If you had more hours in your day, say, 9 extra hours on average, what would you do with all that extra time?
For some, this may be a hypothetical question, but for those who reach financial independence and flex it by retiring early (or at any point), it’s a legitimate question that’s going to be answered. It’s best to ponder this conundrum ahead of time, of course.
As a former physician, I know that most of us aren’t working anything like a typical 9 to 5, and a 40-hour workweek that routinely ends on a Friday might sound like a dream come true. Nevertheless, in some professions, a standard workday is about 8 hours. Add in the commute, getting ready for work, unwinding after, and a normal workday for someone who punches a timecard is going to take up at least 9 hours of that day.
So what would life look like if you could have all that time (or more) back?
I haven’t punched a timecard since I worked at a grocery store as a teenager, and I haven’t seen the inside of an operating room since August of 2019. Since then, I’ve been deciding how to spend my days. I’m not going to lie; it’s quite the luxury to have this time freedom.
Before FIRE — that’s Financial Independence, Retire Early — you may have a vision of how you’ll spend your time.
After you pull the trigger, you’ll discover how you actually spend your time. The vision and reality may turn out to be very different, and you’ll learn what your true priorities are and what your weaknesses are, as well.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll also realize that 9 hours, or whatever your average workday entailed, can be swallowed up by all kinds of things that weren’t a part of your original plan or vision.
Still, I think it’s worthwhile to contemplate how you think your time will be best spent before you have this sudden excess of free time. I’d hate to see you fail retirement.
Those who end up back at work within a year — and it’s more common than you might think, especially among professionals — are the ones who didn’t have much of a plan for retirement beyond not working anymore.
540 Extra Minutes
I know we often long for an extra 5 or 15 extra minutes a day, but if you no longer have a job to go to (or log into), you’ll have hundreds of extra minutes to fill every day that you don’t go to work. That’s a ton of time!
It’s easy to come up with activities that can fill that time, and we’ll get to some of those, but I think it’s best to start first with goals. What do you hope to achieve with that extra time?
Improvement is a common theme. We want to improve our minds and bodies. We want to strengthen relationships. We may want to better our immediate surroundings with home improvement projects or improve the communities in which we live.
If you play your cards right, you’ll have time to make improvements wherever you see the need, and there should still be plenty of time to actually play cards or other games with your kids or buddies at the end of the day.
How to Spend Your Extra Time
Hopefully, you’ve developed some hobbies in your working years, and naturally, you’re going to continue those and probably spend more time on them. The hobbies you had with your limited spare time will unlikely offer enough to fill the vast time vacuum that will exist once paid work doesn’t take up so much of your days, though.
You’ll want to branch out and broaden your horizons by doing new and different things, and these are some broad categories of activities that may be helpful in bringing you purpose and happiness in retirement.
Do something creative. Build things. Write stuff. Make music.
Many money-making jobs are left-brain driven, and it can be fulfilling to dust off the right-brain on a more regular basis.
Recreational activities can be as informal as a pledge to move your body more or as formal as a detailed cross-training plan to help you complete your first triathon.
Exercise will help keep you fit and live longer, allowing you to enjoy a more active and lengthier retirement, and with a lower likelihood of cardiovascular medical problems.
Joining a team or a club will also force you to get out and meet new people, and that’s another excellent goal for an early retiree, which leads me to…
Some people need a livelier social life than others, but we all benefit from at least some face to face interaction with our peers. That’s something most of us had in our working years, and loneliness can be a challenge for those who got most of their social interactions at work.
You now have the time to reach out more to family and friends; do so. The pandemic has made hermits out of all of us, but the time is coming for us to break out of our shells and return to a more interactive existence.
I mentioned club and team recreational activities, but there are all kinds of groups for the less athletically inclined. Service clubs, for example.
Volunteering can be a wonderful way to replace the sense of purpose you may have found in your previous career. When money’s not a factor, it’s pretty easy to find “work” that impacts your neighbors and your community in positive ways.
You’ll meet other people who share your altruistic tendencies, and you can either leverage your prior work experience to offer something valuable to the cause or develop new skills as you take on tasks that are new to you.
Either way, service in some form is a smart way to spend some of your 540 extra minutes a day.
Have you ever done what the tourists do when they visit your town? You might not know what you’ve been missing. Get out there and explore!
