Do you need to be productive in retirement? Or is it okay to screw around all day and live a life of leisure? Or does the secret to retirement success lie somewhere in between the two extremes of productivity and leisure?
There is no right answer to the question of how busy you must be in retirement to be fulfilled and content. It depends on what drives you and makes you happy. For me, the first six months of retirement were pretty busy as I was used to a decade of full time work and I continued the productivity trend straight out of the office and into retirement.
Within two weeks of leaving my full time job, I started this blog and felt compelled to maintain a strict publishing schedule of two or three posts per week. That meant I was spending a lot of time researching, writing, proofreading, and figuring out the technical and business side of the blog. All the while, I was the one watching our one year old son all day! Busy, busy times. And not much time for relaxation and fun.
Eventually I backed off the blog posting schedule and slowly eased into a more leisurely pace of new blog posts. I made leisure a higher priority than productivity and I’m happier now.
The experts say it takes three to six months to adjust to your new retirement lifestyle after leaving work but I was skeptical until it really happened to me. It took me six months to decompress and unlearn 25 years of programming to be productive (classwork, homework, projects, exams, essays, grades, then full time work with a parallel set of assignments and tasks to complete).
Productivity Vs. Leisure
This blog post is a perfect example of my lazy approach to productivity. I started the draft for this post two weeks ago and then got busy with other things. We planned and booked travel for our summer Southeast Asia trip. Then we researched our Mexico trip coming up in February. I’ve been reading a lot lately including books like Ship for Brains, a chronicle of one guy’s adventures as a cruise ship art auctioneer and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. In an odd quirk, the latter book technically falls under “research for our trip to Mexico” since we’ll be seeing many pre-Colombian sites and museums during our trip.
That’s the long way of saying that I fit in blogging and early retirement lifestyle consulting when I have time. If the weather is nice or I have other things vying for attention, then the productive efforts get put on hold. That’s how I personally prioritize my productive and leisure pursuits. It might take two or three weeks to produce a complete blog post, and that’s okay.
I don’t really have a fixed weekly schedule of my productive time and my leisure time, but I put together a summary of how I typically spend my time in early retirement. That schedule is a little dated since our youngest son is in school now. So replace some childcare related activities with more leisure/fun stuff!
A perfect day of doing nothing includes some mix of the following:
- Wake up and walk our son to school
- Enjoy a cup of coffee after returning home from the walk
- Meet a friend for coffee or lunch
- Read a book for a couple of hours
- Go out for a bike ride or a hike
- Cook some lunch or go out to eat (and perhaps walk or bike there)
- Stroll the aisles of the grocery store in no particular rush looking for good food
- Work on my extensive Netflix queue
- Focus on my stack of unplayed video and computer games
- Get lost in Google Maps while researching our next travel destination
- Discover a topic I know nothing about and educate myself thoroughly
- Watch the birds and turtles on the lake
Everyone should have a list like that, though the particulars will vary a lot from person to person.
We work hard, save, and invest so we don’t have to work hard any more.
~Root of Good, 2019
How Other Bloggers Do Early Retirement
It’s inherently hypocritical of me to spend time and effort to produce a blog article about doing nothing. But someone has to say it. I find it enjoyable and enriching to share my ideas with others and get their feedback and comments. I also go by the philosophy of “do what you love and maybe it’ll monetize well”. That’s a lot easier to do after you make your first million dollars and no longer need the money.
I see tons of other early retirement bloggers cranking out new content, developing e-courses, writing books, building second, third, or fourth websites, setting up seminars and conventions, and jumping into new side hustles. Like, wait a second – aren’t they supposed to be retired? They must love what they are doing more than pure leisure activities!
Mr. Money Mustache might be the best example of a very busy, very productive early retiree (if he uses that label). He quit working at his corporate job then developed a hugely successful blog and a carpentry business. And he’s always cranking away on some new home improvement project or tinkering with something technical. His latest endeavor is a co-working space in Longmont, Colorado. Another busy blogger, Carl aka Mr. 1500, is partnering with Mr. Money Mustache on this joint venture.
Steve, who blogs at ThinkSaveRetire.com, is another great example of an early retiree that loves to hustle. He runs multiples blogs, just started an e-course on RV’ing, and he has a Youtube channel! He’s had an online presence for twenty years so he must really enjoy it a lot.
A couple that I’ve hung out with a few times – Kristy and Bryce who blog at Millennial Revolution – just put the finishing touches on a soon to be released book from Penguin Publishing. And they maintain a solid twice weekly posting schedule all while traveling the world full time!
Two other bloggers work hard growing their own food in the garden and try to be generally self sufficient. Mr. Crazy Kicks uses his green thumb extensively in his greenhouse. The Frugalwoods grow tons of stuff in their garden AND cut down all the wood they use to heat their Vermont house all winter, all while raising two kids, penning a book, and working full time (in Mr. Frugalwoods case).
