The importance of not wasting your retirement

Don't waste your retirement

Today we have a guest post from Li. She’s an amazing money blogger who’s got some hard facts to drop on you all about now wasting your retirement!

For all who don’t know me- Hi I’m Li. I write a lot about finances, saving money and my blog, DifferentLi is my journey to Early Retirement/a glorified photo album for my cat. For those of you that have been reading my blog you’ll know that my motivation for saving is as a gift for my future self. The gift of financial retirement. It’s a relatively popular topic these days in the personal finance sphere because it’s so tantalising. Eternal freedom. What would you do with that?

Do you remember years ago when you were in school and you’d be working the entire year just waiting until the end of July where you’d finally begin your six weeks of school holiday freedom? I do. That sweet first day where I would wake up at 2 in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day relaxing in my pajamas, cycling around or building forts with friends in the forest.

The first few days were spent recharging my batteries, catching up with all of the TV I hadn’t seen, playing new games online and generally enjoying things for myself that I couldn’t otherwise make time for. With 8 hours of my day usually taken up by school and travel, I would delve pretty heavily into this lazy rabbit hole and within a few weeks, I had finished exploring all of the entertainment I’d been craving for a whole year. By week 4 I was downright bored.

4 weeks. That’s all it took for me to start craving the structuring of my time. To crave someone else telling me what to do all day and what my priorities were. A higher power telling me “wake up at 07:00, leave the house at 08:15, first lesson at 09:00, Lunch at 12:30, home at 03:15 and repeat. It’s doesn’t seem incredibly difficult to replicate but many people report losing structure when they retire and having to work hard to fill their days. In a Line from ‘The Intern’, Robert DeNiro warns that “Retirement is a relentless, ongoing effort in creativity”. Many people can imagine the hardship of structuring your own time and the pitfalls that come with being able to sleep in all day if you were so to choose.

So what gives?

I’ve worked a rotating shift pattern for the past 4 years and so my weekends are often situated mid-week on, say a Wednesday and Thursday or even a Monday and Tuesday! My partner isn’t home, all of my friends and family are at work and so I can account for the fact that it’s rather difficult to structure my time because it’s completely my own until around 6pm. Over the years I’ve had varying degrees of success in keeping up a routine on my days off, hindered more by the fact that I’ve worked different shift lengths and times- and that I’m a natural repeat snoozer. I’ve learned a few really important lessons along the way that have really guided my days and kept the fluctuations down to a minimum.

I recently had almost 3 weeks off work alone and managed to eat healthily, exercise frequently, see friends, see family, write my blog and practice piano; along with some other household chores that are too dull to mention in a blog post. So below I’ll be outlining exactly what I do to structure my days and explain how this will translate across for when I retire in 5 years. They’re in Descending order of importance so if you don’t have much time- which I appreciate no one does- Just read the top few and come back later.

wake up early retirement

Wake Up early

You’ve heard it a million and twenty three times- wake up early, preferably at the same time every day and make the most of the hours you’re given. It’s tired and uninspiring but it is so true. If you’re going to do anything with your first three months after retiring, make sure it’s getting into a regular sleep pattern. Those first few hours in the morning are your most productive hours and you won’t believe how much you can get done before noon. If you start setting a regular time to go to sleep and a regular time to wake up, you’ll find you now have the time to tackle one big project every day rather than flitting between five small projects that aren’t fulfilling.

Find your ‘Why Power’

Everyone needs to know exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. Each person retires early for a different reason. Maybe they love to travel, want to raise children or maybe just want to be free of the rat-race. If you can find your driving purpose, then you can work towards early retirement diligently for years. Once you make it, your ‘why power’ will sustain you and become your new purpose! For me, this ‘Why Power’ is to give back to the planet. To volunteer with GreenPeace, plant a forest, create zero waste products and guides. Without the need to attend a day job, I’ll have twice the energy without the need of earning money necessary to live.

Whether we like it or not, a lot of our identity is tied to who we are at work or what our job is, we look at other people and judge a lot of factors based on what they do for a living. When the day comes that I retire early, my ‘job’ will be to make sure my larger goals are met and they will become a large part of my identity. No more engineer Li. This new purpose will take up the majority of my time and so they need to be linked to a goal that I -or you- feel very strongly about. So take some time to think about what drives you in life and if you were lying on your deathbed looking back on your life, what would you regret not doing? That’s your why power.

Make a list of things you want to accomplish every day

In order to reach these goals and not risk spending your first year of Early Retirement playing video games in your underwear with Doritos cascading down your front you need to start organising your own time. First thing when you wake up- or better yet the night before- become your own drill master and write out all of the things you expect to have achieved before you go to bed that night. Having this map of how your day looks makes it infinitely easier to get up early and start the work that you’ve established in your ‘Why Power’. You’ve split this work up into smaller goals and each day you can start to tackle them, bringing you closer to your purpose. Make a goals list for the week and even the month in order to give you a better picture of what kind of work pace you need to be setting.

Schedule in breaks

Don’t kill yourself doing it though! The EU have recognised that workers NEED breaks in order to be efficient with their work. Even if you are working towards something that you love and feel 100% connected to, you can easily burn out if you’re not careful. Multiple studies show that breaks are the best way to maintain productivity when completing one task all day. You can work for 52 minutes then take a 17-minute break, Work for 55 minutes then take a 5-minute break or follow the European guidelines that give workers 20 minutes for every 6 hours they work- but that seems pretty cheap to me- find something that works for you that you can continue for 40+ years.

Mimic a weekend for yourself

In a similar vein, schedule days off for yourself. Even though you’re retired you are still working on projects for yourself all day long and you may want to schedule in time for your family and friends. Perhaps even a couple of holidays a year thrown in! Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you’re now sunning on the beach every day in Marbella with a cocktail in each hand and a never-ending list of books to read! The kind of people who reach financial independence are highly motivated, hardworking and inspired. If you reach financial independence or are working towards it, I highly doubt you’re the type of person who would be satisfied with 40 years of rest before you die. I imagine we’ll all be working very hard to secure our non-financial dreams and as a result we will all need plenty of breaks in between to maintain our sanity and social lives.

Eat Healthy

Eat Healthily and regularly

Just look after yourself. You’ve achieved this incredible dream, it’s taken you years of planning and putting future you first to get here. Now is no time to stop doing that! Cut out your refined sugars, processed foods, oils and stick to wholesome vegetables, whole grains etc. Eating healthily doesn’t just protect future you from illness and obesity, it also protects current you from energy crashes and afternoon slumps in productivity. I’m sure we’ve all had that afternoon caramel latte that invigorates us for all of about 50 minutes before dropping us into a slouched, unmotivated slump. Caffeine and sugar are great to get your energy going but they are like energy credit cards that you WILL have to pay back later on with interest. Try saving them for dire circumstances and train your body to live without it. Your body is very adaptive and after a couple of weeks with less sugar and caffeine your energy levels and your taste buds will have adapted and you’ll be energetic all day in a more sustainable way that allows you to work consistently rather than in peaks and troughs.

In the end, being retired is about managing your time well and working towards your life goals. Every working day should be planned around making steps towards those bigger goals and towards making your life into your dream! The rest of your time is there to be enjoyed, to celebrate the journey towards those dreams. 

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The importance of not wasting your retirement

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