First thing’s first: No. I haven’t retired yet. But I do spend a lot of time daydreaming about Day 1. What does my daily routine in retirement look like? Will I be bored off my rocker, or will I have enough work on my plate to keep me both occupied and productive?
We’ll revisit an earlier post where I dared to try guessing my daily routine, a good four or five years ahead of my early retirement target of 2019 / 2020. Based on my penchant for blowing money lately, it’s looking more like 2020 or 2021 for THIS blogger.
Why Figuring Out Your Daily Routine Matters
In fairness, the money part still looms as a big dragon over my early retirement schemes. I still need to “pad things” a bit, and get to the point where I’m not worried about missing out on life, just because I’m not pulling a big salary anymore. Damn you, Disney Cruise!!!
Once the money part is solved, there’s the “what now?” factor. This is today’s problem to ponder. What tasks and projects will help me grow, learn, and produce something of value, while collaborating with good people in the process? See what I did there? I just described nearly everyone’s dream job…
Of course, very few of us get to experience that dream. There are moments, to be sure. We land a good boss for a few years, and when the stars align, we get to work with wonderful colleagues on challenging, but manageable projects. More often than not, sadly, we can’t pick our boss, our colleagues, or our projects. We can influence and adapt, sure, but it’s a stressful grind.
The Benjamin Franklin Routine
Benjamin Franklin is often touted as the OG early retiree. He basically side-hustled through most of his famed, long-lived life. Although never a president, he adorns the hundred dollar bill. Not too shabby! And of all the founding fathers, he’s probably the least sourpuss of the bunch. The man knew how to live life to the fullest.
Part of what gave Franklin the juice to live such a full life was his schedule. As J. Money originally posted a few years back, it all starts with waking up early every day. 5AM early. I love this old post. My wife started her own 5AM habit well before I stumbled across J.’s article, so I had a little more motivation to give it a shot. And thanks to the inspiration, this blog lives on.
Because honestly, if it weren’t for the 5AM wake-up call, I would have ZERO time to write. My job doesn’t allow for pretend work time, friends (and neither should yours!) Like J. Money, I struggled at first with balancing the excitement of the productivity gains before daybreak with just plain winding down at night.
I made the mistake of watching stupid TV shows right before bedtime — giving myself nightmarish imagery from Game of Thrones when all I wanted to do was catch Z’s.
Franklin didn’t have to worry about that nonsense. Not only did he avoid watching GoT (thanks to slow internet speeds), he also benefited from a candle-lit environment. And when it got too hot in Philly, he bolted for parts north to cool off, like the rest of the gentry did back then. (It was more out of necessity since malaria and yellow fever were common summer companions. Yikes…)
My Original Routine, Revisited
Back in October of 2016, I figured the daily drill would look something like THIS:
5:00AM: Wake-up time
6:45AM: Breakfast and wake up kids for school.
7:30AM: Pack lunches.
7:45AM: Walk the kids to school.
8:15AM: Off to volunteer job (Habitat for Humanity?)
ZONE OF OPPORTUNITY (8:15AM – 4:30PM)
4:30PM: The work day is over (maybe an hour earlier, depending when school gets out.)
5:00PM: Start getting ready for family dinner.
7:30PM: Get kids ready for bed.
8:00PM: Kids in bed. Now it’s time for husband and wife to catch up on each other’s day, and take in a little Netflix (maybe “The Office” re-runs, to remind myself of what I’m missing)
9:30PM: Turn in.
There’s really nothing new here that I’m not doing today, right? All I’ve done is change my surroundings, replacing the office environment with a more appealing one — a construction zone. I haven’t reaped the benefit of time that’s the promise of early retirement. And where’s the window to work-out and exercise? And wait? No naps???
Some major adjustment is necessary:
5:00AM: Wake-up time — BLOGGING
6:45AM: Breakfast and wake up kids for school
7:30AM: Pack lunches
7:45AM: Walk the kids to school
8:15AM: Back home
NEW: Go for a run, or bike ride. If it’s winter, I may drive to the gym (free membership, so long as Mrs. Cubert continues to work there)
NEW: 9:30AM: Back to the BLOG! Maybe give myself a haircut?
NEW: 11:30AM – 12:00PM: Lunch and midday Franklin-esque reflection
ADJUSTED: 12:00PM – 3PM: Off to volunteer job (Habitat for Humanity?), OR, household errands (e.g., attempt to haul groceries with the bike trailer)
NEW: 3:00PM – 3:30PM: Afternoon coffee break and some afternoon reflection (or nap!)
FORGOT THIS: 3:30PM: Pick up kids from school — time to have fun with them! (hoop it up, bike rides, board games, etc.)
5:00PM: Start getting ready for family dinner (with help from kids!)
7:30PM: Get kids ready for bed. Coerce with hugs, kisses, and threats of losing privileges
8:00PM: Kids in bed. Mom and Dad connect on their days. We still watch a little TV, cuz, you know, NETFLIX!!
