanical garden, or lunch dates, or whatever we want to do. Sometimes, we do things that are not even with each other, Gasp!! Those days are great for this sort of thing, even if they’re only one day. It’s also funny to us when people say, “Wait, you put your kids in daycare when you’re off on Fridays?!” To which we respond, “You don’t?!” hahahaha

    I think it might take some transitioning, but like you mentioned, I anticipate everything will seem better. When Living a FI started his retirement/FI he had a detoxing post and specifically mentioned the same thing you did. The greens were brighter, the views were clearer, etc… Here’s the link – it’s long-ish but a great read to get a feel for what that transition could be like.

    • Oh, yeah, I suppose kids would have made this a different experiment. ;-) I LOVE that you guys keep the kids in daycare on Fridays, though, and give yourself that time together — that’s so important! I’m sure you guys have an awesome time with your kids and do tons of cool things as a family, but you guys, being smart adults, are naturally going to want to do a few different things than they will, and I’m glad you indulge that. :-)

      I’m SO curious, like you, to know what the transition will actually be like. The retirees who comment here have all said things essentially like, “You pretty much can’t prepare. It will be nothing like you expect.” So, yeah. :-) But I will definitely check out that Living a FI post. Thanks! Hope your week is off to a great start. :-)

  15. It’s important to test what you value. Sometimes you don’t even know until you do a little selective sampling. Do I like structure, do I like flexible freeflow? It’s great to see you testing these fundamentals out. Sounds like you got a lot out of it.

    • We are huge believers in testing out our own theories, because we might have it all wrong! We can never be objective about our own selves, so you gotta find out if you’re right or not. :-)

  16. We just got back from a 10 day road trip. Last year we managed to get so busy that we had at no point more than 4 days off in a row and so we made a point to schedule a more extended break this year. Have you thought about expanding to a longer dress rehearsal? If not, I would encourage it. I honestly forgot what it felt like to not constantly be running to the next thing.

    Just curious if you don’t mind sharing publicly, what do you want to write/make documentaries about after retirement? I always hated writing and my wife thought I was crazy when I suggested we start a blog, but I also have gotten the bug and would like to create content after leaving my “real job.”

    • How was your trip?? Pretty much anything more than a few days long sounds like heaven to me. :-) I would LOVE to do a longer dress rehearsal — the trick is finding the time. We are accepting that we just may not get more than a few days or maybe a week here and there before we quit… but then that date is coming up soon that it’s not THAT big a deal to wait.

      Re: writing, I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but writing and creating is pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve just always focused on the “about what?” part of the equation. Now I’ve finally realized that the about what is less important, though I am hoping to work my way up to novels — and, of course, keep writing this blog!

      • Trip was awesome, but not in a way we would usually describe as awesome. We basically did nothing. Hiked a couple days, sat at the beach a couple days and just relaxed and reconnected with each other and our daughter.

        That is an interesting answer to the writing question b/c for me it has been the exact opposite. I always hated the actual act of writing, but now that I’ve found a topic that I am so interested in and I feel can impact people’s lives, I have become a bit addicted to it. I didn’t even take a laptop along on the trip and I got up before the alarm this a.m. to sit down at the computer to write b/c I really missed it.

      • So glad you guys had a relaxing trip! That has value, too. :-)

        I think it doesn’t matter how writing finds you, it just matters that you want to write! Maybe PF has just opened up a portal for you. :-) But I love that you were excited to write as soon as you got home — I can’t even imagine going away for 10 days and not bringing a laptop with you! That fact alone is super impressive to me. :-)

  17. Great post! Totally agree with you on the mornings in nature. I love being outside any time of the day, but early morning is my absolute favorite!

    We have done this dress rehearsal off a few times in the past couple of years (though we didn’t think of it as a dress rehearsal). We take a week off with no plans or agenda. Typically, we find a nice balance of productivity and relaxation without the schedules and to do lists, along with a balance of alone time and family time. I know we would do well with our time in retirement – while we are very productive and always have projects, we also love to relax and enjoy just being.

