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How Our Relationship with Time Changes During Retirement

By Marcia Smalley September 24, 2022 Lifestyle

Before I retired, I was a great time manager.

I’d transition to a new activity at 9:16AM then to another one at 10:12AM and so on throughout the day. Bells would ring, bracketing precise pockets of time, neatly managed. Such was working life in a public school.

Nowadays, I do a lot of creative work. I’ll look up and four hours have passed. I’ve forgotten to eat. Never mind walk the dog, run the errand, do the yoga. Apparently when Creativity is in charge and the Muse is in the driver’s seat, structure and natural order disappear. 

The benefits of retired life certainly outweigh the constraints of a ringing alarm clock (my least favorite bell). Except, as my retired life began, I became a time management disaster.

A Retirement Switch

I missed those bells.

This felt a bit shocking. But in reality, most changes mean that our routine will take a hit. And retired life is a big change.

I remember arranging lunch dates with my retired friends when I was still working, and I remember how differently our lives seemed to flow. You’d schedule the 45 minutes allotted in your workday for luxury dining. They’d show up all rested and dewy skinned and declare, “I’m so busy, I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work!” 

In fairness, some of them were really busy. They were running non-profits, doing good works. Taking care of grandchildren, saving the whales. But now I believe most of them were simply learning how to navigate a new relationship with Time.

Our Relationship with Time

Time is dynamic. It’s constantly re-shaping. It’s stretchy and elastic and bends in every direction. Time can feel like it’s running amuck and needs a ringing bell to control it. It can feel like it’s flying by. Or standing still.

It’s ironic that this is the season of life when we can fear we may run out of time. We have the same amount we’ve always had, and we can often do with it as we please. But as retirees we must renegotiate our relationship with it, well, from time to time.

Six years have passed since I designed my daily life around ringing bells. This flexibility can still be tricky. I can certainly feel delighted. But sometimes I can feel disoriented. Like I’m back in school in a whole new way. Like I’m in that dream where I miss the exam because I had the time wrong (I can’t be the only one who has a dream like that…).

Learning to Stretch Time

But I’ve learned a few hacks that help me dance with time:

Set a Timer

Use it to complete a task that’s unpleasant and must get done or just the opposite… when an activity threatens to dominate your day.

Leave Some White Space on Your Calendar

Catch your breath, stare out the window, or do anything else that makes you feel at peace.

Plan for Chaos

Many things take a lot longer than we think they will, and other things happen that we didn’t see coming.

Honor Your Limits

If you need three or four days (or weeks) between vacations or houseguests, take it.

Think “I choose…

Eliminate the word should and start using choose. You decide what to do or not do, what invitation to accept or which one to decline. Empowering!

Since the year I was born, 13 presidents have been inaugurated, technology has changed our lives, air travel has become a chore, and one beloved Queen reigned over the Commonwealth. 

But I’m still a work in progress. I’m embracing Structure Lite: no bells and slightly scheduled. 

As I sign off, I see another hour has ticked by. Creativity should be checking her watch… except she doesn’t wear one. 

I hope there’s something in the fridge. It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve eaten.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How are you managing your time during retirement? What obstacles have you faced? What’s working for you?

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Sue B

This is good to read. Retiring w ADHD adds another layer of difficulty w time management when all the guardrails disappear. Covid fears through another wrench into the mix keeping me home and thinking this was not the retirement picture I envisioned. I constantly struggled w the shoulds-should i work again? Volunteer? Do nothing? Go out? Stay on the couch? I too would and still completely lose track of time so the timer idea really go my attention. There’s so much residual guilt about my perceived poor time management it’s really been hard to accept that maybe I don’t alway have to manage it and as you suggest relax into the ebb and flow.

Marcia Smalley

Cheers to relaxing into the ebb and flow, Sue! Thanks for reading.


Great Article. Thank you. 😊


Thanks for reading, Sherri!

Patricia Ryan

I just retired after turning 70 and I am totally disoriented. I’m staying up late and sleeping in daily. My schedule is completely off. I have some hobbies I want to get to but I can’t seem to get motivated. My eating habits are off although I thought I would eat better with my extra time. As it turns out the reality isn’t always true. It’s hit and miss. I keep telling myself I’ll start walking more but I’m not. I’m a little disappointed in myself. I have gotten together with a friend every other week and go to the movie theater with my daughter every couple of weeks because we both love movies. I love to read and continue to do that. It’s been less than 2 months since I retired and I’m told that it takes time to adjust to the new reality. Your article spoke to me and made me realize that my discomfort isn’t unusual. Thanks for sharing.


I’m happy my article resonated, Patricia. You’re right…give yourself the time you need to settle into your retired life…and treat yourself gently. You’ll figure it out!


I retired and then a few months later the pandemic hit. I have been struggling to find my new normal ever since. My mother had a stroke six years ago and moved in with me, so I care for her too. I just keep moving….a day at a time. I worked on my home and took care of things I didn’t have time to do before I retired. Give it some time Patricia….it will all fall into place.


I retired 18 months ago and was excited at the thought of having time to do all the things I daydreamed about when I was at work, because I would have time to do it. Weeeelllll the first six months I sat around like an unmotivated lump, thinking I should be doing this or should be doing that, but actually not doing any of it. I had anxiety and felt quite depressed at times, as I think I had lost my identity and my purpose. Luckily making the decision to move near to my family and now taking care of my granddaughter during the week has given me new purpose, otherwise I still think I would be sitting around not doing anything. I still have yet to do all the things on my daydream wish list though. One day hopefully.

Marcia Smalley

Retiring is a big transition, Angela. We all need some time to adjust. I’m happy that moving closer to your family is giving you the grounding that you need. Be gentle with yourself! And thanks for reading.


I like the white space idea. I call it margin. Same idea. I need margin in my life. I need time to process transitions.
I am still teaching post retirement age as I did not adjust well to retirement the first time round. Thus, I have a time of transition in the late spring as I transition into 8 or so weeks away from the routine of daily school life. I find I go through a similar time of adjustment in the fall as I transition away from my life down south with family and friends there. (I teach in a northern fly-in small community with few amenities.) I find periods of transition unsettling even when I’m looking forward to positive experiences. Once I realized that, I have been able to deal with the fluctuations in my emotions much more successfully.
But back to margins. A few years ago my cousin and I spent a few weeks in Hawaii. We fell into a routine of one day an excursion, the next a quieter one around the hotel and area where we were staying. That gave us the margin we needed to process , rest, and enjoy our activities.
That day of margin, or white space, in between busy days has proven to be a good formula for me to follow in many areas of life.


Margins! I love that, Eve! Thanks for reading.


alohas. Well said. I am in heading into my 3rd year of retirement and discovered the chaoti-city of ever changing time. Time management at the moment is still a WIP for me. So far, I have learned to dedicate my morning coffee/tea and in the Word time but once that is done, its time to bend and adjust with the season and the whirl winds. Here I thought it was I, that was having issues and being disorganized. Thank you for the perception and helping me view with clarity of how to step back and enjoy this journey. mahalos.


And thank you for reading and for sharing your insights, Gale!

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The Author

Marcia Smalley is a certified retirement coach and life coach, a writer and a teacher. She delights in helping mid-life women step confidently into their next act and design a joyous, expanded life. Marcia provides coaching support to women who are navigating retirement or other life transitions and writes a monthly e-newsletter to her entire online community. Please visit her website at

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