Mini-retirements and work: A how to guide.

Mini-retirements and work

Based on the huge response to my initial “Mini-Retirement” post, I think I can safely draw two conclusions:

#1: There are A LOT of you who don’t buy into the “save the best for last” philosophy of retirement.  No surprise here.  IR readers are all about living intentional rather than conventional lives.

And…

#2: While you love the concept, some of you are a little uncertain how to make it work for you.  In other words, the “want to” is there, but the “how to” is a little fuzzy.

The comment I heard most went something like this: “I love the idea, but I don’t think I could make it work because of my job.”  Fair enough.  I’m fairly attached to my paycheck too.  The good news is that living an interesting life and doing meaningful work aren’t mutually exclusive.  If you want to make it happen, you can.  Below are some ideas to get you thinking how.

Making mini-retirements work with work.

Note: Not every idea will work for every person, but I’ll bet there is more than one thing on the list that will work for you.

Take the easy wins.  Many of us have a certain amount of paid vacation and sick time each year.  Some companies even allow you to bank unused time year after year.  Rather than spreading those days out in one or two day increments throughout the year, take it all at once.  For many, this idea alone will be enough to move mini-retirements from pipe dream to possibility.

Rearrange your hours.  Some jobs have a great deal of flexibility.  Others are a bit more rigid and follow a basic formula of trading time for money.  For those with the latter, your employer’s primary concern is that you’re putting in the hours and doing the work.

A full time job is usually 2,000 hours per year: 40 hours per week for 50 weeks with a 2 week vacation.  What if you flipped that equation and worked 50 hours per week for 40 weeks and then took 12 weeks off?  Not sure your employer would go for it?  Propose 43.5 hours per week for 46 weeks and then take 6 weeks off.  Or even 41.7 hours per week for 48 weeks and then take four weeks off.  With any of those options your employer is paying you exactly the same amount of money, you’re working exactly the same amount of hours and you’ve got time each year for a mini-retirement.

Ask for your raise to be paid in time off.  Companies have been watching their pennies pretty closely since the meltdown in 2008.  Consequently, your boss might not be very receptive if you ask for a raise, even if you deserve one.  You could probably improve your odds if you ask for that raise to be paid in time off instead of dollars.  It’s a win-win.  The company keeps a lid on expenses and you get more time off.

Optimize your schedule.  Many of us have jobs where we’re not doing the exact same thing day in and day out.  There is an ebb and flow to our tasks and responsibilities.  We have busy times and slow times throughout the year.  Times that require a lot of face to face interaction and times where any old computer and phone will suffice.  My job is a lot like this.  It gets busy and interactive during client reviews or when I’m doing seminars, but summers and holidays are usually dead.  It wouldn’t take much for me to rearrange my schedule so that the things I need to be present for are all concentrated in certain months and the things I can do remotely are shifted to a mini-retirement month.  This is a good option for those who want to take extended time off while still maintaing momentum at work.

Batch tasks.  Improved productivity means that you can do the same amount of work in less time.  If you have one of those jobs that is more focused on completing certain tasks rather than putting in certain hours, batching can be a big help. Most of you probably already use batching when you do things like pay bills.  Rather than grabbing your checkbook every time you go to the mailbox, you save up that month’s bills and then pay them all at once.  Are there parts of your job that you can batch in order to be more efficient?  Once the work is done, what’s keeping you behind your desk (besides inertia)?

Use technology for location independence.  For many of us, our jobs are perfectly designed for the people who did those jobs 10 years ago.  We commute to a special building and then sit in a fabric covered box (cubicle) so we can use a computer and a phone (sounds glamorous!).  Technology has made the building and the box, if not obsolete, at least less important.

We still need the computer and the phone, but technology like Skype, Go To Meeting, wireless internet, cloud computing, instant messaging, Google Voice and collaboration software (e.g. Asana, BaseCamp) have made it possible for many of us to do some or all of our job from just about anywhere (a.k.a. location independence).

Being gone for a year might not be realistic, but would it be possible to take a month or two off and use technology to keep up with important projects and deal with urgent issues even while you’re gone?

Negotiate a remote work agreement.  According to Forrester Research, more than 34 million people work remotely.  That number is expected to hit 63 million by 2016.  I’m skeptical that most bosses would be ok with you working in your pajamas from home 365 days per year, but if you combine this idea with one or more of the previous ones, I’m guessing that a reasonable boss would be willing to allow you to work remotely for a fixed period (say 6 weeks) and only count part of that time as vacation.

Sacrifice.  All of the options up to this point involve still getting your paycheck.  If you didn’t find something on the list that works for you, maybe it’s time to take more drastic action.  This could include taking unpaid time off or quitting/changing jobs altogether.  Obviously, that’s a little more painful because it involves change and sacrifice, but I think it’s important to ask yourself this: “If my current job keeps me from living the kind of life I want to live, should I really stay there for the next 10, 20 or 30 years?”  If the answer is no, a change may be in order.

Putting it into practice

Anytime you’re trying to wrap your mind around something that is unconventional and complicated, it’s helpful to know that it’s possible.  That’s why it’s been so encouraging to me this week to hear how some of you are working to make mini-retirements a reality.  There’s the couple planning to move to Spain for a year with their kids.  There’s the family who, after reading my initial post on mini-retirements, read it aloud at the dinner table and had a mini-retirement to New York booked by the end of the week.  There’s the friend who is consistently updating me while living in the Congo for three months as a volunteer for Mercy Ships.  These stories and more are good reminders that, with a little planning and effort, we don’t need to defer our dreams until “someday.”  I hope you’ll join in with the rest of us.  Feel free to leave a comment or question on the site and touch base with me if there’s ever anything I can do to help.

Have a great week!

~ Joe

Photo by Kevin H.  Used under Creative Commons License.

3 Responses to “Mini-retirements and work: A how to guide.”

  1. glenn September 24, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Joe,

    just found your site and i love the path in which you are thinking, as it is a path I have been pursuing as well.

    I am now 53, kids are post college and I am ready to move forward with the next phase of my life.

    My plan is to incrementally increase the time i take extended time away from my home. The last two years have only been 2 weeks of February winter time in Florida. Living in NH, going somewhere warm in Winter is a priority for me.

    Next year, my plan is to take three weeks to begin expoloring Europe.
    Thereafter, each year will be a month long Winter trip to a seperate location to ‘escape’ the NH winter, which will increase until it extends to 3 months of mini-retirement.

    The good news for me is that I love where I live and the work that I do, Yet i concur with you original premise, I dont want to wait until I am 65 to retire and do everything I want then.

    I wish you luck on your journey!

    best,

    glenn

    • Joe Hearn September 26, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Thanks Glenn! I appreciate you sharing your story. The great thing about exploring the concept of mini-retirements is seeing how so many people are adapting them to fit their unique situation. Whereas traditional retirement is kind of an all or none proposition, mini-retirements can be shaped and molded to fit into your existing life and work. Thanks again for touching base. Keep us updated as you go along so we can all benefit from your experience.

      Joe

  2. Ann Marie Tourtellotte January 14, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Great ideas! thanks! I have a unique plan that I am proud of. I am 61 years old and I am a second year nursing student. After graduation I plan to work in community health. I want to help people to have a long healthy life. I am the retirement plan, so I plan to work as long as I can hopefully working less and less so I can have some fun along the way. I am in great health so I could work for 10 – 15 years.

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