the process

Make Time for What’s Most Important — Before AND After Retirement

When we first began dreaming of early retirement, I had this recurring thought: We’re going to have SO much time! I can do everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing! Go everywhere we’ve ever wanted to visit! Relearn French and Spanish, relearn the piano, learn to paint and throw pottery and do woodblock prints! Write novels and adopt a dozen shelter dogs and volunteer with every organization in town! 

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who’s believed that in some form, delving rather deeply into the magical retirement thinking that drives many of us to explore financial independence in the first place. But after talking to quite a few already-retired people, that notion quickly got smacked out of my head. This thought is what now lives in its place:

Even in retirement, we still have limited time. If something is important to us, we have to prioritize it and make time for it, and not act like time is an unlimited resource.

Recently I attended a writing workshop, and the advice I remember most clearly from it was: “If you want to find more time to write, turn off the television.”

I didn’t take it as a knock on TV specifically, but more a big picture directive: If you want more time to do this thing that’s important to you, don’t waste time on stuff that’s not. Every moment we spend doing something meaningless is a moment we no longer have to do the meaningful thing.

I’ve known this innately in our pre-retirement years — that’s why I’m writing this late night instead of sleeping, because writing is more important to me right now than sleep. But it’s been startling to recognize that this won’t change all that much after we quit our full-time careers — we’ll always have to make big trade-offs, even when the promise of future time feels so much less limited than now.

Even in retirement, we have to make time for the things that are most important to us. We never have unlimited time, no matter how badly we wish we did!

To Retire Early, We Optimize Like Pros, But Then…

I’m fascinated by a phenomenon I’ve witnessed multiple times now. People who achieve early retirement are top-notch life hackers by nature. They excel at budget optimization, side hustling and all the rest, which often also means making the most of every moment and being super productive. But, after they retire, they quickly wonder how they ever had time to work at all. (I’ve heard this from numerous now-retired people.)

And I always wonder: Are you actually getting just as much done in retirement, albeit different stuff from what you did while working, or have you just dialed way back on the optimization, making a shorter list of tasks feel just as long?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m going to pay close attention as we transition late this year, to try to find out! But if it’s the latter answer — fewer tasks feel like just as much — then it’s even MORE important in retirement to prioritize the stuff that’s most important to us, and avoid frittering away the hours and days in meaningless time-wasting.

One Person’s Fulfillment Is Another Person’s Waste of Time

This whole idea of “wasting time” is one that deserves a cold, hard look. Because it’s so relative. I know I’d be bored out of my mind in under an hour if I had to sit on a beach and do nothing, but that’s plenty of other people’s definition of paradise. (Side note: While I have never excelled at sitting still, I hope to build this skill in retirement.)

Meanwhile, all the time I want to spend writing would I’m sure be a waste of sunshine and fresh air to lots of other people. And hey, if you love watching television more than anything, and it brings you honest-to-goodness fulfillment and happiness, then watch away without guilt, my friend. All that matters is what feels like the best use of your time, not anyone else’s.

Make Time For What’s Permanently Important

Over the years, I’ve gotten dozens of notes along the lines of, “I retired early, realized I had no direction or purpose, regretted the whole thing and went back to work.” I am not joking about the dozens part — this is not uncommon.

Of course none of us working hard to save over multiple years want to end up in that situation, so it’s worth putting real thought into this question of not just what you want to retire to (we all know to ask that question by now), but what is truly and permanently important to you in your life.

I recently asked the ONL newsletter subscribers (Sign up! It’s so fun!) what things they are aiming to do in retirement are the must-do, permanently important tasks, versus what they’d be okay never checking off the list. I’m still compiling answers and responding to those notes, so stay tuned for more on this subject. But it’s an important thought exercise to go through.

Some questions you could ask yourself to help figure this out:

What do you want to be remembered for?

What things would you really regret not checking off your bucket list?

What’s a legacy you’d like to leave future generations? 

What activity makes you the happiest of all?

And, as always with these early retirement questions, it’s worth asking yourself if you truly have to wait until ER to pursue this stuff, or if you could do more of what makes you happiest and most fulfilled now.

Let Go of What’s Not Meaningful

The flip-side of this thought experiment tis obvious: pay attention to the stuff that rises to the top, but pay just as much attention to what sinks to the bottom. Care about writing most of all? Then maybe you don’t need to watch 12 TV shows regularly. Care mostly about TV shows? Then perhaps aspiring to be a novelist is only going to make you feel overly stressed and anxious. (Okay, dropping those two examples now. Insert whatever feels applicable to you.)

