A Continuum of Structure

I’ve been feeling wrong for having put structure into place in my retirement – my need for daily and weekly routines, having things planned, keeping track of experiences..Maybe I perceive expectations or critiques that are not there, but too often I’m hearing that structure or planning is the wrong thing in retirement. (Yes, I am once again hearing expectations that I am not fulfilling.) I hear, “Retirement is about leaving behind a work-driven structure.” I hear, “You need to just go with the flow.” I feel I am supposed to just be spontaneous, not have expectations, let life happen.

All the articles I’ve read (of course I researched the topic!) indicate that completely unstructured time is more detrimental than positive. Structure is not a bad thing, if it is set up based on your values, interests – a desire for healthy living, activating a retirement lifestyle vision.

Reading up on the pros and cons of structure, it was nice to read there are many pros to having structure. Structure includes habits, routines, rituals, systems, and planning. A positive life-enhancing structure introduces a sense of rhythm into daily living, creates healthy habits, and actually can allow mind-space for more important things. Planning gives you a stable foundation on which to adapt to change and it helps you focus on the positives and find flow. Planning, when put down on paper, can remove endless, distracting scenario planning.

A totality of unstructured time can lead to unhealthy patterns – avoidance of tasks known need to be done, lack of connecting with others, feeling overwhelmed with massive to do lists, and even binging or other additive behaviors.

While I like quite a bit of structure, I realized there is a continuum of structure. And there are many folks in retirement more structured than me! I know of retired folks who walk 4-5 miles EVERY DAY without fail, have Tuesday as a MUST laundry day, golf ALWAYS on Friday, or MUST have their happy hour beer/cocktail at 5. I believe I go with the flow a bit more. Yes, I do try and have my daily morning journal time and I am trying to add in more regular exercise (really enjoying new cardio drumming classes), but I’ve been known to skip anything if something else of more interest pops up.

I do like a plan although I hope I’m not rigid. I’m trying to reduce expectations (and then being disappointed), but I do like to have a sense of what to expect if something is new. There is definitely a balance of anticipatory excitement and then something not living up to the hype in the reviews.

Looking into structure, I realized that even people who claim to have no structure probably do have some. There are lots of structural habits – bedtime and wakeup time, walking the dog, morning coffee, exercising a few days a week, setting aside creative time, and even brushing teeth before bed. I don’t think I know anyone who has completely unstructured time!

Structure doesn’t need to be over-planned, overwhelming, constricting, or busy. Structure can be slow and relaxed and even have some unstructured “free” time allotted. Having some unstructured time can be viewed as an opportunity for spontaneity and exploration.

I do think retirement is finding your own “right” structure – not one driven by work or other outside demands. Hopefully this review will alleviate my feeling wrong in having a structure (and doing the planning) that helps me activate my retirement lifestyle vision.

Do you feel like you have a structured or unstructured retirement? How do you balance anticipatory excitement and then something not living up to the hype in the reviews?

Picture: My dog Taylor, just because.

20 thoughts on “A Continuum of Structure

  1. I like the idea of being structured, but not rigid. As you point out, we all have some structure in our lives. I can’t image the chaos if we didn’t. Imagine if we didn’t have structure on the roads or the line at the grocery store. Some people prefer more structure than others, and I don’t think that is wrong, as long as you allow some flexibility and spontaneity. I like the idea that I will have more control over the structure of my life now that I am retired, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up all structure.

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    1. I do believe that recognizing how much structure you personally need is very important. And yes, it’s wonderful that in retirement you can do that! No more structure imposed.

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  2. Great pic! I think I’m in the middle of the road on this one. I like to have some structure in my life. I like that I workout Mon, Wed, Fri and dance on Tue and Thurs. And I like to have those on my schedule at the same time every time and I don’t like to have to change that. But I also like to have some fun and interesting things pop up – even if it’s just lunch with a friend or something. As I’m typing this I find myself thinking that I actually like more structure than maybe a realize. It’s funny, I find that slightly disappointing that I just might not be as much of a “fly by the seat of my pants” girl asvI think. I think my reality is that I like to do all kinds of different things but I like a plan. I want them in my schedule. I like being able to look at my calendar for the week and see what I have going on. Dang it, I like structure!

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    1. You crack me up. “Some” structure and they you list something every single day! But as I read your comments, it made me realize that I believe (self limiting belief) that spontaneous, seat of the pants, free spirited people are better, more alive, happier, funner (is that even a word). What a self-limiting belief! Wow. Yes I like when things pop up, but more often I’m the one making them pop up with planning…. and that makes me more alive, happier and funner. 🙂 Thanks for helping me see another self-limiting belief I have.

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  3. I think the need for structure, the preference for structure, is a personality characteristic, or an enneagram type. It has nothing to do with being retired or not. It is just a way of life for those of us who like structure!! It is the way we are wired. And I am right there with you, sister!!

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    1. Since I viewed retirement as getting rid of the work-driven structure, getting rid of all structure was “right” and loving life structure was “wrong”. Now I recognize that a structure that I create based on my own interests and values is perfectly “right” for me (and many others). Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in, especially aspects of self-acceptance!

