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5 Tips On How A Structure Can Help Your Retirement Transition

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by Denis Wuestman

If you are thinking of retiring from full time work and are not sure what it will be like, you are in for one certain thing– an adjustment. Two main things I hear from people who have transitioned are: 1) dealing with a change in their identity from worker to retiree and, 2) that their days are less structured and they are not sure if they like that or not. In the short term these may not feel like big issues but once you have spent some time in retirement, not preparing for these changes can lead to a source of unrest. In this article, I will focus on the structure challenge and how it can help your transition to retirement.

Why Structure?

There is a lot to look forward to in retirement. However, for those that have been used to the structure of a work life, it can feel like jumping off a treadmill without slowing down. Our working lives are very much characterized by a definite pattern to our days, nights and weekends. It provides us direction for when to eat, work, play and sleep. Structure was a great friend when we worked, so why not in retirement? The key is to not abandon structure but to incorporate it into our retirement life.

Symptoms of Retirement Drift

Having potentially spent decades at a work life, we have clearly created a cadence to our lives. When you retire without a plan as to how you will deal with a change to that cadence, you may experience retirement drift. Drifting can be characterized by doing things that just fill time or that lack real satisfaction. Here are two such indications of drift that I have either experienced personally or have seen in others:

Watching the Clock – How much do you notice the ticking of the clock when you are busy working at something you like? Probably not much. Quite the opposite if you are not busy on meaningful activities. It can feel like a bit of a drag and it is not unusual for one to feel guilty or anxious about how the day is going. Funny how you may look forward to the proverbial 5PM – quitting time – so you can actually give yourself permission to relax. But you are retired, you should feel good about how you spend your time and the clock shouldn’t make you feel guilty. How long will it take before you no longer think of a quitting time?

Every Day is Saturday – For many, Saturdays are a time for hanging out, doing chores, going out for dinner, sleeping in or staying up later than normal. A well-deserved change-up from the pace of the week. Now, what happens if every day becomes Saturday? Perhaps you are ready for that, but beware of bad habits related to your diet and sleep patterns. Also, Saturdays tend to be a day to play or socialize with others. Will you be able to do that during the week? Many people anticipating retirement flock to retirement communities that offer social activities so that most days can feel like a Saturday. That’s fine if that is what you like, but what happens if that lifestyle is not for you?

Tips to Try

How do you deal with or avoid drift? Awareness is job one! Before you retire you may want to start thinking about your expectations as to what your retirement life will be like. If you are already in retirement – it’s not too late to take stock of where you are today and make some adjustments. Here are some tips that may be helpful in either case:

1. Give yourself a break. Any adjustment takes time, patience and being flexible about trying some new things. While you are going through this journey remember to do fun things. You deserve it. Think back to all the years you worked – now be thankful that you are at this next stage and think positive. Give yourself permission to enjoy. Be grateful!

2. Set some GOALS. To help with this I suggest the following approach:
a. First – let’s define what a goal should look like. Using this simple acronym popularized in business management – simply think SMART. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound.
b. Start with thinking about the next month ahead of you. What would you like to accomplish or start doing when it comes to the main aspects of your life? This will likely include considerations about Health, Self, Working (if you choose), Friends and Family.

3. Get STARTED. Select 1 or 2 things to put some real actions behind with a commitment as to when you will do them. The key here is to get moving. This can help greatly with clock watching. Get busy!

4. Share these Goals and Actions with someone you trust. Make a commitment to yourself and to them.

5. Celebrate your actions and accomplishments. However you choose to celebrate, this is a great way to keep encouraging yourself.

Recognize that you are building a new structure for your time and, like anything worthwhile and new, it can take time. Keep notes and share your stories with others. Having goals and making strides towards accomplishing them will give you a mental boost as well as start you on your way towards a structure for your days/weeks and months. Finally, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s your choice – but these simple tips can help you dodge the drift.


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