There’s room for balance, of course, and early retirement is supposed to be a time of broadening our horizons, not of limiting our focus down to a tiny tunnel. But, it helps going in to know that we can’t do everything, and we will face some hard choices.

Determine the Transitional Period — And Avoid Making the Choice By Default

I’m a huge believer in the power of streaks, inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s approach. It’s why I don’t let myself miss a blog post here, because I’m actually afraid I would accidentally quit altogether if I missed even one. But by keeping that streak alive, I know I can keep this up, even if right now it means writing in lieu of sleep. (That part changes soon, at least!)

Why streaks matter is they work in the other direction, too. If we don’t choose, and we just let ourselves drift through life, we make decisions by default, by not affirmatively doing the thing that’s most meaningful to us. And that’s what I’m slightly terrified could happen after we retire.

We all deserve a decompression period, right? We both know we have years of sleep debt to pay back, we know we want to give ourselves lots of free time to think and reflect and just do whatever strikes us, and we don’t want to try to plan out our whole lives while we’re still working since we probably don’t even know our future retired selves all that well. All of which means: we have earned a transitional period.

During what I’m calling “the detox,” we don’t want to put too many expectations on ourselves or set too many goals. We want to let ourselves go with the flow and take each day entirely as it comes. But if we aren’t careful, that short-term detox could easily and invisibly turn from a transitional period into the whole rest of our lives. Which would be a terrible outcome, at least in my mind.

Right now we’re thinking about what length of detox makes sense. What gives us enough time to exhale all those years of work, break the smartphone twitch and catch up on sleep, but not so much time that we begin drifting aimlessly? (Please share your thoughts! I’d love to know how other aspiring FIRErs think about this, and what those who’ve already retired have learned!)

I know this is a weird thing to say, but I really don’t want to get this wrong. I don’t want to pressure myself to prematurely start tackling more projects in retirement when what I really need is to heal my body and mind from years of all-consuming work. But I am terrified to let the days fritter by without filling them with meaning or purpose. There’s going to have to be a lot of just listening to our guts on this one when the time comes, which is hard for a planner like me to accept, but going into it with the intention to keep listening, instead of not even asking the question, is an important difference of approach.

I hope never to be as productive again as I am now, because it’s just way too much. But if I can subtract the productivity that doesn’t add meaning to my life and focus on the stuff that does, it will be a great balance. Even if it means I still won’t watch much TV in retirement and will miss out on the cultural references. ;-)

How Will You Decide?

So much to discuss here! How have you figured out (or how might you go about figuring out) what’s truly, permanently important to you to do or accomplish in retirement? Have you had any realizations lately about what you maybe thought was important but actually isn’t? Any meaningless stuff you’ve either cut out, or have found was actually more meaningful than you thought? Any advice on how long we should make our detox? Let’s discuss it all in the comments!

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89 replies »

  1. I hadn’t heard of the Power of Streaks, but I get the concept instinctively. Making something so important that you never miss (a game, a post, a run, etc.) does make you elevate it to your must-do list. I’m still very much working on eliminating the trivial from my life, and I find it hard to do. But when I make decisions now, I’m asking myself more and more, “Is this a good idea? Is it a good use of the family’s (or my) time? What are we saying ‘no’ to when we say yes to this?” I think you’re wise to already be thinking about your top priorities for retirement, and for deciding how long of a detox you guys are going to want. But I vote, longer than you think you’ll need.

    • It sounds like you’re already being super intentional about what you allow into your life, whether or not you’ve thought about streaks before. So that’s awesome! And yeah, some folks have told us they needed a whole year to detox, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up needing that. But I also don’t want to look back on it as “the lost year” or anything like that, so it will be interesting to try to strike that balance!

  2. One of my mentors is an older woman who taught 5th grade for 30! years. She retired and before she did she told me that she wasn’t saying ‘yes’ to anything new for a whole year. That way, she had time to come down, really ground herself and see what and where her passions lay. Of course, the minute she told others about retiring, the volunteer jobs, the seat on the church board, the neighborhood garden association etc came calling. She told me that having set that parameter BEFORE was so helpful. Somewhere during that year, she started dreaming about tutoring the low advantaged students in our community after school. A non-profit approached her and now she runs this amazing tutoring service for 3 local elementary schools that is making a real difference in children’s lives.
    I tried this myself when my children went to college and it was incredibly powerful. I didn’t need the whole year — 3 months is really what it took but I’ve ended up with new challenges and opportunities because I took the time to stop, do whatever grieving I needed to do, and then look around to see what excited me, motivated me and propelled me to the next phase of my journey.