More power to all of these highly productive folks!
There are other bloggers that take it easy. Winnie and Jeremy of Go Curry Cracker fame travel the world while doing very little productive work. Yeah, Jeremy runs his blog but he’s only posting a few times per month. Then again, Winnie did write a book. I’m no longer sure how to classify those guys!
Perhaps Karsten, or Big ERN as he’s called due to his near-seven foot stature, is the better example of an easy going early retiree. He quit work almost a year ago and traveled the world for many months before buying a house and settling down with his wife and kid. His posts at Early Retirement Now have slowed down since his retirement. Big ERN is too busy having fun!
The Financial Aspects of Productivity
A lot of people want to stay busy in retirement because they want to make a little extra money to supplement their retirement savings or pension. Others incorporate a stream of income from part time work and side hustles into their early retirement financial plan.
Whether productive efforts that make you money are a want or a need, extra money helps. If you save the money then you build your portfolio to higher levels, thereby adding an additional margin of safety to your planned portfolio withdrawals. The four percent withdrawals gradually shrink to 3.5%, 3%, or even lower as the portfolio size grows. Lower withdrawal rates equate to less risk of running out of money.
I view the extra money from Root of Good and my early retirement lifestyle consulting as icing on the early retirement cake. I have my investment portfolio to do the heavy lifting and provide for my core spending of around $40,000 per year. And that’s about what we spend most years. The extra money from my blog and consulting mostly end up reinvested in my portfolio at this point.
I never planned on making anywhere near the $30,000 or so that I pocket from these ventures each year. Perhaps my kids will benefit by having even more of their college education paid for. We already spend two or three months every year traveling around the world, but perhaps there is room for even more travel, and even more luxurious digs while we’re on the road.
Though we aren’t at the point of needing more money, having more money never hurts.
Working to Fill Up Your Days
For those that are financially set and really don’t need any more money, work might still play a role. My neighbor in her 70’s continues to work as a hair stylist because she wants to be busy and enjoys the socializing (and she has a sweet red Corvette too!). Lots of retired folks struggle with the social aspects of retirement and work helps fill that need.
Other people miss the purpose and fulfillment of work. You may recall “Eric” who wrote to Root of Good about a year ago stating, in essence, that he has terminal cancer and might only have five years left to live. He was financially set and didn’t need to work any longer but he struggled with the decision to leave work completely or stick with the thing that keeps him busy and engaged – work.
After some debate Eric decided to quit work and give early retirement a try.
Fast forward seven months and Eric figured out early retirement just wasn’t for him.
Update. It’s seven months later and guess what? I’m going back to work at the beginning of next year. Part time. Ultimately a life of leisure wasn’t for me and I miss the purpose and fulfillment of work. I’ve done a LOT of travelling this year and while it’s been fun – it gets boring after a while. Everyone is different but for me – giving up work and retiring at this age wasn’t for me.
Eric missed the purpose and fulfillment of work and therefore returned to part time employment. A life of leisure isn’t for everyone I suppose. You have to spend your days somehow and it should be doing something you enjoy.
Finding the sweet balance between productivity and leisure is an individual choice. It makes no sense to compare yourself to others and feel bad for doing nothing. Do what you enjoy and what makes your life fulfilling and don’t use the accomplishments of other people as a measuring stick.
A lot of the productivity versus leisure decision comes down to personality or inner motivations. I’ll give an example to illustrate what I mean. Our family used to vacation at the beach quite a bit. We would rent a house for a week in North Carolina on Topsail Island. We love it. It’s a barrier island that is 20 miles long but only 500 feet wide in parts. Off season, you might look up and down the beach and see no more than a few people in either direction.
Some people love Topsail Island, while others hate it. The thing is, there’s nothing to do on the island. No go cart tracks, no mini-golf or laser tag. No movie theaters. No shopping malls. It’s just a whole lot of beach and not a lot of people.
It’s a perfect litmus test.
If you can enjoy a week at the beach with “nothing to do” then the life of leisure is for you.
In contrast, if you feel the need to drive 30 minutes into Wilmington (the next big town down the beach) because you get bored easily, then you might not be built for a life of laid back leisure.
I notice the same dichotomy of opinions when I tell people about our one month summer vacation in the Bahamas where we did very little other than lounge on the beach and stare out at the ocean with a little swimming and snorkeling mixed in. “Wow, that sounds wonderful!” or “Gosh, I’d be bored out of my mind by day three – you said you only got a rental car for one day??!!”.
We are all built differently. You just have to figure out what motivates you and what brings you fulfillment. Productivity or leisure? Or a mix of both?
You can think of me as an expert in the art of doing nothing. I am the anti-Tony Robbins; an unproductivity guru. A role model bearing the message that doing nothing is okay – no apology required.
Where do you fall on the productivity versus leisure scale? What brings you contentment?
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