There Shouldn’t Be Boredom in Retirement or You’re Doing It Wrong

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There Shouldn't Be Boredom in Retirement or You're Doing It Wrong

I recently went out with some good friends of mine – one I’ve been friends with since high school and two since college. They’re great guys and it’s always fun when the stars align and the four of us can get together.

As always, we reminisced and laughed about all the hijinx and fun from the old days, talked about what’s currently been going on in each other’s lives, and delved into plans for the future. And of course, we busted each other’s chops constantly. The drinks started flowing and the laughter followed suit as well… ah, the power of alcohol!

Oh, but wait – I quit drinking last September. So I was the only sober one there – though still enjoying non-alcoholic Samuel Adams Just the Haze beers. But the conversation is slightly different when you don’t have a buzz on.

One of my buddies (and a loyal reader of this blog!) was harassing me about how he thought I have too much time on my hands… the boredom in retirement that’s there.

He brought it up several times throughout the evening and for whatever reason, it bugged me a little. Too much time? Boredom in retirement? Seriously?!

Getting dogged on about early retirement as if I’m an old man is something I hear from my friends routinely. But, if people choose to rib me about something, I’ll take that any day since that’s an achievement anyone should be proud of pulling off.

But the idea of having too much free time or any kind of boredom in retirement is unfathomable to me. In my mind, it’s exactly the opposite of how I view early retirement.

Yet, I think that’s legitimately how many folks who are working tend to imagine retirement… too much time on your hands with nothing to do. So many people seem to be surprised when they hear any retiree say that they’re busier now than when they working.

It’s true though. At least it should be. If you’re finding a lot of boredom in retirement, I hate to say it, but you’re doing it wrong.

Why there’s a thought that boredom in retirement is inevitable

I believe that many folks sadly don’t give the idea of life in retirement enough thought. The perspective might be that when you’re working, you put in something like 40 hours a week plus drive time. Life is good or bad but it is what it is and that’s what you know.

Then you retire though and you now have maybe 50 hours of extra time that you’re “stuck with” for the rest of your days. I mean, that’s a lot of extra time. And if you didn’t have that before but you do have it now, not much should be changing otherwise, right?

Maybe you decide to read a little more, do the daily crossword puzzle, or go fishing a little more. But that’s certainly not going to fill up 50 hours of free time every week.

So if that’s the case, boredom in retirement is inescapable… that seems to be the thought anyway.

That’s a bunch of hooey!

That’s right – I said it’s “a bunch of hooey”! I don’t care if I sound like an 85-year-old grandma – I’m keeping this clean! If I was feeling even crazier, I might have even gone with “hogwash” instead!

Whatever you want to call it, I don’t buy it. I’ve got many early retiree friends and I don’t know of a single one who’s complaining about having too much time on their hands. They’re all too busy wondering why the days fly by so fast!

I’m not saying that many people don’t go into retirement and find out that it’s not what they wanted. Some folks miss the working life – the structure of the day and the socialization.

But when you’re in that situation, you inevitably make a change and go back to work – whether in the same field or something different. Sometimes it’s back to full-time and other times it’s just part-time, but if you need that in your life, you need it. No harm, no foul – you go back to work and life is good.

The point is though that you make the change if it needs to be changed. Those that are happiest in retirement though are easily filling their available time like it’s going out of style.

What’s wonderful about retirement is that you now get to choose what to do with your time. I have friends in early retirement that probably work harder than they did in their careers… but it’s now work they enjoy doing as their own business. Steve Adcock, Leif (aka Physician on FIRE), and Jordan Grumet (aka Doc G) are just a few examples of friends of mine who seem to take the grind and love it.

I also have early retiree friends who keep their days extremely light because they want to slow down and savor every moment of the day. That’s especially true for those who have kids and want their time to be focused on being around their kids as they grow up.

Most early retirees, however, find themselves somewhere in the middle. They might have a part-time side hustle they’re enjoying working on, but the rest of the time they’re filling their days without a problem.

The important thing to understand though is that boredom in retirement, especially early retirement, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’ve prepared well for it. As a side note, my friend Fritz from The Retirement Manifesto wrote a book that focuses on that exact subject, among other things. Check out Keys to a Successful Retirement for more on that and don’t forget that I have an entire page of worthwhile Resources and Recommendations as well.

If you’ve planned for retirement well, you’re not going to just be filling 50 hours of time watching The Price is Right or Let’s Make a Deal all day. Instead, those hours will be filled with ramping up hobbies (new and old), traveling, bucket list items, allocating more time to friends and family, spending more time with your kids, and possibly working on some side hustles.

The gift of controlling your time now makes you want to fill the hours. That freedom to be able to focus on doing what you want to do makes the days go by even faster while still yearning for more time.

Yes, it’s true – you 100% feel like you have less free time in retirement than you did while you were working.