    • I feel totally conflicted on this subject because I absolutely see the value in not committing to anything, taking time to detox and reflect, and all the rest. But I have also heard from enough folks who felt aimless or even got depressed when they did that, more acutely felt the loss of identity, etc. So I’ve written before about “chapter overlap,” and I see the huge value in that as well, so you don’t wake up after quitting and think, “Well now what?” I wonder if some people are better suited to one approach or the other, but my gut tells me I’ll do best with a mix of the two approaches — carry a few things forward from now into the next phase (like this blog), but then be slow and cautious about adding on new things too soon. And I suspect 3 months will be about right for me, too, like it was for you, because I’m really not joking about being bad at sitting still. ;-)

      • I’m constitutionally unable to sit still.. My second grade teacher had the janitor build a standing desk and then painter’s tape a box on the floor. I could wiggle all I wanted to as long as I stayed in the box. That was the only year I was not sent to the principal!
        Currently I work a 3/4 time accounting job, am remodeling a house and have several volunteer roles that require 3-5 hours a week attention. Plus, wife, mother, and self care. I get the inability to sit!

      • Wow! That’s truly an inability to sit still! My equivalent was getting sent to the library in first grade to do additional “computer enrichment” because I had too many questions and was disrupting the class. ;-)

  3. Really interesting! I chose not to blog the last week or so because I put what was most important – first. And for us, that is getting our house ready for the market and working with contractors on our other house. I chose family and sleep next :) It’s hard to do my job leading almost 2000 people (1600 of them being kids) when I’m exhausted. You can also make poor decisions when you are really tired. We are looking forward to more of a reflection period this fall but for now, we take it day by day. We will both need some “detox” time but we have some deadlines now that we need to meet. I’ll be interested in following your downshift for sure!

  4. It took me about six months to decompress after stepping out of the rat race. I was both surprised and a bit alarmed that it took so long. Everyone is different though.

    One thing that struck me was the big difference between retirement, in the conventional “being put out to pasture” sense, and trading paid employment for an alternative life that may be equally full/demanding should we choose it to be. The two tend to get bundled up together in the FIRE world, but are very different things.

    Another, as you wisely observe, was the trade offs don’t go away. For example volunteering commitments where you contribute more than just manual labour aren’t so compatible with extensive travel… the organisation can’t depend on the volunteer if they are unreliable, so often they often won’t avail themselves of the services that may only sometimes be available. This may come as a ride shock to high achievers who are used to being in demand and running the world.

    For what it is worth my view is, like anything in life, do what makes you happy. Don’t over think it. Only worry about what you can control, and accept that sometimes shit just happens. Prioritise what is important to you, and let the rest go. Most things aren’t worth getting stressed or worked up over, it is rare that the consequences of a failure or something not happening will result in catastrophe or death… anything falling well short of those is likely just temporary noise.

    • Several folks have told me it took them a YEAR, so I don’t think your six months is all that bad. And yes, such a great point about volunteering, especially. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years about how short-term and one-off volunteers are actually a drain on many organizations, not a value-add (because they have to train or supervise them for little payoff), and yet lots of early retirees don’t seem to recognize this fact. To do something more intensive than just walking dogs or sorting cans of soup means making a real commitment, which may or may not be compatible with the early retired life one has in mind. We’re still figuring out what this will look like for us, but the good thing is there are plenty of ways to be helpful without being physically on site, just like with real work, so there are plenty of opportunities for folks willing to make a regular commitment, regardless of where in the world they happen to be.

  5. Very useful post! Thanks for bringing up the topic. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well since I also don’t want retire early and then realize I’m no more fulfilled than I am now while working. I certainly don’t have the answers, so I’ll follow your transition as you’re a bit ahead of me in timing. Keep the streak alive and come back to this topic live as you go through your transition period next year!

    My best thought right now is that early retirees have much less risk of your “dozens” of examples of people who were unhappy retired and went back to work. Please correct me if theses were very early retirees (40’s or 30’s) because that would cause me to rethink things.

    I suspect a bigger worry for very early retirees is that they can’t handle the sudden down-time well and jump into too many things too fast, later realizing that many these things don’t really fulfill them either. Volunteering too much seems to be one of those things to be cautious about. It can become just like a job but without the financial benefit. So I think your strategy of taking some time to adjust before committing to too many new things is the right one and it’s what I plan as well.

    • Thanks! And yeah, I’ll for sure keep revisiting this topic, especially once it becomes real and not just philosophizing. ;-) And one thing I will say is that the folks who end up going back to work after early retiring are ALL OVER the age spectrum, not just folks in their 50s and later. I think we FIRE folks can get a bit arrogant and think that standard retirement challenges don’t apply to us, but I have been disavowed of that notion many times. ;-)

  6. Early retirement is easy for us, our kids are still young. I am getting worn out by work and can’t wait until early July.

