Early retirement structure & routines - good sense or a laughing matter?

I’m in the Philippines visiting Mr G and Mrs G, who have retired there. Over the coming weeks, I hope to post about their life in the Philippines, what it’s like to retire to a different country and how it’s changed the amount of money needed to FIRE. I’m fascinated to find out how their early retirement life and budget differs from mine.


What I’ve discovered so far is that Mr G thinks the structure and routine that I’ve chosen to carry into my early retirement is bizarre. When I told him that I still operate a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 schedule, he almost fell off his chair laughing. Suffice to say, he doesn't follow a similar schedule and, I must confess, the other early retirees I know don’t seem to follow a similar timetable either. So maybe he’s right, and I am strange.


But I’d argue I’m applying some sound logic, keeping the things that worked for me in my pre-retirement life, and then adding new activities to this core. It’s helped my transition from work life to retirement life - instead of making day 1 of early retirement a big bang where my whole life was turned on it’s head, I’ve kept to following routines, setting targets and making to do lists, i.e. the things that I’m comfortable with. So when I’ve introduced new things like moving to a new country, travel, or my blog, it hasn’t felt too scary a step.


Why do routines, target setting and to-do lists work for me? It comes from my pre-retirement career in finance. For 29 years, my days revolved around routines and deadlines: repetitive daily or weekly tasks, month, quarter and annual period end closings and preparation of management accounts, statutory accounts, forecasts and strategic plans. Structure, planning, routine and to-do lists were the name of the game. When you do that for nearly three decades, it becomes a habit.


Instead of abandoning these habits overnight, I’ve kept some of them going. I’m comfortable with the structure this gives my days, and I’m convinced they prevent me from being idle or lazy, a slippery slope I’m determined to avoid. And although I know words like “structure, routine and to-do lists” can sound boring, they are my safety net that gives me the confidence to add new, different and adventurous things.


I suspect that over time, my retirement life will evolve and perhaps the structure and routine might reduce. But as I approach the end of my sixth year of early retirement, I’m happy to keep this structure in place for a while longer. And I don’t think it’s resulted in too boring a life, after all, even with two years of Covid restrictions:


  • I did retire early at 47

  • I’m currently spending 6 weeks in the Philippines

  • I’ve travelled to Asia and Australia for four months

  • I’ve travelled to California, Costa Rica and Colombia for three months

  • I’ve moved to a new country, France

  • I’ve become a blogger

  • I’ve learned how to ski

  • I’ve cycled across the Alps from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea

  • I’ve bought a campervan

  • And I’m sure there are lots of other new things that I’m doing too


Others may think differently, but I’m saying that’s not too boring a list, and all done while keeping structure, routine, target-setting and to-do lists at the heart of my everyday life.


One of my old employers (an international construction company) had some rules when considering a potential new project. It would ask whether the opportunity was:


  1. With an existing client or would be a new client

  2. In a country where it already worked or a new location

  3. A type of construction that it already did or something new


The rule was that at least two of the three criteria had to be something it was already doing. The idea being:


  • if you keep doing the things that you are already doing and are presumably reasonably good at, then things have a good chance of working out OK

  • if you add something new, there’s a better chance of that working out if it’s tacked on to other elements that you are already familiar with

  • but doing lots of new stuff all at the same time, things that you don’t have much experience of, may well be too risky


That’s pretty much the same logic that I’ve carried into my early retirement - a core of things that are familiar from my pre-retirement life, such as following routines, setting targets and making to do lists, to which I’ve added new things like moving to a new country, travel, my blog.


It might not be for everyone, but it works for me.

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