If you find yourself in a group of aspiring early retirees, it takes all of about five seconds before it turns into a chorus of “I can’t wait to have more time to climb mountains!” “I can’t wait to have more time to read all the books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for years!” “I am going to run that marathon and renovate my house and travel to 100 countries in the next five years!” And on and on it goes. We’re an ambitious bunch with big dreams, which is one of my favorite things about our community.
But a rude awakening for us — us meaning Mark and me — in early retirement has been the realization that simply having more time doesn’t mean you actually spend that time in meaningful ways. As Robert S. Weiss says in his seminal work The Experience of Retirement, the freedom to do something also includes the freedom to do nothing. (And for real, sometimes doing nothing can feel amaaaaaazing. But not all the time or for very long. Hence the need for a boredom in early retirement series, which continues next week.)
Instead, even for those of us with loads of time, we still have to intentionally make time for the things that truly matter to us. Something that’s harder than ever in our distraction-filled world.
I’ve written before that early retirement hasn’t magically “fixed” us. We’re not getting eight-plus hours of sleep every single night or hitting the gym every day without fail. We’re doing other meaningful things, which are fantastic, and Mark has been getting on his mountain bike and hitting the beach for volleyball like a champ this summer, so we’re not sitting around doing nothing. But we’ve definitely learned that it’s still up to us to be intentional about how we spend our time, and about making sure that we dedicate time to the important things. (And often that’s easier said than done.)
One Example: Date Nights
Mark and I have both worked from home for a long time, so even when I was traveling a ton for work, we still saw each other far more than most working couples, and because we also don’t have kids, there were fewer commitments pulling us in different directions. All the work stress and travel made it hard for us to be as good of partners to each other as we each wanted to be, and we assumed that having that stress lift in retirement, coupled with objectively more time together, would be the magic healing balm that would make our marriage perfect. (<– Slight grain of salt in there, but only slight.)
But, it turns out, just being in proximity to one another and not being super stressed about work – while great – isn’t miraculous all on its own. And midway through this year, we realized that even though we were spending a ton of time together and doing a lot of stuff together, we felt in some ways like we were neglecting the relationship. Because the things we were doing were about some activity. Or about showing guests around. Or about completing some project. They weren’t about us. You might be sitting together on the couch, but if you’re each face-down in your phone, you might as well be in different rooms.
And so we decided that we still need to make time for date nights and dedicated us time. On some level it sounds weird to say that, but that’s something we’re now consciously making time for.
That example, of still needing to have date nights, gets at a larger point, though. That sometimes in working toward making more time for things we value, we don’t stop to think about whether we really have the skills or tools to make the most of that time, or whether we’ll just fritter it away, lost in distractions, wondering where the days, weeks and months went. There’ve been times this year when I’ve worried that I don’t have those skills, and so I’m open to any help I can get to help me tune out distractions and actually do the things I retired to do.
Expert Help to Make Time // Q&A With John Zeratsky
Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, authors of the New York Times bestselling book Sprint* have just come out with a new book, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day. I had the privilege of reading it early, and got a ton out of it, even though on paper I have all the time in the world and should have no trouble fitting in the things that are most important to me in my daily life. And a fun fact for the FI community is that John Zeratsky is “one of us,” an alternate lifestyle designer who used to have a high-powered tech career in Silicon Valley, but instead of blowing through all his money like his peers, he and his wife saved their money so that they could walk away from their, live on a sailboat for an extended period and now work only on projects they feel passionate about.
As he and his wife Michelle wrote on their blog, Particular Harbor,
We’re a San Francisco couple in our 30s, sailing south aboard our Outbound 46 Pineapple. In 2017, we quit our jobs, gave up our apartment, sold our stuff, sailed out the Golden Gate, turned left, and began cruising the Pacific coast from California toward Panama. We don’t know quite where we’re going or when we’ll be back… but we know it’ll be an amazing adventure.
So obviously I didn’t just want to give away the book, I also wanted to hear from John some of the lessons he’s learned that especially apply to the FIRE community. (And keep reading to enter to win a signed copy of Make Time.)
