How to Have a Purposeful Retirement, Part 1

Many eons ago, I was a young business school graduate at my first “real” job.

I was working for a company that was then (and is still) in the top 50 Fortune 500 companies.

Needless to say, I was pretty green, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed country boy from Iowa, now in the “big city” to make my dreams come true. Cue the theme song from the Mary Tyler Moore show!

Up to this point, I considered myself a fairly organized person. I had to be at least somewhat competent as I needed to manage school, extracurricular activities, and life in general to move ahead.

I didn’t have a complicated process for getting things done. My aunt had taught me the art of list-making, so that was my primary way of managing life.

But now I was in the Big Leagues and needed to take my organizational skills to the next level. I didn’t know this, of course, because I was so green (did I mention that?)

Thankfully someone at my company did. I hadn’t been there for more than a month or two when I was sent to a seminar on time management, organization, goal setting, and achievement.

Companies like those sorts of things, you know? They wanted to mold me into one of their employee automatons.

Funny side story, one of the first days on the job my boss told me to forget everything I had learned in grad school — that they would teach me how to do marketing in the real world. Ha!

The seminar I attended was run by a company called Franklin Quest. The presenter was the founder of the company, a man named Hyrum Smith. My guess is that at this point, he was building his company and did everything — sales, strategy, and hosting seminars.

Hyrum was very energetic, funny, passionate, and engaging. Over the few days of the course, he taught our class his system for setting goals and then systematically planning and working to achieve them.

Over the next several years, I used his system with great success to set and accomplish goals at work and home. One key was managing the process with a system, which was executed by using what they called a Day Planner, a planning book that helped set and track goals, daily tasks, and the like.

It was a vital part of my life and I took it everywhere (another one of his principles — always carry the book with you). It had so much of my life in it that I often told people I would run into a burning building to save it.

I wasn’t joking.

Eventually we both moved on. Hyrum’s company became a great success, merged with the Covey Leadership Center (yes, Stephen Covey’s company — BTW, his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People would be another that had a profound impact on my life), and he became Chairman and CEO of FranklinCovey. Unfortunately he died at the end of 2019 from cancer.

My career wasn’t as illustrious as Hyrum’s but was still a success, much of which can be credited to using his time management system. Over time I moved away from the paper planner on to electronic options, but the fundamentals he taught me were still used — and are still the foundation of the process I use to this very day.

Needless to say, I’m very grateful to Hyrum for his contribution to my life.

So when I was searching in Amazon for books on retirement (which I have been known to do) imagine my surprise when I ran into one called Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement written by none other than Hyrum Smith.

Of course I had to have it, so I contacted his publisher and they sent me a review copy.

I was a bit afraid to read it because I wanted it to be good (it’s a terrible thing when your heroes don’t live up to your expectations). Thankfully it was and I found the book both unique (he has an interesting perspective as you’ll see) and entertaining (lots of stories). It was a very enjoyable read and over the next couple posts I want to share some of the book’s main points with you — adding my commentary along the way.

Don’t Just Retire

The book’s foundation is a belief Smith has that no one should simply retire and then check out from life (which was the old-school way to retire).

He insists that retirement should be among your best years. And it can be, if you take steps to make it so.

In other words, if you’re purposeful in planning and running your retirement.

Sounds just like a time management guy, huh? 😉

There is a lot of that to be sure, but it’s not over-the-top IMO, so stick with me.

The book begins with this admonition:

Don’t just retire. Don’t you dare check out and just retire.

Why? Because people who retire die. It’s an absolute fact. Researchers took a look at employees of a global oil company who chose to retire early at 55 and compared them to employees who retired at the traditional age of 65.

The study found those who retired early died sooner. The early retirees had a 37 percent higher risk of death and those that retired at 55 were 89 percent more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retired at 65.

Just don’t retire from living.

Take this gift of time. Take this gift of opportunity. Take this gift and redirect your life. Take this gift and purposefully redirect your retirement.

First of all, yikes!!!

Did I sign my early death warrant by retiring early? 89% is a pretty high number…

That said, it’s no surprise. It’s well-known that those who retire to “nothing” often have problems, including a shorter life span.

So if nothing else makes you want to at least have a semblance of a plan for retirement, these stats should.

Setting goals and planning to achieve them, what Smith worked on his entire life, is certainly purposeful. And he wants retirement to be run with the same sort of intentionality. He doesn’t want us to just let life happen but to make it what we want.

I agree. We’ve talked about this many times in other books plus our discussions — if you retire to something, you’ll be much better off than if you have no idea what to do in retirement.

Here’s his summary of what the book is about:

The purpose of this book is to get you to start thinking about options for your retirement and hopefully put together a plan — be it formal or informal — for retirement, and have that plan make a purposeful difference in your life and in the lives of those around you.

Sound good? I thought you’d think so.

Creating a Plan

This is going to be a shocker for you (yes, I’m being sarcastic), but Smith wants you to create a detailed plan for your retirement.

This is basic life planning 101 that is very similar to what he taught me all those years ago: decide what you want to achieve and then make a plan (which eventually breaks down into tasks) to make it happen.

