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Is early retirement making me slow, and does it matter?

A question that I've thought about countless times, both pre and post early retirment:

What will I do if/when I retire early?

When I worked, I'd leave the house at 6:30am and normally get back home just after 6pm. In other words, in retired early life I'd have to find new activities to fill the eleven and a half hours a day that I used to spend on work.

My early retirement planning whiteboard

To help with my retire/don't retire decision, I got a whiteboard and jotted down things that could fill this time. Learn to swim was on it, so was travel, as well as starting a blog. I might have earned a mark for good intentions, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this wouldn't be enough to keep me busy for eleven and a half hours a day, five days a week.

Perhaps the most helpful part of that planning stage was realising that I couldn't plan everything. There were bits that I'd have to trust I'd figure out as I went along. Understanding this, and coming to terms with it, was a gamechanger in my early retirement decision making process - it took the pressure off the impossible task of thinking every question needed to be answered in advance.

As it turns out, it hasn't been difficult to fill my old work day. A while ago, I was sad enough to twice keep a timesheet of my daily activities, once in November 2017 and again in April 2019, in case you want to see what my daily early retirement life includes.

Other than the specific activities that my timesheets show, other things have also changed to fill the time:

  1. I start my day differently. At my last job, I'd leave home at 6:30am. Now I sleep in, mostly until between 7:00 and 7:30am most mornings. A relaxed breakfast, reading the news and watching a bit of YouTube takes me to 9am. Already, two and a half hours of my old work day have gone.

  2. I finish my day a little earlier too. Instead of my old get home from work time of around 6pm, I tend to end my early retired day at 5pm. By the way, I've set a rule that I'm not allowed to be lazy from 9am until 5pm, which means no TV and no more YouTube during this time.

  3. Some activities have moved from the evenings and weekends. This includes some of my running and cycling as well as various chores that previously had to be squeezed in after work or at weekends. This might appear to simply be a rearrangement of the deckchairs, but it keeps me busy and entertained during the week, and if that frees up time at the weekend, it's OK as that's when I'm allowed to be lazy.

  4. Then there are the new things that I've added. My blog is one, in winter there's alpine skiing and ski touring (aka backcountry), and we do more travelling too (although not much in the last two years for obvious reasons). I could even add meeting up for coffee with friends, which I guess isn't really a new thing, but doing it during the working day is.

So, starting my day a little later and finishing it a little earlier, moving activities from the evening or weekend, as well as adding a few new activities has succesfully filled a good proportion of those eleven and a half hours that used to be dedicated to work.

But there's another thing that takes up time too. The things that I do often take longer than they used to. I seem to be slower.

I've got slower since I started early retirement. Is this a problem, have I lost my edge, or does it not matter?

I asked a couple of early retired friends whether they have the same experience. Their answer was yes, they also feel that they are slower, things take longer to do than when they worked.

So is this a problem? It depends on what's causing the slowdown.

If it's because my brain is losing it's sharpness, my cognitive ability is declining, because it's not being tested and stretched to the extent it was when I worked, then yes, that seems to be a problem. While I see this as a risk, I also see that there are things that I can do about it. Amongst other things, these include my (largely unsuccessful) attempt to learn French, writing my blog, a developing interest in history, managing our finances and taxes, and researching various activities such as our campervan purchase or the medical/health check idea that I'm currently working on. I believe activities like these help to keep my brain active.

I also choose some activities that push me outside of my comfort zone, to challenge both my thinking brain as well as my emotional brain. Examples from my targets for 2022 include doing a first aid course, and my idea to climb a mountain. And yesterday I signed up for two trail running events that I'm a little nervous about. These things might not be out of everyone's comfort zone, but they are out of mine!

But I think what's making me slower is simply having more time. At work, tasks had to be done, and there were deadlines by which they had to be completed. It was often a case of getting just enough information, do a task or make a decision, and move on to the next thing. Given more time, perhaps the task could have been done better, or the decision made with more/better information, but time was in short supply so that's the factor I had to work within. That's different now - I can continue to get more information, charge off in a different direction either because there's a chance it might give a better solution or simply because it seems interesting. This certainly makes me slower, but that might not be a bad slow. Getting more information or investigating different options can be an education - learning new things means my brain is being active.

Away from the brain activity side, it now takes me longer to get ready to go for a run, but I know that's because I now have the time to stretch before heading out. When I worked, it would be get changed and get running - maybe that was OK a few years ago, but now my body appreciates the pre run stretch! As to getting ready to go skiing, I just faff about - I haven't yet figured out an explanation for that!

Early retired life...but only at the weekend!

While these things might be making me slower to complete a task or make a decision, my conclusion is that it's not a problem. Yes, some things take longer, but the slowdown is mostly because I can do more research and look at different options, not because my brain is turning to mush. Arguably, the opposite could be true, my brain is being exercised and challenged with new information and ideas.

On the other hand, if I was slower because I'm spending my days being a couch potato, then that's not good and I suspect doesn't lead to a good place. Unless it's the weekend, then a little bit of couch potatoing is OK!


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