Tanja: Thanks for taking the time for a Q&A, John, and congrats on the new book! I loved reading it, and feel like there’s a ton in it that will resonate with folks pursuing financial independence, early retirement or some alternate life vision, namely the emphasis on focusing on what’s important to you and creating systems to get rid of all the non-essential time clutter.
John Zeratsky: Even though this book is about time, not money, I got a lot of inspiration from the FIRE community while writing it. Make Time is about examining, questioning, and changing the defaults that unconsciously drive our everyday decisions about time. And FIRE folks do the same thing, taking a skeptical look at so-called “normal” money behaviors so they can design a remarkable life for themselves.
T: I love the idea of the design sprint, which is what your last book is all about, and even if it’s not exactly the same, I was really inspired by the concept of the sprint, and use similar thinking when I’m trying to get through big projects that require a lot of problem solving. Just to give folks some background, how would you explain a design sprint for those who aren’t in tech or design? Is it something people can use outside of work, in their daily lives? (Because you know I love busting the myth that anything is just for tech folks.)
JZ: 🤓 A design sprint is a structured 5-day process for any team who wants to quickly test something new before committing weeks or months or years of time to it. In a sprint, teams work together face-to-face to generate solutions, decide which ones are most promising, build a prototype of those solutions, and test with real customers.
We developed it while working with tech startups in Silicon Valley, but it can be used for any kind of new product, marketing, process… or anything really! We’ve heard stories of sprints from Prudential Insurance, the United Nations, the British Museum, KLM (the airline), and plenty more teams. Many of those are published at Sprint Stories.
T: You’ve managed to design a pretty sweet lifestyle for yourself, going on an extended sailing trip, writing multiple books, and now working only on projects that you’re passionate about. With so much flexibility built into your life, do you find it easy to make time for everything you want to do, or do you still need a system like the one in the book to help you? (Like, ahem, I still do.)
JZ: I definitely struggle with distraction, focus, and energy. Modern technologies like smartphones and social media are SO compelling and SO addictive, it’s easy to get sucked in. And there’s such a strong default orientation in our culture toward doing more and doing it faster: responding to emails, saying yes to meetings, volunteering for projects, etc.
One of the secrets to making time is accepting that you can’t do everything. When we focus on productivity, we can do more… but we feel like we have less time because it all makes us busier and more scattered and more distracted. Our goal with Make Time is help people slow down and spend time on the things that are really important—while saying no to the things that we often do by default.
For me, the ideas in Make Time are kind of my guiding principles, or mantras, that I come back to again and again. When I feel myself getting sucked into Infinity Pool apps or swept up in the Busy Bandwagon, I return to the lessons in the book and press the reset button.
T: I think that’s such an important point that we might get a lot done when we focus on productivity, but we end up feeling crazed on on-track for burnout. And oh my gosh, Twitter is totally my Infinity Pool. Certainly many people find that they spend a ton of time on Facebook, Instagram or another social platform and can relate. I know you use Twitter because we’ve chatted there! How do you manage to keep social media and the internet in general from derailing the things you most want to get done?
JZ: Haha, yeah! I love Twitter and I use it a lot. Jake helped design Gmail and I worked at YouTube. So we have a long and tumultuous history with the Internet :) We want to maintain control of our time and attention, but we don’t want to swear off the Internet or social media forever. That’s unrealistic, and besides… these technologies are actually pretty amazing!
Some of the tactics from the book that help me keep it all in perspective:
Distraction-Free Phone—I don’t have any Infinity Pools apps installed on my phone. That means no email, no Twitter, no news, no stock market, etc on my phone. This removes 90% of the temptation to do a “quick” check of email or Twitter or whatever.
Log Out—On my computer, I have changed all my passwords (for Twitter etc) to impossible-to-remember strings and put them in a password manager (I use 1Password). When I’m not using Twitter, I log out. I don’t have it in my bookmark bar or new tab screen. That way, when I semi-unconsciously type “twitter.com” (this happens multiple times a day ☺️) I see the login screen instead of the feed. This forces me to slow down and think, “do I really want to be on Twitter right now?” Sometimes the answer is yes, but often it is no.
