“How’s retirement treating you?”– I asked. “I’m failing miserably at it. I’m so busy now that I wonder how I got anything done when I was working. “ If I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard something to this effect, I’d be retired too! And while there’s nothing wrong with being busy during retirement – I promote remaining active – there’s an interesting insight here that might be worth exploring.
Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” [source: Wikipedia]. I think this may be part of the explanation to the head-scratching confusion many retirees feel. With more time available to do the things that you need or want to get done, the activities quietly expand to fill that newfound void of time. But how does that work?
In the case of this most recent discussion with a new retiree, we decided to explore the idea further. Here are a couple of examples that may help to explain this phenomenon. First, he chooses to work part-time for fun. While it’s a low stress fun job, he noticed that starting at 9:00 AM and wrapping up at 2:00 or 3:00 means he’s not terribly productive with the time before work (as compared to leaving for his career job at 7:00), and after leaving for home mid-afternoon and running an errand or two, it’s dinner time. And after dinner, bedtime seems to arrive almost immediately. Also, he noticed that rather than racing through lawn-mowing, as an example, he now bags his grass, trims more thoroughly and does so more often. The lawn looks great now, but it takes much more time than it used to. And on and on it goes.
So while it appears that there’s more time available to do fewer tasks, the task completion is either done more thoroughly or less efficiently, depending on your perspective and depending on the activity. The net result is a crazy time-warp that may lead to frustration if not recognized for what it is. It seems that we’re not dealing with a mysterious wrinkle in time here, we’re dealing with a subtle (or profound) shifting of priorities. That may be okay though, right?
A popular TV show years ago was Malcolm In the Middle. The family had three kids, all boys in this case. I loved when they showed the front yard of their house; the lawn was brown and overgrown and it just looked awful. In that one image, you knew what it meant to be busy with jobs and kids, too busy to care about the lawn. But who usually has the best-looking lawn in most neighborhoods? The retired people! They take full advantage of Parkinson’s Law and finally get the yard in order and earn the right to judge other people’s less-than-ideal lawn-care routines. It’s just the natural order of things.
In the end, new retirees may feel that they’re “failing miserably” at retirement because of a continued sense of busy-ness, but I think it’s a phase that’s best managed over time and with a clearer understanding of what’s really occurring. Either way, it sure sounds like a good problem to have!
All the best,
Adam Cufr, RICP®