    I totally want to be unproductive in ER. The only exception I make is for fitness which is important to us. I have no qualms about maxing out my Netflix subscription.

  7. I’m with you… I have a hard time sitting still! I think for me, one of the biggest things I have been trying to cut out in my current life (not close to retired but I want to live like I am!) is a desire to be “connected”. Typically, I find that I strive to be connected by checking email/media, watching the latest show or even listening to podcasts all the time (driving, walking, etc). But I find that the times when I disconnect and go outside or sit down with a book and a cup of tea, I feel far more connected with myself and the world around me (not the world as presented via my phone!). Its something I have to work on because it is much easier just to grab the phone or keep my thoughts busy in some way, but the benefits are often beyond what I initially imagine!

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    • It’s great you’ve made that connection for yourself! (Pardon the pun.) ;-) And it’s interesting how insidious that notion can be. Like I don’t care one bit about Facebook or my personal Twitter, but I DO care about staying connected via blog social media, and both Mr. ONL and I care about feeling relevant in the world, something we expect to lose in short order when we quit our careers. So it’s good you’re on the lookout for that tendency.

  8. The power of streaks is huge for me. Even though the word ‘routine’ can have negative or boring connotations to many folks, I think establishing routines, which become de-facto streaks if you don’t miss, is a key to success and more importantly physical health for me. I was an overweight, beer-drinking party machine through my 20’s and into my early 30’s. I rapidly realized I needed to grow up and I quickly gravitated to endurance sports, mainly cycling, running, and mountaineering. Once I established the daily routine of doing either a run or a ride on my bike and got fitter and fitter, the thought of not doing that daily workout became frankly absurd. For the past ten years now, there’s absolutely no question, I will run or ride my bike every day. It’s become like blinking my eyes or breathing, it’s practically an involuntary muscle movement.

    I realize routines won’t work for all as many will find them boring, too robotic, or simply have crazy-complicated lives that will preclude it. But for me, they work. If you make something a core part of who you are – be it working out, a side-hustle, whatever – the routine of it becomes a good thing.

    • I love hearing your story, Steve! That’s so amazing how vastly you transformed your life. And I think streaks can take many forms. Exercise every day may not work for everyone, but there could be another metric to maintain a streak with that has more flexibility — like hitting 100K steps every week, regardless of how they are distributed. (This has been an on-and-off streak for me — currently off, unfortunately!)

  9. By some definitions of retirement, I have been retired for 10 years. I feel I have less time than ever.

    I was just going to type up my typical day, but I don’t think anyone cares.

    The point is that I believe there is a Parkinson’s Law for time. I also think we should distinguish between happiness activities and responsibilities. They can be the same, but in many cases they aren’t.

    • I would be totally interested to see your typical day! (I bet others would, too.) And yes, I think you’re right about Parkinson’s Law, *especially* when we have more time on our hands. And great point about responsibilities vs. the fun stuff.

  10. There’s always the conflict of “what I should be doing” vs. “what I want to do” and that still happens in retirement, you just lose some of the explicit external pressures like your job. You won’t have an office to go to but you’ll still feel guilt doing things you want to do – so keep that in mind. :)

    I found it was useful to embrace everything and cut back. Like Michelangelo carving David, cut away the stuff that you don’t like instead of focusing like a laser towards the things you do. It’s similar to your “letting go” but perhaps a little broader?

    There’s plenty of life left… enjoy the journey. :)

    • Yay! More guilt! Hahaha. And yeah, I definitely see the value in the cutting back approach. We’ve already gotten pretty good at that these last few years of work, as our free time has gotten more and more limited. There’s tons of stuff we once enjoyed but don’t do anymore because we’d rather spend our limited time in other ways. It will be interesting to see if some of those activities find their way back to us once we have more time, or if they’re cut for good.

  11. Good topic. I retired almost four months ago. I’m 55, so not an “early retiree.” Before I retired, I, too, was under the impression that I would have so much more time to do things, and I do, to an extent. But I’m still working on my “plan.” My biggest priorities right now are to enjoy life on my own terms, and one thing that works well for me is to have loose routines for my priority items. My priorities right now are my mental and physical health and family time. I’ll think about adding other activities as time goes on. My biggest advice is to take as much time as you need to just “be.”

