Often one hears recently retired people say something like “Oh, I am so busy since I retired, I don’t know how I ever had time to work!”  When I hear that, I ask “But are you having fun?”  Most of the time they say “Oh yes, I’m having a great time.”  But once in a while, the response will be “well . . . now that you mention it . . .  “

This is busyness, not fulfillment.  A friend of mine is always busy – driving people to doctors, errands for home-bound friends, church committees, caring for neighbors’ pets, and occasionally caring for grandchildren who live several hours away. She says “I have no time for myself.”

Why do people fall into the busyness trap – activity that is not rewarding . . . now, when we have control over how we spend our time?

We have been busy all our adult life, and for most of us, that busyness has been in the structure of our work hours.   It is simply a habit that gets us out of bed early in the morning, and out of the house keeping busy with work and errands.

Another remnant of the job may be the sense that one must be productive – effective and efficient in order to be a valued employee and an important, needed employee.   For a workaholic, this is the most difficult mindset to change. All of a sudden, it is OK not to be busy all the time. It goes against the grain.

For some, the need to be busy is sensed as an obligation. “I should go and help them out, that organization needs people; she helped me or my family in the past.  Fear of boredom is sometimes given as a fear of retirement. Post-retirement time is seen as an empty void, with nothing to enhance our psychological needs to be useful, to achieve or accomplish, to be needed.  Sometimes an empty void is threatening.  It creates a space for something we have been trying to avoid or forget, something that work kept at bay.  Now we need to deal with it, and busyness is one technique to continue avoiding it.

Back in 1955, C. Northcote Parkinson, a naval historian, wrote an article in The Economist, satirizing the British Admiralty.  He announced a new scientific law, to be called Parkinson’s Law.  It stated: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”  I believe that the prevalence of busyness in retirement is evidence of this law in action.  If we have all morning to do grocery shopping, we take that time, even though before we retired, we could accomplish the same task in an hour after work.  Hence, more busyness.

” Socrates said “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

How does one break the busyness habit and move to a more fulfilling lifestyle?  Here are some suggestions:

  • First, start by keeping track of how you are spending your time – what is keeping you busy.
  • Then, rate each activity on two things
    • How important is it? What would happen if you quit doing it?
    • How fulfilling, rewarding, fun is it?
  • Decide which activities to stop doing,   and which to keep on doing, or to do in a different, less time-consuming way.
  • Think about why you have chosen to take on all these activities that keep you so busy – what are you trying to avoid? Are there psychological reasons – a need to be needed? To be seen as important? To achieve, to be accepted, loved?
  • Identify what is really important to you, and plan your time accordingly.
  • Learn how to say no. Set boundaries.   For example, I will babysit one day a week, or one week a month.
  • Are there activities you are not doing that you would like to do? Once you have got your schedule under control, then decide what new activities can go on the calendar.

Greg McKeon in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less  says “become an Essentialist” – identify what is essential in your life: the right thing in the right way at the right time.  Then channel your time and energy in pursuit of that essential thing.

Are we having fun yet?


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