How do you define productivity after retirement?

During the past three months I have stayed close to home and hibernated during a harsh Canadian winter. With retirement there has been no need to leave the house on miserable days and I don’t stress out about commuting when there is snow or ice or very cold weather. I don’t ‘have’ to go anywhere.

Most days have their own rhythm — physiotherapy exercises, going online, emails, reading the newspapers, some light housekeeping, yoga, some writing time and some time spent on hobbies. When asked recently what I have accomplished this winter — besides learning to walk after my hip surgery — I was at a loss for words.  I had read several books, regularly written blog posts, renewed work on long-forgotten hobbies, and taken a couple of continuing education courses.  Each of these activities was enjoyable — but was I productive?  It made me think about what productivity concepts apply in retirement.

Pre-Retirement Concepts of Productivity

Traditionally, productivity has usually been defined in terms of business and economic models.   In business environments definitions of productivity involve creating something of value in exchange for income.  Accomplishment is described by using metrics for inputs and outputs.  Measures of productivity are associated with profitability and/or wage rewards.  Economists often refer to productive capacity and relate productivity to improved living standards and increased income that allows for enhanced buying capacity.  Economic models measure year over year productivity gains and often compare rates of productivity among various countries.

Both the business and the economic models made sense to me during the career building years.  Pre-retirement, I rated my productivity in terms of achieving pre-determined goals and related my productivity to success for the organization.

Post Retirement Productivity

After retirement, productivity becomes a personal measurement and often relates to how much can be accomplished over a period of time.  Measurement is internal and not external.  The productivity index changes from a corporate measure of performance to a personal measure.  It flips into accomplishing goals related to life dreams and takes on a different type of urgency.

I admit that on some days, I goof off and spend my time hanging out with my cats, listening to music and not doing much of anything.  On those days I often feel that something is missing.  I feel that I have frittered away my time.  My productivity gene urges me to do something useful or creative.

After years of focusing on external measurements of productivity it’s time to consider the internal measures for use when assessing productivity in retirement.

  1. At the end of each day evaluate what you did as per your life’s purpose.  Gratitude for small steps in living your life according to your plan allows you to recognize the accomplishments of each day, no matter how inconsequential.  Thinking about the daily gratitude list is one of my favourite ways to fall asleep with a smile on my face.
  2. Decide to make time for ‘passion projects’ that relate to your dreams.  These ‘passion projects’ may relate to volunteer work you do, hobbies, or new learning that you are pursuing.  Some people set some structured time each day for work on passion projects.  By devoting a block of time to an activity for which you have enthusiasm, you can quickly gain a sense of productivity — and you will enjoy yourself through working on something that is meaningful to you.
  3. Recognize how easy it is to waste time. With unstructured days it is easy to over-read newspapers, spend time on tasks that don’t need doing, play around on-line searching for useless information or take too much time answering emails.  Although your time is your ‘own’, you may not feel any sense of accomplishment from spending too much time on useless activities so when you catch yourself wasting time, it’s time to re-direct your energies.
  4. Don’t strive for perfection. Just because there is more time available, doesn’t mean that everything needs to be accomplished perfectly.  Use the 80% rule for most actions.
  5. Don’t try to do too much. Retirement is the time to do the things that are important to you and your life — right now.  Don’t make your plans for any day too ambitious or you will revert to ‘To Do’ lists to try to manage an impossible number of items that you want to accomplish.  You will feel more productive if you do what matters to you.

Developing your personal internal measures of productivity during retirement will create a new sense of excitement.  Your internal measures will help you to recognize your progress and keep you engaged and passionate.  Most importantly, your internal measures will give a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.

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2 Replies to “How do you define productivity after retirement?”

  1. When an older American plans on working for an extra five years but is laid off, and they begin drawing on Social Security (if they’re even old enough to do that), they’re hit with 3 simultaneous issues: First, their investments and retirement accounts are not yet ready, second, their Social Security income will be substantially lower than it would have been had they waited, and third, they haven’t had to time slash their expenses prior to their income suddenly drops to only $700-$1300/month, which is often not sufficient for them to pay their mortgage or rental agreement.

    1. Too many people are faced with forced retirements that thwart well-made plans and push them into a precarious financial situation. These are troubled times and many are left with few options and little opportunity to re-start a career.

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