    • Of course right now I’m sitting in front of my computer WISHING I could be out in nature instead. ;-) Kudos to you guys for already having the relaxing instinct. My whole life, if I’ve had free time, it’s all about what I can accomplish. So I need to complete this mindset shift, for sure, and just trust that the accomplishments will come without having to schedule them. But definitely sounds like you already have a big leg up in mentally preparing yourselves for the transition! :-)

  18. There’s a new study out on retirement (Merrill Lynch sponsored) that has a new term I like: time-affluent. That’s retirement! You have time…to do what you want, when you want.

    That said, I have found I need structure. Even if my calendar says “plan trip” or “afternoon on the couch with new book”. I’ve always been a list maker; retirement doesn’t change your innate tendencies.

    • Ooh, time-affluent. Love that! I am naturally the same way as you — yes, I definitely schedule reading time — but I’m trying to allow myself to get comfortable with less structure since that will be our reality soon! I’m sure I’ll still end up creating some structure, but I really do want to allow myself to get to the point of boredom where creativity happens, and that’s tougher if I schedule all my time! :-)

  19. I love this idea! I try to get all my chores done during weekdays, to keep my weekends as open as possible. Love the feeling of having my days open and being able to accept a last minute invitation from a friend. Makes the weekends feel longer, which is an added bonus :)

    • Wow, you’re my hero for today. We even work from home and still can’t begin to stay on top of chores during the week! That’s so awesome that you find a way to manage it all. I definitely love that approach — it reminds me of saving. You’re saving your money today so tomorrow you can enjoy them — you’re doing that with chores. A little sacrifice during the weekdays to let future you enjoy your weekends. :-)

      • I’ll admit that it’s much easier now that I have to be home over dinnertime every day to give my cat his insulin injection. Prior to that, I would go to happy hours or dinner with friends and get home shortly before I go to bed. Now that I’m home anyway, I may as well get stuff done.

        It’s easier to break it up over a few days, 15-20 minutes at time, rather than have to face all of it over 1-2 days. For example: Monday = clean the bathroom, Tuesday = clean the kitchen, Wednesday = dust, Thursday = vacuum, Friday = laundry (if I’m home). I don’t consider laundry a chore, though, since it’s just me (not many loads) and I can do other stuff while the machines do all the work. Give it a try and see if it works for you :)

      • I will have to give that a try on weeks when I’m not traveling, which are sadly too rare of a commodity! But sounds like a great system. :-)

  20. Ever since I was in school, I always tried to get homework and chores done as soon as possible so that I would have the free time. I’m the same way today, though at this point, my time after 4pm during the week isn’t really all that different than time on the weekends.

    But I’ve also found it incredibly difficult to let me spend money on myself. I’ll easily internalize that I can entertain myself at home for free, even though I would often rather be out on a trail or exploring a not-too-far new city, or just hanging out at the beach.

    If I’m with a partner, I’m way more rational about all of these things and I’ll have a million ideas of fun things to do together, or even on my own, but when It’s just me, the stress of not knowing what will be needed for some future shared financial life, I feel like I’m “taking” money from some future non-existent relationship and that is probably the root of a lot of my boredom. It is sort of sad, but sort of makes sense too. I have all the time in the world other than my predictable work schedule. I’m not really sure how to get past that mindset though other than keep dating and hope somebody sticks around long enough that I won’t have to think about it again.

    • That’s SO impressive that you’re able to buckle right down and get the unfun stuff out of the way! We are both procrastinators, so that is not in our nature!

      It sounds like you hit the nail on the head re: your boredom! The stuff you’re talking about spending on is also totally modest — close-by travel, going to the beach, going for a hike. It’s not like you’re talking about throwing craps in Vegas! I hope you can find ways to convince yourself that it’s worth enjoying your life NOW and not just later (besides that enjoying your life today will make you happier, which will make you a more attractive partner!). Maybe that’s the trick? Knowing that spending a little = doing more fun stuff = happier TJ = more attractive to future life partner?

