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The Need For Structure

When I think of life post-FI – the one where I have quit my full time job – I think of how much more free time I will have.

It’s a pretty bizarre feeling. I can literally do whatever I want, whenever I want. Take a nap mid afternoon, workout at any hour, learn a new language, read, anything!! You get the idea.

My thoughts have always been that it would be really nice to have all this time, and no pressing need to follow a specific schedule. I could literally wake up and figure out what I want to do that same day.

Oh the sense of freedom that would bring. A permanent vacation almost!

But here’s the thing, just because life may become a permanent vacation, that does not mean there won’t be things that you want to get done. After all, most of us pursuing FIRE aren’t looking to sit on our butts all day once we get there.

Maybe it’s some project for your home, or going to workout, or some other passion project, whatever you choose to do with your time you’re going to need to find someway to make it happen.

I’m not sure about you all, but when I have to do something while I’m on a long vacation, my mindset is usually – eh, I can just get to that tomorrow, we still have “X” number of days left!

But what happens when you’re on a “permanent vacation” like I phrased above? Where do you get that sense, need or drive to get things done when you literally have all the time in the world?

The Need For Structure

The realization of the need for structure in my life came from two things:

Mainly, with my typical weekly schedule, after work I have a few hours of unstructured time before bed. For the most part, this time is not very productive at all (except when I’m writing a post!)

Secondly, and where it really hit home, was when I tried to move this unstructured time prior to work in order to try and be more productive in my January 5AM Wakeup Challenge.

Sadly, it did not work out the way I hoped. I realized when looking back on this that the main reason I failed was likely due to leaving this time unstructured.

All I had in the morning was a set time to wake up. Then I left it to myself to “be productive” during that time.

For some people, this isn’t a problem. You may have a deep drive or passion for what you are doing, and can conjure up the needed focus and attention to get things done during any period of time.

For others, like me, without a deeper structure to guide you, you may wander aimlessly without really getting anything of value done.

With work, I have no problem being productive. I know exactly what tasks I need to do, when my deadlines are, and a rough timeline of when I need to arrive/leave for the day. This structure has served me well, and it’s helped me to advance in my career.

The unstructured time around work though? Not so much.

This stark contrast has me rethinking the idea that I’ll enjoy a lot of unstructured time in my life post-FI. Perhaps I would be better off creating some sort of structure to it?

Unstructured Time Isn’t a Bad Thing

I’ve been bashing this unstructured time a lot, simply because it did not and has not really worked for me when trying to be more productive.

However, I do not at all think this is bad to have in life. Having unstructured time can be essential to maintaining happiness and mental health.

Sometimes a person needs to simply relax and let their mind and body recharge without worrying about anything else going on.

This time can be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the day, and literally a time to do anything you want: read a book, watch a show, nap, call a friend, etc.

Some people can be more productive during this kind of unstructured time, and hey that’s great too, but I think the key for me here is to be able to separate structured and unstructured time, to make sure that if I’m trying to be productive, that’s what I am focusing on.

Perhaps it’s best to put (my own) formal definitions on these in order to help going forward:

Structured time = a period of time to be productive, set goals and tasks to complete during this time to help maintain focus.

Unstructured time = a period of time to do whatever you want. If productivity also happens in there that’s great! But not necessary.

Where I failed in my challenge to be more productive was to leave it as unstructured time and not set any real goals to complete.

Lesson learned!

Structure Can Be Different For Everyone

Moving forward in life, finding that right mix between structured and unstructured time is going to be extremely personal, and something that may take some time to figure out.

For instance – my day currently consists of an essentially 12 hour structured schedule where I know where I’ll be and what I need to do.

I can say with confidence that this amount of structured time is not something I would like to have post-FI. But what is the magic number? 2 hours of structured, productive time? 4? 6? More? It will be interesting to find out.

Maybe it can vary day to day depending on whats going on. You don’t need to have the exact same schedule every single day (like being at work 9-5…).

The best part is that you will have a lot of time to figure this out. The other best part? There is no wrong answer.

Whatever kind of schedule gives you fulfillment, peace of mind, happiness or all the above is the right one. It always helps to have something to retire to, (instead of retiring just to get away from work) but those are the things you need to think about along the journey and not just when you get there!

Good luck in finding that right mix for yourself!

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Can you be productive during unstructured time? What tips do you have to help with that? What do you think is the right mix of structured vs unstructured time for yourself?

6 thoughts to “The Need For Structure”

  1. The starting point for any day has to be exercise. Now I have never been able to do that outside of my years in the military. Still, in those years, including ROTC in college, I was vastly more productive than I have been at any other time. Now that exercise does not need to be a 10 mile run in the snow up hill both ways. A few body weight exercises can be enough; just something to get the blood moving and the body warm. That I still do most of the time to help me wake up, and I have found it very effective to solve that problem.

    1. This is such a good point. You really do need something like exercise or stretching or whatever just to get the blood flowing and wake you up. When you can do that it really helps to get the day started and going

  2. I’m just like you, very structured at work and mostly unstructured in the evening at home. But I’m used to it and it helps keep my spending in check. My routine is the same pretty much every day now during the weekdays. Wake up, go to work, go to the gym, come home. Very little deviation from that, haha. But it’s fine and I don’t mind it. I do look forward to days where I can do whatever I want!!

    1. Haha good point! Sometimes the repetition can be a good thing to keep you on track living a healthy lifestyle and reaching your goals! One thing to make sure you are fully ready for is that shock to your system going from mostly structured to completely unstructured time once you are there. Some people aren’t prepared for that kind of change when it finally happens!

  3. I’m not great at unstructured free time. I end up on social media or watching too much TV. I have to set goals for myself of how long I’m going to work on the blog, read other blogs, read or otherwise do something vaguely productive. Otherwise… Twitter!

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