    • No way, you’re still an early retiree! Wear that badge proudly! And it’s great to hear your experience thus far — I especially appreciate your advice to allow as much time as needed to just be, though you already know that’s where I get nervous about “as much time as we need” turning into “forever.” ;-)

  12. I know I’m spending way more time than I want to be reading lots of blogs about FIRE and travel rewards/hacking etc. It sometimes feels like I’m reading about how best to do my life rather than actually living my life. But there’s so much good info out there it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Any thoughts on how others handle this?

    • I know lots of us can relate to you! It’s like when I realized that I want to prioritize writing, I started reading more books about writing rather than actually writing more. D’oh!

      I think it helps to ask yourself how much you’re truly changing based on what you read, and how much you need to live the experiences for yourself and learn based on that. Or at least to pace yourself with new info instead of trying to drink from the firehose constantly — that’s a sure-fire recipe for overwhelm and burnout!

  13. I had to laugh at the TV reference. A few years ago, I cut off my high speed internet and got by with a 10GB/month hotspot because I felt like streaming TV shows/movies was distracting me from the things I should be doing instead (e.g. reading).

    And now a couple friends are trying to convince me to get an Xbox so we can game online together (from each of our houses), but I view video games the same way as streaming Netflix, in that I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as other things I could be doing.

    I’m one of those people who wants to try everything but rarely sticks with anything. What makes me happiest is simply spending time with friends and family, just over coffee or a meal at one of our houses. No hobby has come even close, but I’ll never lose interest in trying things to broaden my horizons or in case something sticks. You only get one life, right? :)

    • YOU CUT HIGH SPEED INTERNET?!?!?! Whoa. You are possibly my hero for the day for that, but I practically feel shaky just thinking about it. Hahaha. And of course I completely admire that, too, especially making more time for reading. Also, I think trying different things counts as its own hobby and is a totally legit way to proceed through life!

      • I probably should have mentioned that I went back to broadband internet a year later, mainly so I could work from home as needed (my employer lets us do that every now and then).

        I continue research mobile hot spots every year to see if a plan might make financial sense, since 99% of my data is used for surfing the web or streaming shows/movies – both time wasters in my opinion. I can only get Xfinity in my neighborhood so it runs $72/month. Pretty expensive for something that’s almost entirely entertainment.

        Would love to hear suggestions if anyone has one!

      • Oh, okay, phew! I was picturing you living in the dark in a cave. Hahahahaha. And folks, let Kate know if you’ve found a cheaper hotspot or broadband solution!

  14. Our priority during early retirement will be spending more time with our kids and family. I don’t think anyone ever said on their deathbed that they wish they’d watched more TV!

    • Oh, there’s probably someone somewhere who said that, because everyone’s different. ;-) But yeah, point taken! Haha.

  15. “If you want more time to do this thing that’s important to you, don’t waste time on stuff that’s not.” This is a key to life and happiness in general. I have started doing a time audit every few months just to see where my time is going. The first time I did one I discovered that a lot of my time was going to Facebook and Reddit, which are obviously not high priorities to me. I was struggling to find time to do things that I really enjoyed, and yet hours of every day slipped away on these low priority items. Since embracing the time audit I have been much happier and much much more productive.

    • Good for you for being open to doing that time audit, Matt! I resisted downloading Moment onto my phone for a long time, because I knew the news would not be good. And I didn’t keep it, but I learned what I needed to know over a few weeks. And even better for you that you made change as a result — that’s the biggest challenge of all. (P.S. Anytime I see a bunch of traffic come from Reddit, I always think, “Oh no. Have I been outed?!” Hahahaha. I might actually engage with it once we’re out, but not for now!)

  16. What I’ve always loved about your discussions of FIRE is that I feel like you haven’t put your life on hold. I read some posts where people seem downright miserable trying to muscle through 5, 10, or 15 years to find freedom. Thanks for the important reminder that we can all actively work on what’s most important to us now…and later.

    • Thanks, my friend! :-) Maybe it’s just that I get miserable and resentful ultra-fast, but I can’t imagine putting off basic enjoyment for that long! Plus we’re not guaranteed actually getting to that next phase, blah blah blah, all stuff you know. ;-) But yeah, if life is miserable while you’re pursuing any goal (at least in avoidable ways — don’t want to step into unacknowledged privilege again this week!) ;-) then you’re doing it wrong!

  17. I have never been able to sit still either. That did not change with retirement. In fact it got worse because I feel like the clock is always ticking and I need to get on to the next project I am choosing to do.

    • Ooh, that’s interesting! You feel MORE of a ticking close than you did before. I hadn’t even considered that possibility!