      • I guess it’s always just been second nature to be as productive as possible so that I can be as lazy as possible afterwards. But now I don’t want to be lazy, I want to look forward to being fun-productive after being unfun-productive. :)

        Hopefully I can come around to the clearly defined logic that you laid out. :D

  21. I did this exact thing between leaving and starting a new job. I had one week of a early retirement dress rehearsal and it was pure bliss. I’m also a yoga teacher and all I did was teach yoga and work out. It fueled my desire for early retirement and I cannot wait until I am where you and Mr. ONL are!!

  22. This idea can actually be extended to a lot of other things. Why limit only to a dress rehearsal for FIRE? What if we use some of these ideas/thoughts/actions to see what gives us the best result for our job or for family time or our blog writing while on the job.

    In general, I have discovered that going out for a run or mowing the lawn (no joke) are good catalysts to get my thoughts spinning again. I think it is the monotonous action that you can do on auto pilot that gives a lot of energy to the rest of my brain. That i why I like my runs to process events.

    It is actually during these activities that I make draft posts in my head, based on stuff I read before.

    I do fear and have witnessed in weekends that without a list of things to do, I waste my time surfing on the web and waiting for Godot. Or would that be the result of a full todo at work and sometimes also at home. Maybe I just need some me time.

    • I think me time is always good, and think you hit an important point: it’s impossible to know if our natural state is to waste time, or if we only do that because we’re forced into this unnatural work situation where we have to be productive all the time. (I suspect it’s the latter, but could be wrong!) And I love your point that this experiment could work on a lot of different questions — if you try it, please report back!

  23. Depending on how things go with my job changing this fall, I might have a few weeks off between the old and new position. I’m going to try my hardest to take some non vacation/non holiday (probably unpaid) time off to reset my mind and body to prep for the new job.

    • I love that idea! Take as much time for unstructured fun as you can. :-) It was pretty unusual to actually be able to decide what to do on a given day, instead of having it pre-planned for myself!

  24. Great test run! I’m doing a mini one myself today as I decided to take the day off from work and just relax and catch up on some things I have been wanting to do. So far – I haven’t done any chores (thankfully) but rather have been enjoying some time writing, reading articles (like this) and there may even be a nap in my future this afternoon!

    • Here, I’ll cheerlead you on in case you need moral support: Take that nap! Take that nap! ;-)

      I think mini test runs — the longer, the better — are super helpful to think through how you want to shape your time in retirement. So great that you’re doing this! Enjoy!

  25. I have trouble being at home and having that sense of boredom that you mention. With kids, and animals, and having worked from home for years, it’s hard to get that feeling.

    I have had that feeling when we travel to our family’s place in Florida. Especially when we have the place to ourselves, it’s been our go to location to get away, recharge, and just spend time together. And it’s during these visits that I get so much done. Most of the time, I write, I think, and I get more creative. And one thing leads to another.

    I would like to figure out how to accomplish the same thing at our home. Might be worthwhile thinking about.

    Also, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this before, but I really should be standing at the counter when I write. Like you said, if I sit at my desk in my high-quality chair, I’m ok, but I get bored. As soon as I start working in odd places, I get horrible back and neck pain. Standing while I write might be just what I need.

    Thanks for the tip.

    • I’m a huge fan of standing writing, if I can find or create something the right height! I’ve definitely put the phone book, room service menus, bibles and anything else I can find to use at hotels to make myself a functioning standing desk. :-)

      And as for how to create that feeling at home — that sounds like a great challenge! Can you create rules or parameters that bar you from doing any chores or to do list items?