My typical days in early retirement

My last day in the corporate world was December 31, 2018. That, of course, made for a great New Year’s celebration. It was like a giant party around the world to celebrate my early retirement!

That means I’ve been retired for over four years now… and without a doubt, it’s been a huge blessing in life.

I’m not going to say that it’s all been a bowl of cherries. Getting adjusted after moving back to the U.S. last summer has been a major struggle for me for a lot of reasons. But I think a lot of that has been more reverse culture shock than anything related to retirement.

Regardless, I love my days of freedom and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Every day is like waking up to another gift that I can’t even express how much I value.

Now, like everyone goes through, nothing in life is a constant. There are always going to be things that come up to keep life from getting mundane.

We travel quite a bit and that changes everything several times a year. Those trips are also sometimes much longer than what a non-retiree might be able to pull off. We’ve taken two month-long road trips and this summer we’re headed to Panama again for a month. Preparing for trips like these, enjoying our time while on the trips, and re-adjusting afterward considerably throws things off of that consistency you get used to having.

But when we do have our normal days, here’s a little bit of how mine’s been flowing lately…

TimeWhat Might Be Going OnNotes
7:30 AMWake upI don’t set an alarm but this is about when I wake up most mornings.
Do a quick email and calendar check…from my phone while in bed just to see if anything urgent’s crept up.
7:40 AMSpanish lesson timeI usually work on about 2-4 lessons on the Duolingo app.
8:00 AMWordleYeah, I’m still addicted.
8:10 AMTime to get out of bed and start the day!Early retirement’s great, right?!
8:45 AMLet’s get to working out!
10:00 AMTop off the workout with a walk while listening to the Clark Howard PodcastI currently have a routine of walking the long halls up and down the building. It comes out to about 1.3 miles. Once spring rolls around, I’ll move the walk outside.
11:00 AMShower and get dressed
11:30 AMOdds and endsWorking on emails, answering blog comments, scheduling appointments, etc.
12:30 PMLunchUsually this is at home with Lisa and Faith.
1:30 PMWork on a blog post or try something newI’m planning to start learning the programming language Kotlin soon
5:00 PMPlay a video game with FaithWe’re not big gamers but lately Faith wanted to play and you can’t beat quality time together so we’re currently playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii since we can play concurrently.
6:00 PMDinnerWe usually have dinner at home and watch a show together (currently we have Faith hooked on “How I Met Your Mother”… so funny!).
7:00 PMWatch a movie togetherIf you haven’t seen Plane yet with Gerard Butler, we thought that was a pretty good movie (though the reviews seem to disagree).
9:00 PMSpanish lesson timeYeah, again. I try to do another couple of lessons on Duolingo.
9:30 PMWrapping up and getting ready for bed
10:00 PMRead for a little bit in bedI just started A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle.
11:00 PMLights out?Yeah, this is usually when I want to fall asleep but lay there for a little bit, think about things, and get up too many times to go pee.
11:30 PMZzzzz…I’m an 8-hours-a-night kind of guy so there you go.

Obviously, that’s not every day and things change more than they don’t. Doctor or dentist appointments, Costco or Walmart visits, oil changes, other errands, or whatever. Life goes on even in early retirement – you still need to get things done. I teach Faith personal finance on Fridays as part of her homeschooling and occasionally I give her a hand with math class if she needs it. And we do periodically get together with friends, too.

It might surprise you to see that, although it’s not a stress-packed day by any means, I’m usually pretty busy just with life in general. Early retirement definitely gives me more time to spend with my family, work out, and more, but there’s not a lot of downtime in my days either. Boredom in retirement simply isn’t something I’ve experienced in the 4+ years I’ve been living it.

Choosing what NOT to do is the hard part

Not only is there no boredom in retirement but I don’t have enough time to expand my horizons much either. I still have so many things I’m looking forward to learning and trying. I’ve also been working on a project of merging a bucket list, a passions list, and a list of things I want to learn/try into one cool spreadsheet. I’ll be talking more about this in a post in the near future.

But, as you can see, sliding more things into the day isn’t the easiest.

One of the hardest facets of life for me tends to be finding balance. I’ve gotten better at it but it’s still tough. I want to do everything and I want to do it now… and it can frustrate me that I can’t. Here are just some of the posts I’ve written about this since I retired:

What I’ve learned over these past 4 years is that you just can’t do it all at once – especially if you have kids and want them to be a priority in your life. I think our quality time with Faith is going to start diminishing soon now that she’s pushing 13 but I also don’t think I’ll be finding that boredom in retirement anytime soon either. That should just open up a little more time to ease in some more fun I want to try.

In the meantime, one option I’ve been considering is reducing my time on Route to Retire. Currently, I spend about 20 hours a week working on it. Keep in mind that writing’s only part of the process – there’s the marketing side of things, social media, replying to comments, answering emails, and the inevitable tech support issues that always seem to surface.