  18. I loved your TV references (even if TV is an easy target). I used to (and still do to a point) LOVE TV! Growing up, my mom and I watched a lot of TV together and the shows would spark discussions that helped build our bond. We also always had the TV on for background noise! I loved TV so much that when I lived in a dorm I paid extra for cable and made a spreadsheet to better keep up with all of my favorite shows. (I know I sound like a crazy person.)

    Around two years ago, I noticed that I kept saying I didn’t have time to read, but at the same time I had blown through two seasons on Netflix in a week. So I started making a conscious effort to decrease my TV time. I stopped watching any show that I wasn’t currently enjoying, and I made a rule that I couldn’t multi-task while watching (I had to just sit and watch). I’m also not much a sitter, so I was able to find so much more time in my day! I went from running the TV from the time I got home to the time I went to bed, to maybe only turning it on for an hour each day.

    Back then, I was reading one book per week, but I have dropped it to about two per month since having my son. Time spent with him is truly the most important thing in my life right now. I know he won’t be little forever, so I’m soaking up all the memories I can.

    • Aww, I love hearing how you’ve reprioritized things in your life to make more space first for reading, and then for your son. :-) I truly think there’s nothing wrong with watching a lot of TV if that’s what you absolutely love — it’s an art form, after all! But it sounds like you had that season of your life, and now you’re in a different season with different priorities. :-)

  19. Thought provoking as always, Mrs. ONL! I know what I prioritize outside my 9-5 now, and I am open to that shifting and evolving over time, both pre- and post-FI, but that will be a good place to start!

    Although, I think depending on personality, it can be less about accomplishments/goals and more about experiences… now, that could just be coming from my burnt-out on corporate goal-setting mentality at the minute. But right now one of the things I crave is to be much less goal-driven than I currently am. I want to focus less on ticking the next box or accomplishing the next milestone, and just enjoy the present moment(s) more.

    • I think that mindset of switching from accomplishments to experiences is super healthy! And I’ll say that for us the meaning of “accomplishment” will shift a LOT. It’ll be more about doing multiple long hikes a week, and less about achieving something at work. ;-) Or maybe getting 70 hours of sleep in a week will count as an accomplishment. Hahaha.

  20. I find this quote very interesting “During what I’m calling “the detox,” we don’t want to put too many expectations on ourselves or set too many goals. We want to let ourselves go with the flow and take each day entirely as it comes. But if we aren’t careful, that short-term detox could easily and invisibly turn from a transitional period into the whole rest of our lives. Which would be a terrible outcome, at least in my mind.”

    Do you expect to get an entirely new personality in ER? Because given your driven nature I highly doubt you will turn into a sloth. How do I know this? I’ve taken a month off from work a few times now and I can assure you that you won’t devolve into a sloth.

    Yes, I took my time and relaxed heavily the one time since I had no travel plans or anything else on the go (ie: very similar to detox) and guess what…I did enjoy doing nothing for a while but eventually starting a project around the house and did a bit more writing and in no time at all filled up my days. I found a good way to deal with the ‘feeling guilty for getting nothing done’ feeling is to do one item off a ‘to do’ list a day, some of them were like two minutes while others took a few hours. It helped me a lot on the shift as I felt I still needed to ‘productive’ in some fashion.

    I appreciate the post because I’m also leaving work this year and I’m giving myself three months of detox to be as lazy or productive as I want. I’m just making sure I don’t pick up anything big in the first few months. Little things I’m going to do as I feel like. Good luck on your detox…I’m looking forward to reading it.

    • Haha — fair callout! I don’t expect to become a different person, but as driven as I am in some ways, I absolutely have a lazy side (and Mr. ONL would tell you he has much more of one). We regularly let whole weekends drift by without doing anything worth mentioning, and while I know that’s not the same as several months, those weekends are precious to us now! And it’s also just about the habits we establish. But I think the regularity of the blog will quell any fears I have, and we’ll give ourselves a bit of a “hang time” period as well, length TBD. ;-)

      And congrats on being so close to your exit date! So exciting!!

  21. That was a thought provoking post. The first thing I want to enjoy once I reach FIRE is to not wake up to an alarm clock. I will still get up early, but not to that awful sound. In all seriousness, I am looking forward to just slowing down. Instead of rushing home from work to chop wood before the sun sets, it can be a 2 day project. I have my interests and my bucket list, but I am not going to stress over those things. I want to learn how to relax in FIRE. That is something that I am not good at. I am not talking about sitting down to read or watch tv relaxed. I want to take a 2 or 3 week period to just be. My whole adult life has been busy. I think that would be a nice starting point.

    • Oh heck yeah! I’m totally with you on that, and have written about our future alarm clock-free life before. ;-) In fact, our plan is to ban electronics from the bedroom altogether, with Kindles as a possible exception. And I applaud you for being willing to take that detox time to just be — after going at such an unnatural pace for so long, we all need that!