  26. sounds like the weekend I want to have this weekend (talking 1/2 day off friday and have monday off). I don’t want to say yes to anything in particular. I feel like a lot of my weekends are dedicated to a huge amount of structure and errands. I’ve been thinking of how to get rid of some “obligations”

    • You won’t regret cancelling some of those plans! Having some unstructured time was truly glorious — although, not gonna lie, it made it hard to go back to work today. ;-)

  27. Very interesting thoughts ONL. I like this way of thinking and it opens up a number of possibilities.

    At the moment I work 5 days of 9-5 (with commuting 2 hours a day). I enjoy the weekend, but I really try to make sure I don’t see it as ‘home work time’. I think of it like this: My life is perfect for 2 days of the week – Friday night to Sunday Night – this is how I want to live my life for the other 5 days. That is what I’m working towards. For me, this creates a positive mindset of what I do have, rather than a negative one of what I don’t have.

    I sit way too much, I’m only 24 but it’s starting to tell on my back. I sit at work, I sat on the train, I sit at home to eat dinner etc, we sit when spending time with family. So much sitting!


    • That’s a great observation about the sitting! Can you spend any of that time standing instead?

      And yes, we’re with you — we want our lives to be like big, extended weekends — but without the rush of all the things we have to do on the weekends to keep our house from falling apart. ;-) This was a great and helpful experiment to start thinking about that time differently!

  28. I find I am inspired by nature too :) When I go for walks, even just around my neighborhood, I get all sort of writing ideas. And I agree, Cait is super inspiring!!

  29. Yeah, the chair thing is real. I love to do computer-related activities sitting on the couch or propped up on pillows in my bed…until thirty minutes in when my back starts screaming at me and I have to get up and sit somewhere less cozy and more ergonomically correct. Too bad, cause pillows seem like they should be so comfortable…

    That’s great that you’ve been able to take some time these past couple of weekends to slow down and be less structured! Something that’s really interesting to me, both in this post and in general, is understanding what exactly it means to “get things done”. Like, what is it that enables us to say that we “got something done”: is it the nature of the activity? Is it whether or not the activity was planned ahead of time? Is it whether or not it was challenging? Is it whether or not we have something to show for it at the end? Does going for a run/walk/hike count as “getting something done”? Does doing a puzzle count as “getting something done”? Does free-writing with no goal in mind count as “getting something done”? Is “getting things done” something we should even aspire to? Etc.

    I know this isn’t entirely what your experiment was about, but I do think it’s an interesting topic. It’s so easy to take it for granted that we “ought” to be accomplishing things, and part of me wants to question that. But part of me also suspects I’ll be a better/smarter/happier/healthier person if I engage in activities that are challenging on some level. I suppose the easy answer is that it’s all about balance, but I’m trying to work towards figuring out what that really means.

    • Boo for backs getting older! :-) I love this question of defining “getting things done.” I hadn’t put it in those words, but have been thinking about similar ideas, what productivity will mean in retirement, and how we’ll mentally quantify a “worthwhile day” or “wasted day.” I completely agree with you that it’s worth questioning whether “accomplishing things” is even something to strive for. I mean, some functional things, like getting the laundry done, or taking care of home maintenance issues, are pretty necessary, but they don’t alone equate to a fulfilling life — and they for sure don’t pass the challenging bar! I think being challenged is important, and have seen what happens when that goes away — not good. But I think we can define challenge any number of ways. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment! xoxo

  30. Ha, I love all your learnings and completely agree! If we’ve settled into any kind of routine over the past couple months, it’s hitting the trails early, then having unstructured afternoons and evenings as much as possible. I’m the same way — the more structure we have, the less likely I am to be inspired to write or work on other projects. Hope you enjoy another unstructured trial run this weekend!