Turn Distractions Into Tools—Instead of using Twitter as a broad source of entertainment, I have a couple very specific things I use it for: responding to readers, following a narrow set of people and blogs, etc. Reframing Twitter as a tool helps me use it in a focused, intentional way.
T: I don’t know if I’m quite ready to take all those apps off my phone just yet and log out of everything on my browser – I’m still working on staying consistently under 30 tabs! But I definitely see how powerful it would be to take those steps. For those who aren’t quite ready to log out of every social program every time they use it, what’s one step everyone can take right now to make time for something important today?
JZ: Since I already mentioned the Distraction-Free Phone which, honestly, is life changing, I recommend that folks try setting a daily Highlight. Think about one activity or project you want to prioritize in your day. It can be something at home or at work; something time-sensitive or just something you’ve been meaning to get to. Target an activity that takes 60–90 minutes, then look for ways to plan your day around it.
This simple practice can be really helpful. You might be surprised how just thinking about your Highlight can help you make small tweaks to how you spend your time. Even if you make zero changes to your calendar as a result, the anticipation and enjoyment of a special moment can make the whole day better.
T: That makes so much sense to me. That’s how our memories work anyway: we think back to the highlight of a day, a week or a trip. So, speaking of trips – is that an awkward segue or what? – you just wrapped up a life list-worthy sailing trip that, if I took it, I would tell everyone about every day forever until they refused to talk to me anymore. So that we may all live vicariously through you, can you please share the coolest moment on your extended sail?
JZ: So hard to pick one. A few:
- Anchoring in remote bays in Costa Rica where there were no one ashore and no other boats around us.
- Hanging out in Chacala, Mexico, a few days before Christmas. The beach bars had bands playing music ’til late into the night.
- Arriving in new towns and cities with our home! It’s such a cool feeling to experience new places and cultures while having the stability and familiarity of our routines and our boat.
T: Life list stuff for sure. How is it now being back on dry land most days?
JZ: It’s pretty great. We have a new appreciation for the basic luxuries of 21st Century life in the USA… dishwashers, fast Internet, Uber, etc. We’re also enjoying feeling like productive members of society again. Travel and leisure are great, but nothing beats a sense of purpose and community.
T: Such an important reminder!
I’m super excited to be giving away a copy of John and Jake’s wonderful new book Make Time*, one I recommend to anyone looking to minimize distractions and actually make the things happen that you want to create space for in your life. One reader in the U.S. or Canada will win a copy, signed by John, and you can enter by answering this question as a comment on this post: What do you want to make more time for, and what is currently your biggest distraction or time waster? (Note: Just commenting something like “I would like to win the book!” does not count as an entry. Let’s have an actual discussion!) The giveaway closes at midnight Pacific time on Friday, October 5, 2018, and the winner will be randomly selected from among eligible commenters. (Please include your email address when you comment – only visible to me – so that I can contact you if you win.) Good luck!
*The book links here are affiliate links, which I use sparingly on the blog. You can always find the affiliate links and affiliate income policy on the Resources page, but here it is again:
Our Next Life is not monetized, for a whole bunch of reasons. However, there are some large costs involved with operating the blog and newsletter that make this an expensive hobby, one that’s hard to justify on a retired budget. The books I recommend include affiliate links, and the revenue from them (around $.46 per book purchased) covers a small fraction of the out-of-pocket costs of providing ad-free, unsponsored content to you at no charge. My aim with the affiliate links is — absolute best case — to break even on out-of-pocket expenses, so that providing this content isn’t a money pit for us. But here’s my commitment: In any calendar year in which affiliate income fully covers the cost of web hosting, photo editing and email list maintenance (the latter is the biggest expense by far!), I will donate all earnings above and beyond expenses to charity directly or to our donor advised fund for charitable giving, for the remainder of that year. And of course I’m thrilled if you go check these books out at the library instead!
Now go enter the giveaway! :-)
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Categories: we've learned