Take long hikes, bike around, and shop at stores you’ve never stopped at before. Go to your neighboring towns’ summer festivals; check out the farmers’ markets and flea markets. Visit local wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and breweries, if that’s your thing. It is my thing.
When you can, venture further out. Visit states you’ve never been to but have always wanted to see. Travel Europe by train. Fly to Japan. I found one-way tickets to Tokyo for $87 (thank you, Scott’s Cheap Flights) and booked four of them for 2022. Why not? We’ve got the time.
I mentioned learning new skills as a potential benefit of serving others, but there are a million ways to learn how to do things you’ve never attempted before. If it can be done, there’s a YouTube video to show you how.
Read a biography. Help your neighbor install that new thing she got. Take piano lessons or study Swahili.
You don’t get to use your business or your busy-ness as an excuse not to learn new things anymore. That’s both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing.
Just as retirement is starting to sound like a lot of work, it’s a good time to remind you that you’ll have something in the range of 2,500 to 3,000 extra minutes that you didn’t have before, and you’ll have them every single week to spend as you please.
You’re allowed to be a little bit lazy when you feel like it. There will be time tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that to pick up where you left off with whatever it is that you’ve found to occupy your time.
— FIRE Up The Couch (@FireUpTheCouch) January 28, 2019
Listen to your favorite music. Take a bath. Watch every Star Wars movie.
You know, Netflix and Chill, and yes, I know what that means. You’ll have extra time to engage in such activities, as well!
How I Actually Spend My Time
I retired from medicine to pursue my passions. Apparently, my passions include daily trips to Home Depot, wiping walls down with TSP, staining and installing quarter-round baseboard, and playing amateur electrician, crossing my fingers every time I flip the breaker switch back on.
At least that’s what the last couple of weeks have looked like. But every day, week, and month in my semi-retired life has looked very different.
Yet, no matter where we are in the world or what we’re up to, I try to incorporate some of the aforementioned activities into my daily or weekly routines.
This blog is my main creative outlet. I write. You read. It’s fun, and I love it.
Some of my other occasional creative pursuits include homebrewing, refinishing mid-century furniture, and cooking.
I like to be active. When traveling, we usually live in cities that are entirely walkable — I’ve gone months at a time without driving a car in recent years.
I also bike some, and when the weather is decent, I often run. My wife and I ran a half-marathon in Barcelona in mid-February of 2020 with 23,000 others in what, in hindsight, was probably a super-spreader event. Oops.
I’ve also gotten into a daily habit of doing some pushups, situps, and squats, and at this point, I have done so for 400-some days straight.
I used to be in a curling club, too, and plan to join one in my new town when it starts back up post-pandemic.
I’m failing this one. COVID is partially to blame, but I’ve also done a lousy job of keeping up with family and friends. There were some Zoom happy hours early on, but I think we all got videoconferencing fatigue pretty quick.
We do hope to meet more people in our new neighborhood and town as society begins to resemble some semblance of normalcy.
Before retiring, I served on a couple of medical missions with One World Surgery. I highly recommend doing so if you can!
During the lockdown, I chose to help by donating my dollars rather than time — in April of 2020, we donated a big chunk of this blog’s profits to local, national, and international charities focused on COVID relief.
More recently, I’ve been doing what I can to put an end to this dreadful disease by vaccinating thousands of arms as a volunteer with our local health department. I’ve crossed paths with several other retired physicians doing the same thing, including one I worked with early in my career.
We have flights booked to return to Guanajuato this fall, and next spring we’ll be off to Japan. In the meantime, we’re trying to do some local exploring. House projects will be getting in the way of that for a while.
I recently learned how to install vinyl plank flooring, how to best remove stubborn wallpaper glue, and which brad nails to use to secure oak quarter-round to the baseboard trim.
Every day is a school day, and I’m always up to learn something new.
Idleness has never been a strong suit of mine. I often wonder how I ever had time for a job with everything else that keeps me busy.
That said, my boys and I did watch all 23 Marvel Comics movies from the last 15 years or so over the course of a year. We also watched every episode of The Mandalorian, my wife and I watched The Queen’s Gambit miniseries, and we’re looking forward to the next season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
We’ve got a hot tub ordered, and I know of no better way to chill than to be neck-deep in 102-degree water with a chilled beverage in hand.
How would you spend your extra 9 hours a day? If retired, what kinds of activities fill up your calendar?