So instead of writing once a week, maybe I write once every few weeks or once a month. I hate that idea because I truly enjoy it (the side income doesn’t hurt either!), but it’s also the obvious choice without taking away from time with my family or working out.

We’ll see what happens… I’m not in a huge hurry to make a change like that but it’s something I’ve been considering.

It’s funny though – we all get just 24 hours in a day so sometimes the hardest part is deciding that I’m not going to invest time in something so I can put better focus on the things I’m currently doing.

Life is about prioritization. We all can make time to do the things we want to do but, like it or not, the choices you make to fill that time are generally what interests you the most.

If you’re in your working years now and you’re already thinking about boredom in retirement, that’s a problem. Either your thinking’s a little off on this or you need to be finding some more interests. One way to fix this is to bridge the gap and drop yourself down to part-time before pulling the trigger completely. That should help ease you into what to expect.

And if you’re retired right now and feel you have too much free time, I’d love to hear about that in the comments. It would be fascinating to me to hear from retirees who are bored and not able to fill their time.

Retirement is about gaining choice and freedom of time but you still need to determine what to do with that time. And with so many amazing things this world has to offer, boredom in retirement quite simply shouldn’t be an option.

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

18 thoughts on “There Shouldn’t Be Boredom in Retirement or You’re Doing It Wrong”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out on my book, Jim. I’m with you, “busier in retirement than I was when working.” It’s over-used, but true for most of us. I love the idea of your “Passion Spreadsheet” and look forward to that post. I created something similar in my last 6 months of work, but to be honest I’ve been too busy to work through the list. Sounds like we have that in common, among many other things (like joining the “IWWIWT Club!” – I’ll Write When I Want To). Surprisingly difficult to implement, but rewarding once it’s in place. Hmmm…kinda like retirement, right?

    1. Haha, I’ve been about a D+ member of the IWWIWT Club! ???? We’ll see if I can relax that a little more though this year.

      I definitely envy all the creative things you’ve been doing in early retirement – you’ve been busy with a lot of fun endeavors! A lot of my time goes to Faith right now, but that will start to taper in the near future (a little to my dismay!). I hope to then join the club of doing some more creative projects myself then.

  2. I’m coming up on my first-year anniversary in retirement. I retired a little early, but nothing close to your timeline. We also sold everything and are traveling the world. I agree that boredom is a symptom of “not doing it right” and analyzing how those 50 hours a week got used up in retirement is helpful. I noticed a couple of big and important expansions of things that I did before but had to limit myself or they were naturally limited due to work. For example, I have always liked going on walks. While working, I would try to squeeze in a 30-45 minute walk over my lunch break. If I couldn’t get one there, I would walk around my neighborhood for an hour or so when I got home. Variation in what I could look at was limited to the few options for routes that were available to me. A typical day was 2-3 miles of walking. Since retirement we have swapped walks for hikes. We now have the time to go to a park or town and see something new each time. Last year I completely wore out a pair of trekking shoes and the quick estimate is that I got at least 1000 miles on them. I don’t pay strict attention to how much I am walking, but we have hit multiple 12-mile days. Our typical walk is more like the 6 miles we did yesterday while we are in Portland Maine (it warmed up to 45 and was a great day to go exploring). Other things that I was doing before, but had to limit my time are now being done to the level that I have always wanted to do them. My coffee time in the morning used to be 20-30 minutes and I had to put down my cup and just go to work. I would often expand coffee time to an hour on weekends. Now every day has the potential of an hour for coffee time.

    1. Wow, that’s the way to do it, Darrell! I also agree that you now have more time to appreciate the little things as well. For you, it might be something like coffee in the morning. For me, I enjoy laying in bed for about 20 minutes before getting up. It’s wonderful just to be able to do that without needing to get to a job.

      Congrats on selling everything and traveling the world, too – that’s amazing!

  3. Your ‘schedule’ sounds like a good way to spend your retirement. I have a suggestion for your dinner/TV time if y’all haven’t watched it yet. The Good Place on Netflix was a really neat series. It’s only 4 seasons long. My family watched it initially during the covid lockdowns, and I recently went back and watched it again.

  4. I struggled with boredom as my first year of a mini-retirement wrapped up. Early in the year, I was busy with my newfound writing and travel hobby. Then, I felt overwhelmed and decided to dial back. This worked well until the weather changed and winter landed in Colorado. I knew I had to make some changes to my routine.

    I’ve been busy with new volunteer activities this year and migrating my Medium content to a new passion project blog. There’s no time for boredom.

    I feel relaxed with all of my activities. My fitness routine continues, and I haven’t used an alarm clock in over a year.