  22. I’ll be so excited to have more time for impacting the next generation, fishing in the bright sunshine, visiting new places every year without a limit of vacation days or workload, and even more!

    The purpose we have at our blog, and each of the Duke’s have in our lives is to impact the people around us, including our readers. We hope to do that before and after our retirement!

    • I completely love your life philosophy. Having an attitude of what you can do for others first is something more of us need to have!

  23. Having the kids around and dealing with their schedule definitely will be something to “keep me busy.” Beyond that, you’re right about prioritizing things and making them fit. Currently I play zero music. I think it’s been a month or so since I picked up an instrument. My home brewing has dropped off to an “as needed” basis rather than a “let’s play around with a recipe and just bottle it and try again” phase. I’ve gotten a lot of those kinks worked out now, and am in maintenance mode, lol. I jsut made up and printed out a training schedule for a fall triathlon, so that’s going to eat up almost all of my nightly free time the next 4 months, so yeah that”s risen to the top lately as priority in my life.

    After work, I’ll take some time to enjoy our new house, new town, new situation before committing to anything. I think it will be fun to walk around the neighborhood trails, or take the kayak down to the lake and paddle around or go hiking, or go open water swimming, or whatever I want between life chores and the kids school schedule.

    After that, I’ll focus on whatever rises to the surface as the thing I want to get passionate about and get involved in. Right now, I have no clue what that is.

    • I love the idea of home brewing “as needed” — is beer ever “needed”? ;-) (I mean, obviously the answer is yes! Haha.) And how exciting that you’re planning for a fall tri! What distance are you doing?

      • Oh, see “as needed” is when the keg blows and just hisses foam. Then I “need” to brew a batch, lol. for the fall tri I’m doing an Olympic distance, so 1500 m swim, ~25 mile bike and 6.2 mile run. The swim is from a ferry back to shore… I’m not worried about the distance or ocean/bay aspect, more the threat of sharks. Literally, I’m just more worried about getting chomped than not making it, hahahaha. :)

      • Hahahaha. Well that’s an important definition of “need” vs. “want”! ;-) And HOLY CRAP YOU ARE DOING YOUR TRI WITH SHARKS?!?!?!?! I am not okay with that. (I will resist the urge to send you links to stories of sharks killing triathletes. Well maybe just this one: But hey, at least in this case you’ve got numbers on your side, right? What are the chances the shark would pick you out of the throngs of racers? ;-)

      • Exactly, and unlike the article, we don’t have seal communities nearby, or great whites, but all sharks have to eat right? And there will be boats around the swimmers since we’ll be almost a mile offshore to start our swim. So, yeah chances are low, but until I feel the sand on my feet, I’ll just be thinking, “where’s the shark, where’s the shark, where’s the shark?” hahaha irrational sure, but maybe I’ll make it my mantra and use it to pace my stroke. :)

  24. I have been able to find time for some awesome trips and adventures lately but they all are tied to projects I managed to connect myself with. I have the idea of pushing my passion work of trying to get photography work which is fun but does come with commitments and a bit of “work” in the true sense of the word.

    I quit working at my career to FIRE but I haven’t really stopped working and I need that break. I told myself I would go on a bunch of solo hikes and climbs but that hasn’t happened. I have three commitments left on my plate for my “side hustle” and after that I will not pursue work unless it falls onto my lap.

    I want to enjoy this downtime over the summer and not think too much about anything, wasn’t that the point of stepping away from work?

  25. Ha! I feel your pain. I received some wise advice at my “retirement party”, lol. They threw me a party when I was in my corporate offices this week – which felt a little awkward but it was also appreciated. My CEO advised me to give myself 6 months to figure things out before I committed to doing anything that might take a lot of time. I already had 60 days pegged but 6 months also seems reasonable. Maybe it’s good that I don’t have any huge ambition? I have a volunteer gig lined up for a couple of hours a week, a tiny bit of work to do for the non-profit board I sit on, and other than getting in a workout every day and doing more of the cooking in our home, I haven’t pinned myself down. I’m sort of viewing the beginning as a little like a vacation and will slow down and recharge my batteries. It will be fun to have more space to just sit and think, read a couple books and simply be a more active member in my neighborhood and community since I can take advantage of participating in unplanned stuff as it happens.

    • I’ve heard numerous people say it takes a year, so I don’t think 6 months is crazy. Though maybe it’s a few months with literally no expectations and then the full six months with a little more structure. Of course it’s different with your daughter than it will be for us with no kids! We could literally never change out of our pajamas, and play video games and eat cereal all day, and it wouldn’t affect anyone else. Hahaha.

