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Time Management Versus Planning:Which Matters Most in Retirement?

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Many people contemplating retirement look forward to no longer

having to schedule their days or weeks and to freedom from work-related

time pressures and demands. However, without effective planning for life in

retirement, studies have shown that retirees are at risk of experiencing

boredom, depression, and feelings of emptiness or uselessness 1.

Preparing for new or different ways to use one’s time is an essential

part of planning for the transition to retirement. Where to start? You likely

have developed many different skills through years of work that have value

as you prepare for this major life change, including planning, problem-

solving and organizational skills. Yet, to what extent do time management

skills matter in the retirement transition?

Time Management Versus Planning

Time management is an essential workplace tool when juggling many

different responsibilities. It is also important when juggling the demands of

both work and home. But is time management still relevant when, in

retirement, all of one’s time is ‘free time’? If every hour of your day is ‘free

time,’ how can this time be structured to avoid boredom and a sense of

uselessness? Time management skills seem to make sense. However,

researchers 2 found that, for some people, scheduling leisure activities (i.e.,

specific times to start and/or complete activities) can result in experiences

feeling more work-like or obligatory.

So, while over-scheduling or sticky too much to a rigid schedule can

lead people to feel obligated to participate, I wouldn’t throw scheduling out

all-together. I and other researchers have found that for retirees to follow

through on some activities—particularly physical activities—people talk

about needing a balance of structure (e.g., caring for grandchildren or other

obligatory activities) and freedom. How then do we reduce the sense of

obligation that comes from over-scheduling and maximize the benefits that

come from planning? From my perspective, beginning with the end in

mind—in other words, being clear on one’s goals—is key to avoiding living

by a list of ‘got-to’s (obligatory activities in one’s schedule).

‘Goals’ versus ‘Got-to’s’ as Priorities for Planning

Having something to look forward to is motivating! Retirees in my own

and other studies expressed the greatest satisfaction with their time use

when daily routines and special activities were both meaningful and

enjoyable. Being clear on one’s priorities and goals and then creating

‘opportunities’ to achieve these is what retirees expressed as bringing them

the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment.

By shifting the focus from time management to goal fulfillment,

planning focuses more on identifying and then intentionally working

towards achieving goals. This happens through every choice we make

about our time use each day!

The Bottom Line

Whereas time management can be about maintaining productivity

within existing activities, planning is geared toward making a change, thus

aligning with what’s needed to successfully make the transition to

retirement. Investing in yourself by identifying your goals and living your life

now the way you want to in retirement are the best ways to set yourself up

for success as you plan for this next big change in your life!

If you haven’t given a lot of thought to your needs or goals, now is your

chance. Under the Tools link on the Retired You website is a ‘Values and

Needs Assessment’ which is a planning tool that can help you start to think

about the possibilities for prioritizing your time use in retirement:

1 Rosenkoetter, M. M., Gams, J. M., (2001). Retirement planning, use of time, and psychological adjustment. Issues

in Mental Health Nursing, 22, 703-722. doi:10.1080/016128401750434491

2 Tonietto, G. N. & Malkoc, S. A. (2016). The calendar mindset: Scheduling takes the fun out and puts the work in.

Journal of Marketing Research, 922–936.



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