Maximizing retirement: Time vs. Tasks

In his wildly popular book The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferris told the story of Vilfredo Pareto, an economist who lived from 1848 to 1923.  Unless you’ve read that book, you’ve probably never heard of Pareto, but you’re probably familiar with his most famous economic theory, the “80/20 Principle.”  Also known as “Pareto’s Law,” it basically says that 80 percent of the outputs result from 20 percent of the inputs.  It can be applied almost anywhere.  80 percent of the people produce 20 percent of the wealth.  80 percent of the profits come from 20 percent of the customers.  Basically, 80 percent of the results flow from 20 percent of the effort.

How can we apply this to retirement?  After working a 9 to 5 job for the better part of forty years, there is a real temptation to measure your daily progress by hours spent as opposed to tasks completed.  If you don’t have a “full day” there is a latent guilt that is carried over from your days of trading time for money (I give my boss forty hours and he gives me a paycheck.).  To avoid that feeling many retirees fill their days with busywork.

If you’re going to have a meaningful retirement, you need to embrace the idea that your goal is not to have a busy day or a full day, but a day spent on things that produce results (e.g. meaning, fulfillment, purpose, fun, happiness).  In other words, don’t focus on time.  Focus on tasks.  Ask yourself, what part of your day is done simply to busy yourself and what part is actually going to get you closer to your goals and give you a sense of accomplishment and purpose.  If Pareto’s law holds true, you should be able to cut about 80 percent of the busywork from your retirement schedule and focus on the 20 percent of tasks that are actually worthwhile.  The payoff comes not only in the form of a more relaxing retirement, but a more meaningful one as well.

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