  26. It took me close to 2 years, but I had no plan as my early retirement came 2 years before I expected it to. (Or maybe I’m just slow.) Financially everything was cool, but I had not thought through anything. So I took the first year to decompress and think through a lot of the things you’ve talked about – what’s really important to me, my values, my dreams, my possibilities list, what I needed to replace from my work life. It was good to have the time to think about that stuff, and learn a new rhythm – like what time my body naturally wakes up!

    Year 2 I “tried things on”. Some stuck, others tried and moved on. Year 3 is actually continuing that same pattern – continuing to try new things, some added into my “routine”, others not. There are more things to try than there is time, so knowing what is really important to me has helped with making choices.

    I’ve learned to really appreciate the slower pace of life…taking the time to chat with a neighbor or the clerk at the store, actually going to the store mid week and enjoying the shopping experience, having morning coffee and journaling. And no 2 weeks are the same as I find I like the well-curated life full of various activities. But I do keep a calendar and plan those various activities, consciously choosing things that fit my life vision.

    I also believe that 3 years from now, I might want a whole new set of activities. Nothing I’m “committing to” is long term (except my marriage) – that was a freeing thought. Even if I make a choice by default, I can always change my mind!

    • You are not the first person I’ve heard say that the transition took multiple years, Pat! And I definitely know you’re not alone in not thinking through those big questions in advance. I think it’s great you’ve given yourself the time to experiment with different things and to let some things stick while other things don’t. And I’m SO curious to know what time I naturally wake up — just hope we naturally have similar schedules, because it will be highly inconvenient if we don’t. ;-) (I’m secretly hoping that Mr. ONL will get better at waking up before the crack of noon when he’s not so sleep deprived!)

  27. The detox / transition phase has been something I am eager to get to (I am less than 12 months away from my FIRE date) though I haven’t seen anyone address the “trailing spouse” issue in their comments here.

    For me my wife retired from full time paid work 21 years ago when our last child was born. The detox period won’t be me sleeping in, sitting around, figuring it out because after 30 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, millions of miles of travel over 1500 nights away, unused vacations (even some missed vacations where the family went without me) she is ready to have me back so to some extent we have already started to define what “Next is” based on both our passions and interests.

    Mr and Ms ONL are doing this together, like synchronized swimmers and I think that will be important to their success in retirement, just as I believe my wife and I will be successful because we have been ready for retirement for some time and will welcome it because it has meaning to us already. Knowing that we will be able to spend our time on things that are important to us at our pace and for no one else but ourselves is a liberating thought that isn’t a distant dream – we are aligned

    However I would like to hear from the loyal followers of ONL how the trailing spouse issue impacts those who FIRE themselves when it comes to the topic of this blog post



    • Hi Phil. I really appreciate your comment because we do tend to focus on our situation, which clearly isn’t how everyone does this: retiring at the same time with no kids. The trailing spouse question is a good one, and one I can put to the newsletter list as well to get their input. But you’re right that not everyone has the whole household go from 100 mph to 0 overnight, and that must certainly create a very different set of dynamics than those we’ll experience!

  28. Focusing on what is important before and during retirement is key. We often get caught up in the things that add no meaning or joy to life. Relationships suffer when we are too focused on working unlimited hours in the cube farm or watching 4 hours of Netflix each day. Thanks for helping us remember what is truly important!

    • I think we all need this reminder from time to time — us very much included! I sure hope we get caught up in less of that insular drama that mostly stems from work, but I suspect even after retirement, we’ll still need to keep checking in on what actually matters. ;-)

  29. Fully agreed with this here: If you want more time to do this thing that’s important to you, don’t waste time on stuff that’s not.

    And there is no need to wait until you are FIRE. You can actually do it now. This is the corner stone of our reviewed and adjusted FIRE plan.

    High on my list: family and friends, helping the local FIRE community take a next step, educate people in personal finance,travel the world and seven seas. That is all.

  30. When I think about an “invitation” to spend time or money on something, I often get back to “that’s not a priority for me right now.” I’ve been pouring so much energy into building a skill that will be highly lucrative for me and I just stopped watching most tv shows. I already rarely saw a movie and only have netflix. Even so, I just feel like learning and creating are higher priorities for me right now. Who knows what next year’s ZJ will desire? I hope I listen to her.

    • I so admire that you stick to your convictions on what’s important to you, and spend your time accordingly. Given that this total focus on future skills and building your business comes from your vision of what you want from life, I can’t imagine you not listening to future you when she tells you whether she still wants the same thing.