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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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I retired at the end of 2016 at 70 years of age. It has been an adjustment living without the structure of a job. Still, at 5pm I feel like getting things started/done. I find myself starting laundry, yardwork and other projects that had always been done when my work day ended. I’ve finally decided that it’s not a bad way to do things, leaves me more daylight hours to do just what I want to do! Love the freedom and life of my retirement! So don’t stress, just adjust and enjoy!


More than 10 years into retirement/transition now. Had a health episode; since I was one of the early ones that caught Covid. Now I am grateful for a few more years. Financial resources have not been a problem (run out of funds in a projected lifespan). So have to think now about allocation of both time and resources: what activities to cut back, what activities to add, and what activities to maintain.
But I think many would have to consider finances, as well as purpose.


Nice read. I, too, worked at school with children grades K-5 . I retired in 2014 with the hopes of traveling and exploring the US with my husband in our newly acquired Corvette. We took a trip up the California/Oregon coast and another to NE Oregon in 2015. We we riding high, living the good life.
We found out at Thanksgiving two of the most life changing events were about to take place. First, our daughter announced the coming of her first child in May/June. We were ecstatic! Second, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The disease had metastisized to the liver and brain. He wouldn’t see April.
After he passed I was asea in the murky waters of grief confusion, and loneliness with no plans, no direction or idea how to pick up the pieces and move on. Just as I was beginning to “live” again, having taken on the care of my grandson and my new great granddaughter, Covid knocked my feet out from under me. So here I am 8 years since my long awaited retirement still trying to get a handle on Time. For the most part Time stopped when my husband passed. But then, too, I have lost 2 years to Covid. I walk around dazed and confused when it comes to reckoning anything with Time. I don’t even try anymore.


Well, funny you asked! I’ve had days of pure gratitude, and days of hours confusing me about competing with a short span of reminder how work was exhaustion. I am a work in progress and married life takes a ladder of climbing, with 50 years of How did I get old?? But…I sleep well.


great article, been retired 3 yrs now and I’m still learning time management, projects that need to be done,and how to balance what I want to do before the day is gone

Marcia Smalley

We’re all works in progress every day, Desiree. Onward! Thanks for reading.

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 https://www.marciasmalley.com.

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