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  4. I’m guilty of using the expression “go with the flow,” but there’s all kinds of structure in my retirement life. For me “going with the flow” has more to do with managing disappointment and trying to learn from it. I still feel like I need a plan for each day, even if it only includes a few chores to be done. I really appreciate reading about other’s experiences with retirement transition. Thanks for the post Pat.

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    1. Tracey – Interesting perspective on “going with the flow”. I am working to be more accepting of things that don’t go as planned or expected. And that is helping. A really different way to think I am “going with the flow” in my structured life!

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  5. I’m probably on the unstructured half of the continuum but that doesn’t mean I have no structure in my retired life. I think we all need to create the type of retirement that works for us and be open to change as things shift. There is no right or wrong way, expect trying to live someone else’s idea of retirement because “that’s the way it should be.”

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    1. Janis, The dreaded should’s hmmm. I hear them so often, even when they are not necessarily there. It’s even more of a challenge when it’s someone i admire who says it also. But this post helped me work through accepting that being on the more structured half of the continuum is a good place for me right now.

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  6. I like less structure, at least for now, but I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. Personally, I think it’s good we bloggers write about our journeys so readers can assess the various approaches and decide what’s right for them. Maybe we go back and forth a bit as we test the waters?

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    1. I think that’s a brilliant observation – looking at other’s journeys to help decide what’s right for you. Not hearing each one as a “this is the right one”, but as “this is a possibility”. A bit more structure than many is working for me right now, a bit less is working for you right now!

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  7. Pat, I can’t imagine a life where every day is left to happenstance. On the flip side, I can’t imagine a life that is so planned that it causes me stress. My long-time established solution is balance. Once I figured out the components of a happy retirement (for me), I pitched the lists and started living. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan, there is, it is just highly flexible. Fitting in things like healthy eating, exercise, time with friends & family, creative time, and quiet time have become second nature. Sure, things go callywonkus from time to time, (like our recent move and being sick with Covid) but maintaining awareness and focusing on getting back on track serves me well.

    So, to answer your question, I think I live a semi-structured retirement with an emphasis on balance – much like your paragraph that begins with ‘Structure doesn’t need to be overplanned, etc’…. I also love your advice to ‘find your own rhythm.’ We are all unique individuals and one shoe does not fit all!

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    1. Suzanne, I don’t feel like my balance is second nature yet… but maybe someday! So, since one size does not fit all, I’m keeping my lists for now. And keeping in mind that nothing is etched in stone…. which keeps me on an even keel most of the time!

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  8. Hi Pat, I’m just into my 3rd month of retirement and I haven’t found my structure yet…but I’m trying to figure it out. I think it’s human nature to need some sort of structure. For my first couple of months I let the pendulum swing way too far to no structure at all and I found I did not like that, each day I had a sense I was ‘wasting time’. I’m starting now to decide if I want to do certain things on certain days (exercise, errands, etc) but all with the caveat that I have the freedom to change it up at any time. Overall, I think structure is a good thing and each of us needs to determine how much we want in retirement.

    As to your last question about something not living up to the hype, I try to keep my expectations on the low side of excitement but it still happens from time to time. We went to Charleston at the end of April and we were anticipating a good time, unfortunately we had several poor experiences with our hotel and many of the restaurants which dampened our outlook. But I tried to keep a positive perspective so the whole experience wasn’t a loss. 😊

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    1. I’m a firm believer that I have the freedom to change my structured days however I want. If the weather is not conducive, something is cancelled, a spontaneous adventure comes up…I’m fine with sliding things around. Finding the right level of structure for you is important. My hubby likes much less structure that I do, so I totally see different levels working for different people.

      Now if I can only keep myself on the low side of excitement on things. Like you I do try for the positive perspective when things don’t go as planned.

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  9. I think everyone has structure whether they realize it or not. I definitely have my routines and some expectations for the day. How can you not? If I know certain days of the week will be filled with obligations, I can then plan the other days around the fun things I do. I eat lunch every day but rarely at the same time. It’s the rigidity that makes structure a negative. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes “Creativity without structure is chaos”. I used it at work when people complained our structure inhibited their creativity. It doesn’t have to.

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    1. Love that quote! New to me, but gonna use it now. I find that having a time set aside for “creativity” on my weekly (structured) calendar ensures I have time to play with whatever I’m creating – crafts, writing, etc.

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  10. Hi Pat – I think some of us thrive more on structure than others. I like to have a sense of how my week is going to play out, but what I like about retirement is that I can change things to suit me. When my hip problem stopped some of my usual weekly activities, I could put them on hold and replace them with other activities until I’m able to resume them. The joy of retirement is that it’s completely on our own terms and we can do it how we like. I’d struggle with no structure, but I’d also find rigidity hard to deal with too – so a nice combination of commitments and free time works well for me. You keep doing “you” and enjoy this lovely stage of life.

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    1. Leanne, I am coming to realize that the thing about retirement is you can create the life (day/week) structure you want…not driven by anyone or anything else. As you noted, you can change it up as needed. I like the phrase “on your own terms”. And yes, my daily structure is also often a blend of commitments and free time.

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