9:30PM: Turn in.
This is a bit better. Still crazy how quickly time can be eaten up by the accumulation of many small tasks and events. Franklin’s system doesn’t create time, it simply helps you optimize what little time you DO have. Alas…
Every Routine Has a Golden Window of Opportunity
I consider the 9:30AM to 3:30PM time frame as the “Golden Window of Opportunity”. Catchy, no? At any rate, this is where I’ve had so much heartache about early retirement. I have no problem filling this time frame in my cubicle job – there are emails to read and meetings to attend. On weekends, there’s laundry to do and blogging to catch up on.
Absent a paycheck though? How about focusing on this crusty old blog?? Maybe writing a blog is a passion project I can turn into something really useful? I chomp at the bit to think how much better the quality around here would be if I had three hours a day to crunch away on Abandoned Cubicle. The possibilities are marginal, at least…
Let’s poke at the 12:30PM to 3:30PM slot in the Golden Window. This is where I could choose to help out in my local community, fix up our own house, or work on beefing up the rentals (assuming the tenants don’t mind…) I have thought about spinning up a property management business, and possibly getting a realtor’s license (thanks, Carl!)
But this sub-slot is a time window I really need to nail down. If I don’t have something steady going on here, I could easily lapse into daily naps and reading interesting books I never have time for. I could venture into oil painting, like George W. Bush or Sylvester Stallone (a few of the contemporary greats).
The Importance of Staying Productive
The curse of too much time isn’t as much of a problem when you’ve got golf leagues, world travel, bridge club, and grand-kids to watch. Sure, there are countless traditional retirees still bored as hell, and often health issues can be a root cause, or, a consequence.
For early retirees, this is the curse of all curses. If Mr. Money Mustache retired at age 30 without a clue how to wield a hammer, write a blog post, or ride a bike, what the heck would he do with all that free time?? Kids eventually go off to school. You blink and all the sudden you’ve gone from changing diapers to walking junior to his first day of Kindergarten.
I can relate to the sense of accomplishment MMM says he feels when he gets sh*t done in an efficient manner. That’s what makes me tick too. Granted, it took me a while to figure that out. A lazy kid can become a productive grown-up with the right incentives (money, mating, and a keen understanding of the finite amount of time life offers us all.)
The risk is that we put all this energy into saving money, building our retirement stash, cutting the cord, and trimming the bills. And then, we retire early into a blank slate of “Well, what now??” If you’re not destined to become a rock star blogger traveling from expo to expo, camp to camp, or publisher to publisher, watcha gonna do with all that free time, mate??
Let’s just distill the daily routine down into three keys for a good retirement, early or otherwise:
1. Keep busy – after that initial 6-9 month “honeymoon” period, you get antsy. Time to engage. Be PRODUCTIVE. Volunteer, work part time, and learn something new!
2. Keep social – there is a part of everyone’s cubicle job they will miss to some degree. People. Even some of the most introverted colleagues among us have a few others to confide in at work. Unless your EQ and social skills are royally abysmal, you’ll have people you at least marginally appreciate being around, day in day out.
3. Keep active – if you let your health go to pot, the game is up. A daily exercise routine is required. Get your daily 10,000 steps (or aim for 15,000 like the indigenous tribes who never suffer heart failure).
EASY STUFF, Right???
The Importance of People in One’s Daily Routine
This is why we see more and more camps and meet-ups and transatlantic adventures. Early retirees need a community to survive. It makes sense. Traditional retirees often live among other retirees (exhibit A: Florida). Early retirees on the other hand have literally no one else around them.
If I hung it up tomorrow, I’d be one of three people on my block still at home on a given week day. A few neighbors are retired and a few are stay-at-home moms. I’ll be the jerk running a table saw out of my garage while baby is trying to sleep across the way.
I can appreciate so much more how the early retirement (FIRE) community has become a replacement for the cadre of work friends and acquaintances from those working years. If you’re fortunate to live in a big city, you could connect in local meetups as part of a routine. Kind of like those old farmers in Iowa who sit around the diner for hours drinking bad coffee, bitching about why no one else gets “it”.
But I want my “farmers” to be a mishmash of people from all different backgrounds, who prefer good coffee and can inspire me to take on new ideas and projects.
Remember though, retirement is also an opportunity to build stronger bonds with those around us today, who’ll still be around us tomorrow. Early retirees have the gift of extra time, whereas traditional retirees start to lose friends as age advances.
So yeah, go to FinCon and go to CampFI, but remember to put as much enthusiasm and intent into your current non-FIRE friendships and of course, your family, FIRST.
I hope to get to FinCon myself one day. I think the current mishmash of early retirees and FIRE escapists are my kind of tribe. A bunch of misfits who won’t be hemmed in by boredom and monotony in cubicle land. Maybe one day I’ll have a few of these living on MY block, and this whole daily routine conundrum becomes an easier riddle to solve?