Time Management for Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, September 21, 2015

My working friends think I have unlimited free time because I’m retired. Hell, before I retired I thought I’d have a time bonanza too. It didn’t work out that way. I’ve got so much I want to do that I fantasize buying Microsoft Project to run my life. Living by impulsive is turning out to be frustrating. It’s low stress, something that my inner-hippy loves, but totally unproductive.

Everything we do takes time. It’s much easier if we only have one passion to single-mindedly chase, because it’s then a snap to know how to apply our free time. But if you chase many goals, that takes juggling. For example, the other day I got an ad in the mail for the local paper. I haven’t taken the paper in years, but the price was so low that I thought maybe I should give it a try. I feel guilty for knowing so little about my city and state, especially the politics and business. This Sunday I bought the paper as a test. I can’t find time to read it. One reason I cancelled the paper all those years ago is because they would pile up unread. Taking on any new activity requires shifting old ones around. That abundance of extra time I thought I’d have after retiring doesn’t exist.

Time Management 

I figure it takes about an hour a day to properly read the paper. Especially if you want to value what it offers. Just quickly flipping the pages and scanning the headlines isn’t worth wasting its carbon footprint. But where would that hour come from? Either I’d have to expand into another activity’s timeslot, or I’d have to read less on the internet, magazines or books. It’s just not practical for me to take the paper right now. I could, but I’d have to become a newspaper reader and give up being an internet addict. That’s like becoming a different person.

When you’re retired it feels at first like you have all the time in the world, but that’s not true. Half the day is taken up with body maintenance. Another quarter of the day is taking up with socializing and fun. I can’t remember I how squeezed in eight hours of work. Of course the numbers above are rough approximations. I’ve averaged them for the week. I often spend whole weekends in social activities, so I’m spreading activities across a single 24 hour clock as my pie chart.

When I look at this schedule I realize why I’m not getting much writing done. Three hours a day feels about right for how I’m doing things now. I have to work hard to get those three hours. It’s very easy to just fill the day with all the other stuff. I could cut out two hours a day of television and give it to writing, but I’m not sure that would work. Watching two hours of TV before bed every night seems almost a necessity for my body and mind’s upkeep, as valuable as sleep and eating. My mind is shot for the last few hours of each day, so I don’t think I could do anything ambitious.

And the older I get, the more reenergizing my cells need to keep going. All those naps and eye resting moments help recharge my batteries. I’ve recently read that sleep is the time when the brain flushes out toxic byproducts accumulated from mental activity during the day. That sounds true because when I take a nap it erases a mental fog that’s developed from writing.

I’ve been thinking about taking on two new activities – drawing and studying math. I want to push myself to learn something completely new and different. Actually, I get impulses to pursue all kinds of new activities. Writing this essay makes me realize that I’m not devoting enough time to writing, and I shouldn’t take on anything new. But I think I will try learning to draw. I need to find other things to give up, because I think always learning one new thing is essential to mental wellbeing. Thus, I need to make room.

What’s required is performing activity triage. I wonder if drawing is something I can do when I’m intellectually tired? I’m currently taking a Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn” based on A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley. In the book and course she teaches techniques for more efficient learning. And I think her insights points to ways to solve my time management problems. Learning them will make me more efficient at pursuing all my ambitions. I need to stop wishing for more time, to stop hoping to can do more things, and learn to do fewer things, but being better at each, and doing so with greater efficiency.


Twenty Hours to Playing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”

I have no musical ability what-so-ever.  But, I’ve always wished I could play guitar.  I tried when I was young, but got easily frustrated, and merely ended up playing chord patterns I made up.  I had no discipline at all.  A complete wimp when it came to practicing.  If I had known about the 10,000 hour to greatness theory of practice, I would never have tried at all.

Today a reader, Andreas, posted a comment about a Josh Kaufman TED Talk, “The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything” that was far more encouraging.  What Kaufman claimed from his studies is that it takes 20 hours of concentrated practice to get beyond the frustration stage and see encouraging results.  Watch his TED Talk yourself.

Now, that got me to thinking.  I messed around with a guitar back in the 1960s and 1970s, but I didn’t put in 20 hours of concentrated effort at actually learning anything.  Ten years ago I bought a cheap guitar and was going to try again.  I tried a few of times, probably spent less than an hour, and again got frustrated and quit.  The guitar has been sitting on its stand ever since – untouched.  Well, I dusted it a couple of times.

What if I conducted an experiment to test Kaufman’s hypothesis?  Would twenty hours of concerted effort, applying myself in a systematic way, get me past the frustration barrier?  Would just twenty hours get me to a point where I felt like I was getting somewhere?  If Kaufman’s hypothesis is true, I could apply it on all kinds of little ambitions.

Don’t we all give up too easily?  Is twenty hours of good practice the real solution to getting past the frustration barrier?  

To test this idea, I think would need something very specific as my goal.  Playing “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan immediately came to mind.  If I could learn to strum the guitar and friends could recognize the song, no matter how badly I played it, I think that might be a good enough proof.  It’s only five chords, so I don’t think I’m being overly ambitious.

Just how much would I have to learn in that twenty hours?  Luckily, the web gives me a tremendous head start.   For example, at e-chords, here is the song with chords and words, and even animations showing the finger positions of the chords:  Like A Rolling Stone – full arrangement

And here are two YouTube videos with guitar teachers.

There seems to be an endless supply of guitar teachers on YouTube teaching “Like a Rolling Stone.”  Some offer music and chord theory with their lessons that just confuses me.  There also seems countless ways to strum the song, as well as many variations for the chords used to play the song.  These kind of details are detrimental at this point.  Kaufman advises in his video to:

  1. Deconstruct the skill
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
  3. Remove practice barriers
  4. Practices at least 20 hours

I think I have deconstructed the skill here already.  All I’ve got to do is put on some new strings on my neglected guitar and practice for twenty hours.  I’ll get back to you in about a month to let you know what happens.

JWH – 1/24/14