  5. Give your friend a hamster wheel with a note that says “sucks to be you”!
    I have all kinds of time with my early retirement but yet not bored. What is worse for me is actually be on a schedule. I can’t stand having to be anywhere based on a clock. The thought of giving my time back to a corporation so I can get a couple weeks vacation per year is nauseating. At the end of the day everyone needs to do what makes them content (notice I didn’t say happy as it is fleeting).

    1. Haha, that would be a fun gag! He reads the blog so I’m sure I’ll be hearing from him soon after this post! 🙂

      Your comment about having “all kinds of time with my early retirement but yet not bored” makes sense. Having the flexibility now to do things when you want makes it so much less stressful. But you have enough to keep you busy as well. Retirement’s a wonderful thing!

  6. Couldn’t agree more. It’s nearly impossible to be bored these days. Sure, in the 90’s you might sit down after golfing or watching TV, but even then you had libraries!

    Boredom in retirement not only means you should maybe find some new hobbies, but also find some fulfilling volunteer or advocacy work. The most cheerful retirees I’ve met were park volunteers, museum workers, campground hosts, and tabling at an event for some kind of social cause like after-school programs for at-risk youth. There are many ways a retiree can be fulfilled and make a difference!

    1. Great points, Gary! Volunteering seems to be a theme I hear so many folks in retirement talk about and how rewarding it is. As the time together with my daughter starts to go down, that’s something I want to dig into more to see if I can find a good fit for me.

  7. Hey Jim,
    Too bad your friend just doesn’t get that there is more to life than working for a living. And most likely he is over spending his earnings into debt that will further his eventual retirement date. We retired in 2006 at age 47 with my wife 43 and in April I will turn 65 (yippie for Medicare!). During all those years we have traveled extensively to Europe, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Peru, Turkey, Greece, and the US and not just short 1-2 week trips like most Americans (we went months in some cases). We’ve taught English for a week to business people in Spain, took cooking classes in various countries, participated in beautiful healthy hikes in foreign national parks, learned about the locals politics/food/culture/entertainment/etc. and will continue to explore for as long as our bodies take us. When living in the San Diego area we volunteer with cleanups, various non-profit Boards, supporting local arts, supporting local land conservation groups, planting native vegetation with school kids, taking classes to expand the mind, working at staying fit, participating in local clubs like the garden club, book club, etc. And I might add that we are completely debt-free with money in the bank from our diversified portfolio (will start Social Security at 67). All along taking care of a home, two vehicles, 1.25 acres of yard, and a camper so there is no time to be bored. One can never get completely caught up on the projects! I guess if one doesn’t have much of an imagination, they could have a boring time in retirement.
    I enjoy reading your posts, your outlook on life, and the success you’ve made happen in your life. As a fellow Buckeye that grew up in Parma, Ohio that became an engineer (with a wonderful career), and had a dream of retiring early at 45 (missed it by 2 years), life couldn’t be more fulfilling or rewarding because we try to make memories not endless, useless purchases of stuff we don’t need. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Chuck – very much appreciated! My grandfather lived in Parma most of his life so I know the area over there well. 🙂

      That sounds like a dream retirement to me. I love the idea of slow travel like that and integrating with the culture like you did. I hope we can do more of that down the line. All the things you list just go to show how busy retirement can be. Congratulations to you and your wife on about 17 years of early retirement!!

  8. I sometimes worry about being a little bored in retirement, or actually a greater worry is spending money un-necessarily and outliving my money. But, that concern still doesn’t deter me from working in earnest to get to FIRE. I’m 52, and planning on working another 4 years, or at least working for someone else for 4 more years. Glad you got to enjoy some great time with friends!

  9. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I retired 1.5 years ago (a physician) at age 57. I know that’s not super young, but my colleagues were shocked, admitted they didn’t even realize that was an option ????.
    I’m wondering whether my experience is typical… For the first 6 months, I tried to do Everything. Learn Italian and ASL and Spanish and guitar and piano and so many hikes and big trips to Greece and Ecuador, visiting friends and family, volunteer at the Free Clinic, ramp up my gardening, home improvement projects, run, work out, read all the books on my list. But I didn’t have enough time, it wasn’t sustainable . Then I slowed down to the point where I was very relaxed but a little guilty about not seizing each moment and contributing to the world. But no, never bored.
    Perhaps one eventually finds a perfect balance? Or maybe there are many seasons to retirement and life?

    1. Hi, Margo – congrats on the early retirement! Sounds like you’ve made it past the hump to find a comfortable balance in life. I can definitely relate to trying to do it all. I’m still working on finding my own balance (hopefully someday!) and I empathize with the somewhat-guilty feeling of taking time for yourself. I would bet that there are a lot of early retirees that follow the same adjustment as they move into their new life. Choosing how your days will flow is wonderful though, isn’t it?! 🙂

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