At the heart of this is having a daily plan. Yes, a DAILY plan.

Here’s his take on it:

Daily planning gives you a shield against being lost in busyness. It takes you out of the busy world and into the productive world.

I do have a have a daily plan; and it keeps me productive. Not busy. Productive.

In my daily plan, I set aside one hour every day to check my email and read articles which come into my inbox. It helps me not get lost in a false reality, in a sea of Zalmonzo coupons. It helps me stay proactive and not reactive, something I’ve written about extensively in other books.

If I have a daily plan, I am proactive. If I do not have a plan, I will be reactive to whatever comes my way throughout the day. I’ll be busy, but at the end of the day, I’ll recognize that today was not a day that mattered, and I will be unsatisfied.

He then comments on the broader issue of why to plan with the following:

It is putting what matters most to you in line and as the focus of your day. And then you’ll experience inner peace. That’s the quest of time management. That’s where we start really managing our lives and getting our lives back, because we are deciding what events matter and putting those events in sequence in a manner which makes sense to us and not letting other things get in the way.

The option is clear: either you consciously plan and decide how you want to fill your time and act purposefully or you allow outside forces to fill your time for you.

I think you can see where this is going. If you’ve ever attended a time management seminar or read a book about getting things done, it’s pretty clear.

I have several thoughts on this:

  • People who retire early probably have some sort of system to manage their lives already. They had to have had one to get where they are (no one retires early successfully by accident), and since it’s working, why not stick with it in retirement?
  • I still set annual goals and then track them with Todoist on a daily basis. It’s ingrained in me from years in the workforce but is also a valuable tool I want to keep so I know I’m accomplishing what I want.
  • That said, I do NOT have a daily plan — at least for most days. That would be a bit too constricting for a life that should be more relaxed IMO. Instead I have a general plan of how I want the day to go. That usually includes getting up between 6 am and 7 am, heading to the gym to workout by 7:30 am at the latest, coming home and eating, and a bit of computer work (like writing an article). From there I can continue working or instead insert an activity or two into the day. It’s fairly certain that my wife and I will take a walk at some point, but the time isn’t set in stone. And sometime around 4 pm I am ready to pack it in. We eat, watch some TV, do some miscellaneous tasks (but nothing too cerebral), and it’s soon bedtime.
  • I like having a general plan. For me it gives enough structure that I get the important things done, but it’s not so constraining that I feel like every second of my life is planned. I had enough of that while working.
  • To be clear, the book is not over-the-top with the planning aspect for retirement. It simply sets a framework to help retirees decide what they want to make of their retirement and then develop a system to make that a reality.
  • I would say it’s “time management light” retirement.

This may or may not appeal to you, but I would suggest that even in retirement we still have goals and things we want to accomplish. If you have a plan and a system, you’re way more likely to do them than if you simply “try” to get them done.

Seven Retirement Activity Ideas

After a few chapters on deciding what you want your retirement to be like and planning to make it happen, the book moves into offering some ideas (in case you need some help in creating your purposeful retirement).

The book talks about the need to be active in retirement, advocating activities that are similar to the core pursuits idea we saw in You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think.

This book focuses on seven potential ideas where you can spend your retirement time.

Let’s review these…

1. Work

LOL! Didn’t we just retire? And this guy wants us to go back to work? Ha!

Hyrum talks about the fact that many people fail at retirement (which we’ve also previously discussed) and that maybe going back to work is the best way they can spend their retirement years.

But since they don’t need the money, they can select work that they enjoy and gives meaning to their lives.

He then shares several examples of people who have done just that. Many take the skills they have learned over a long career and serve a non-profit in some way. This is a total win-win. The person gets the benefits of a “job” and the charity gets some great experience and knowledge at a bargain price.

The idea of going back to work is a total no-go for me. Kind of.

There is NO WAY I want to go back to a “regular” job of any kind. I can’t take the politics, the rigid schedule (I would have to be somewhere at a specific time — yikes!), and so forth. Even for a charity, I can’t do it (I can volunteer my time here and there though.)

That said, I do kind of have a job now — running ESI Money. I really enjoy doing so and it’s a “job” that fits me — it’s completely flexible and has no requirements. I don’t have to make money (though I do), so there’s no pressure. I enjoy writing and interacting with readers, so those are the two things I focus on. I have a gazillion ideas of how to make it bigger, earn more, and so on, but I pursue very few of those because I don’t need to and to do so would probably make me less happy.

So maybe this idea is part of my retirement life after all.

2. Volunteer.

This is a big one and Hyrum spends a lot of time on it.

Here are some highlights from the book:

Through MRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.

If people feel they are making a difference, they want to get out of bed in the morning. People who volunteer have a higher level of self-esteem and overall well-being. They feel connected to the world around them. They benefit from a feeling of community and feel less lonely and isolated.

A study published in BMC Public Health concluded that taking time to volunteer — by serving in a soup kitchen or reading to others — could reduce early mortality rates by 22 percent, compared to those who do not volunteer.

“Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in health,” lead author Dr. Suzanne Richards of the University of Exeter Medical School in England wrote.

Ok, now we’re talking. Maybe by volunteering I can get back some of the life I lost in retiring early. LOL!

Volunteering is a GREAT option in retirement because it has three awesome benefits: it gives the retiree something to do/contribute, it helps others (giving meaning to the time), and it’s a social activity (something retirees need.)

Currently I volunteer as a greeter at church. In addition I’m on the hunt for a higher-level volunteer position, one that utilizes my business and past volunteering skills (like fundraising). I have a few leads and will let you know if something solid materializes.

3. Develop talents.

In this section, Hyrum asks the reader to dream a bit and think about talent-related activities you’ve always wanted to do. Some ideas:

  • Learn to play the piano (or any instrument).
  • Take up art/painting.
  • Start cycling (bike, not motor), though the latter could be an activity too.
  • Begin writing.
  • Take up photography.
  • Become handy. (If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.) 😉

You get the idea. Think of a talent you want to develop and get to it.

BTW, this idea closely follows the next, so there is some overlap between the two.

I discovered early in life that I don’t have much talent, at least with anything that requires coordination.

In fact the only C I ever got in school was in a typing class in high school. It was at that point I decided never to take any class that required talent and only select those that focused on intellect/hard work. I did well after that.

That said, I guess I became a writer over the years, something strange for a person who clearly favored math over English. Whether or not you can call it a “talent” is something for others to decide.

But I do enjoy it and write more than ever in retirement, cranking out four posts a week here.

So perhaps this is on my list as well.

4. Learn.

This activity is closely related to the last one since you have to learn to develop a talent.

But with this point Hyrum is generally talking about gaining knowledge.

Some examples of ideas in this area:

  • Study great literature.
  • Form a book club.
  • Learn a new word every week.
  • Learn to cook.
  • Learn to play a musical instrument (see, a talent).
  • Learn a new language.
  • Study history.
  • Research your family history.
  • Visit an art museum.

He then gives the admonition to “take care of your brain”, but doesn’t go much further than that. I think we all know that it’s important to keep ourselves sharp and challenge our minds in retirement, so maybe he doesn’t need to say anything else.

I have always loved to learn and spend a lot of time in retirement doing so.

I read regularly — on the web, while walking (listen to books), in the car, books while in my TV chair with the cat laying on my lap (my favorite!), and so on.

I mostly read about personal finance (I know, a shocker) but also enjoy reading about chess (fiction and non-fiction) and history. I just finished a book called The Death’s Head Chess Club which was a story about chess in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in World War II. Yes, it’s a piece of fiction, but was very good.

Almost every day I read something of substance.

I also listen to a wide variety of podcasts.

Plus I’ve added taking some “free” money classes by attending direct mail retirement seminars. Do those count? Ha!

5. Leave a legacy.

The idea here is to create something that outlives you.

He gives the example of a Kids’ Camp started by a retiree. It will outlive her, giving back when she is gone.

He doesn’t dig into this issue deeply so it’s a bit vague, but I suppose you can leave a financial legacy as well.

6. Explore.

You knew we’d get to this one, right?

This is about traveling, something we’ve heard time and time again from retirees.

Traveling is the top splurge of millionaires and is usually mentioned as “something we’d like to do” by virtually every retiree/pre-retiree.

So why not make it a focus in retirement?

Two things that might hold some retirees back in this area are 1) cost and 2) physical ability.

To me, these are additional reasons to retire early and with a financial cushion to do what you want.

Of course travel doesn’t have to mean a fancy trip to an exotic location. It might be a drive to the beach and staying in a nearby campground. Not that I’d want to do that (my idea of roughing it is a Hampton Inn), but some enjoy this sort of thing.

The book gives an example of a couple who made a list of places they wanted to go and then started checking them off their list. You could do the same.

I’ve done this and my list is rather short. Basically it boils down to the fact that I want to go where it’s warm and there’s a beach with clear water. That’s it.

I’m pretty much over seeing the sights and exploring various cultures. I prefer a more relaxing vacation where the beauty of nature engulfs me.

Of course we live in Colorado, so we get that all the time. We have mountains and woods full of natural beauty. Add a beach to that and then I’m set.

The one exception for me is that if our son goes to Italy, I’d go there again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, my ancestors lived there, and if he was there it would just be enough to make us go. I’d probably do it on a cruise that hit a variety of ports in Italy and southern Europe.

My wife feels about the same (beaches) but she’s more of a homebody (she has church teaching commitments she enjoys). However she would like to go to Israel, so I guess that’s an option for us as well.

How about you? Where would you like to go?

7. Be fully present.

The point here is to talk with others — really talk.

More than talking, Smith advocates listening and engaging — not just mindlessly chitchatting.

I think the keys here are connection and being social, two things we’ve heard from other books that are important in retirement.

BTW, while the issue of being social is mentioned here, there’s an entire chapter on it later in the book.

That’s it for today. Thoughts so far?

If you want to read more, here’s part two of this series.


Originally posted at

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