    • That’s awesome to know that you’ve found similar things, since you’re actually living the retired life now! Your days sound pretty much perfect, and that’s what we’re aiming for — be active every morning, and then do whatever for the rest of the day. Have a great Memorial Day, and hi to Daniel! :-)

  31. I go back and forth on this. I know I do better with structure as an individual; meeting expectations (even those I set for myself) makes me feel more accomplished/productive, which is apparently an important element of my happiness. But if I have too many obligations I tend to rebel and start bailing on things. As a person whose workdays and weekends are very unscheduled for the most part though, I currently crave structure and goals to achieve. I often end up feeling like I’m wasting a lot of time – which makes me feel frustrated, dissatisfied and even anxious.

    Today so far I have slept in, worked out, read some blog posts, cuddled with my husband, finished a book, walked and played with the dogs, made breakfast and lunch from scratch, cleaned the kitchen, and wandered in our garden…which sounds all nice and airy fairy like a perfect early retirement day. But I’ve been huffy and restless and have wiled away hours on social media (hours to come will surely be spent watching TV) which makes me feel gross even as I refuse to resist the indulgence.

    My husband pointed out that I’m really going to struggle with early retirement based on my inability to feel good about spending a lot of time doing, essentially, nothing. But he works a lot harder than I do and so relishes weekends of laziness at this stage. Interestingly, if I’d made the yoga class I’d planned to attend this morning and if he had left the house when I expected (2 hours earlier) to attend a concert and leave me with an afternoon/evening alone, I have a funny feeling I’d feel a lot better about this day. My activities would be pretty much the same – but I’d feel good about having stuck to my mental plans/schedule.

    • It sounds like you’re being really tough on yourself! You had a plenty productive day, and sure you wasted some time on social media, but we all need some time to veg out and turn our brains off. Especially if you aren’t comfortable doing nothing, then maybe killing a little time online is your version of zone out time? I love the standard that Amanda at Dream Beyond Debt came up with: Was today worthwhile? Just a simple yes or no question, and no loaded “productivity” stuff in there. Maybe adjusting your bar to a lower place will help you find some peace with how you use your time — I hope you can cut yourself some slack! :-D

  32. My dress rehearsal for early retirement was getting laid off last year. It was truly one of the best times of my life as I got to play with my daughter for four months. I know it was a bit stressful for my wife being the sole breadwinner, but financially we didn’t feel it that much (we just saved and invested less).

    Now that I’m in the workforce again, I’m trying to figure out if we can achieve FIRE. So far I’m working on maxing out my 401k (which seemed like a crazy idea even a year ago). Getting laid off has shown that we don’t need THAT much money on a day to day basis so I’ve been pretty aggressive in our investments since I started working again. Hopefully that leads to early retirement!

    • I continue to be inspired by what a learning experience you got out of your unemployed period! Most people just get depressed about it, but instead you used it as a time to optimize your finances and define your “enough.” And now that you’re back at work, you’re translating that into a ramped up saving and investing plan. SO AWESOME!!

      • People seem confused when they ask how stressful unemployment was and I respond that it was pretty awesome.

        When my daughter was born I was in the middle of switching jobs so I didn’t get a chance to really stay home with her when she was first born. I’ll always be thankful for getting laid off to make up some of that time :)

  33. ER is the best, probably because I never fell like I’m in a rush to get things done or face any stress at all. It’s like being on “island time” every day.

    • That’s great to hear! Were you ever a gold star seeker? I’m wondering if it’s different depending on how much validation you needed while working. :-)

  34. I call the experience you write about here “getting my mind right,” from the movie Cool Hand Luke. It’s sort of a re-set, or re-calibration, which helps keep me grounded and mindful of what’s really important to me. And turns out what’s really important is never anything that’s going on at work. :)

  35. I’m not sure this would be a good “dress rehearsal” for me, because I expect my retirement to be at least partially structured. I want to have some routine activities, including activities that I schedule with other people (perhaps fitness training, other hobbies, or volunteer efforts).

    • If you’re craving more structure, then I suspect you’re right that this wouldn’t be the right rehearsal! It’s been helpful for us, though, to affirm that less structure is in fact what we want, and not just what it seems like we want because our lives are so structured now. :-)