By Dr. Leif Dahleen of Physician on Fire, WCI Network Partner
If you had more hours in your day—say, nine 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 eight hours. Add to that the commute, getting ready for work, and unwinding after, and a normal workday for someone who punches a timecard is going to take up at least nine 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 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 nine 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 to 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.
More information here:
50 Ways I’d Like to Spend My Time in Early Retirement
How to Add Adventure to Your Life
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 triathlon. Exercise will help keep you fit and live longer, allowing you to enjoy a more active and lengthier retirement 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 has come 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, Going.com) and booked four of them for 2022. It didn’t pan out, thanks to the pandemic, but such a trip is only a possibility if you have that flexibility.
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 it's 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 2,500-3,000 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.
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!
More information here:
A New Way of Doing Business (and Saving Tons of Money) in My Retirement
Early Retirement and the Likelihood of Regret
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 some 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.
My 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—in recent years, I’ve gone months at a time without driving a car.
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 2020 with 23,000 others in what, in hindsight, was probably a super-spreader event. Oops. I ran another half marathon and my first full marathon in 2022, in which I beat George W. Bush’s surprisingly speedy time by 14 seconds at the same age that he was when he ran it.
I’ve also gotten into a daily habit of doing some pushups, situps, and squats, and as of early 2023, I have done at least 100 pushups and 100 situps for 1,000-some days straight. That’s > 100,000 of each!
I used to be in a curling club, too, and plan to join another when we settle down long enough to be consistently available. My boys and I helped pass the most recent winter by downhill skiing nearly 30 days at 15 different resorts in five states.
The pandemic made this a bit of a challenge as we moved to a new town and started traveling right up until we no longer could. In the last year, as things have opened up, we’ve been more social, meeting our neighbors and forging new friendships as we begin to put down roots.
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 2020, we donated a chunk of this blog’s profits to local, national, and international charities focused on COVID relief.
As soon as the first vaccines were available, I spent many days vaccinating thousands of arms as a volunteer with our local health department, traveling around a four-county area. I crossed paths with several other retired physicians doing the same thing, including one I worked with early in my career.
We went to Mexico for two months! Then Spain for two months! And then . . . you know what happened.
During the pandemic, we did some limited domestic travel, but eventually, we got out and explored Medellin, Colombia; Athens; Malta; Sicily; Rome; Krakow; Stockholm; and London. We also spent 29 days aboard two repositioning cruises with numerous port stops. After WCICON23, we’ll spend two months in New Zealand and Australia.
Traveling for months at a time as a family of four isn’t the most frugal endeavor, but our children (now a teen and a preteen) are getting a wonderful worldly education and making memories that will stay with them eternally.
Most of my reading is of other blog posts. It is non-fiction, and I often learn something. But I wish I could say I’ve been reading more books.
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 are now fully up to date on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Stranger Things, and we are a handful of episodes away from finishing the third and final season of the Colombian-based Narcos series, which has been especially interesting having spent time in Medellin recently.
We’ve got a hot tub in our backyard, and I know of no better way to chill than to be neck-deep in 103-degree water with a chilled beverage in hand.
How would you spend your extra nine hours a day? If retired, what kinds of activities fill up your calendar? Comment below!