What Do You Do with Your Time?: A 40-Hour Workweek for Personal Goals

40 hour work week for personal goals
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Ever since quitting my job, everyone has been asking me what I do with my time. And I feel embarrassed to admit that I work completely on my own goals. Yes, I use what would be my 40-hour workweek for my personal goals.

It’s embarrassing because people understand and respect working for someone else for money. People even understand working for yourself with money, though that seems a little dubious. (Hasn’t everyone been duped by someone who describes themselves as “self-employed” when they’re really “unemployed”?) But to work on your own self-development, your own goals – that seems so indulgent.

And that’s basically what my life is now – indulgent.

The Lives We Want to Live

We are so idealistic when we’re young. We’re going to save the world, or at least live beautiful, happy lives. But it’s hectic at first – getting your first real-world job, adulting, paying bills. We figure we’ll figure it out and have more time later. We get more responsibilities at work, at home. Taking care of ourselves takes a back seat to taking care of others, and whatever goals we had for ourselves takes a back seat because we haven’t slept in days.

We go from people with bright futures to people who should be living their futures now. . . I get angry when I think I’m not. I get scared when I think I am. -Ally McBeal

But at some point you take stock and realize that your choices made the life you have now. If you want a brighter future, you have to actively work at it, because passivity hasn’t gotten you where you wanted to go.

Honestly, I don’t find that I have too much time. And even if I feel like I’m being lazy, I’ve learned to enjoy it. There hasn’t been a moment when I’ve wished I could go back to work. Instead, I’ve tried to make the most of my time in terms of productivity and rest. Here’s what I do during the week:

Good Habits (10 hours)

When people think about taking time off, they have lofty goals. And while that seems like people who take time off are spending 8 hours a day learning Portuguese, but that 1) would actually be super boring; 2) is unsustainable for when work starts; and 3) negates the possibility of doing anything besides your goal.

Instead, I have a list of 10-goals, that I’ve broken up into 20 specific and measurable tasks that I do everyday.

Goal – Better Health

I am a world-class pain ignorer. I lived with a ruptured appendix for years. I once walked a mile to get a massage with a cut foot, a fact I only noticed when I was laying on the massage table, finally prepared to relax. Also, I never realize I’m tense until I get a massage. Mostly, I don’t notice my body at all – it could be in pain, and I would be oblivious. (Note: I actually do feel pain. I just have a high tolerance for it).

Surprisingly, quitting your job doesn’t mean your health snaps back into place immediately.  A week after I left my job, I had a searing headache. I rarely get headaches. I thought, I’m finally less stressed – why am I feeling so much pain? And while it’s possible that this was a new headache, I think it’s far more likely that I’ve always had this headache – but I’ve never taken the time to feel it. I needed to learn how to be healthy.

So let’s start with indulgent habit number one – taking care of my health! Doesn’t seem like it’s too indulgent, but most of us aren’t used to taking care of ourselves. So I have little habits like taking the stairs, taking vitamins, deep breaths, foam rolling. (See some of my more established habits). It’s not about exercise – it’s about recovery. Baby steps, but I think it’s working.

Other Goals

I have spoken, at various times in my life, and to varying degrees, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, and Spanish – and I want to improve. I have flash cards that I review on an app Anki.

I’m not actually retired – I fully intend to work again and fairly soon. Because I want to find a job, I look for, research, apply to jobs, schedule interviews – all the things that unemployment officers would require of me if I was receiving unemployment benefits. I schedule all this into my goal time. (Side note: the first job I interviewed for asked me for a salary range. I was coy and said it was negotiable but had a number in mind in case they pressed on it. They then told me the salary range and it was twice what my number was! So 1) perhaps I don’t have to take a huge salary cut with my next job and 2) I have to be very careful about salary ranges).

I play the piano and I used to play a little guitar. I spend a little time playing one or the other. It’s something that I always thought I never had time for. Guess what? I have time now. And I love it.

Reading (2 hours)

I’m on track to read about 100 books this year. The worst part of reading is that the more you learn, the more you realize there’s so much more that you will never have time to figure out. I plan to put a big dent on my reading list this year.

Writing (5 hours)

Well, this blog doesn’t write itself! I’ve had a lot of time to think about starting this blog and what I want to say. Some of these blog posts even use research! I mean, I spent 7 years lawyering, I read all the time, and sometimes it’s nice to write my own stuff. Every now and then it seems like I have something to say. =D

Napping (5 hours)

Nothing calms me down like a nap. I’ve always been a morning person and I tire around the afternoon. But I feel so guilty taking naps. I asked my friend, who works part time, how do you resist the urge to take naps? And he asked me back, why are you resisting?

So now I take naps when I’m tired and I don’t care who knows.

Errands & Cleaning & Transit (5 hours)

When I quit my job, my life was a particular mess. I had unpaid bills, and so much unread mail. My apartment was messy and it was a constant source of stress. After some days of deep cleaning, decluttering, organizing and systematizing, my apartment has never looked better. I have a better system now so that I won’t fall so far behind again. (I mean, I organized my Tupperware and my socks. How jealous are you right now??) My apartment doesn’t require as much constant upkeep to be presentable. I hope that my life won’t get too crazy again, but I’ll be better at handling it in the future.

Cooking and Eating (3 hours)

My mother told me that eating out would make me fat, so I’ve always cooked at home. But now I have time to try out really complicated recipes like – multilayer cakes, almond croissants, homemade pasta, and complicated breads. It’ll be great when I’m working again to have all these new skills at my disposal. I can have interesting meals without having to do too much research.

Volunteering (3 hours)

I volunteer at my church’s homeless ministry. Because most of the volunteers are retired, the hours kept getting earlier and earlier. Even getting there at 5:30 was late. Because I’m free during the day, I can hang out with the olds. It’s wonderful being a part of this group. You get such a different perspective when you’re away from Millennials (they all make fun of Millennials. I may be the only one. The rest are Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Z).

I remember the ringleader of the group telling me about attending her 50th High School Reunion, and how everyone was so happy that the others were still alive. Another is 88 and driving cross-country to visit friends and his new great granddaughter. Another has terminal cancer and spends his time volunteering. It’s a great group and I’m fortunate to have the time to spend with them.

Exercising (3 hours)

I started rock climbing this year. It’s a male-dominated and somewhat intimidating activity (so many bulging biceps). But because the gym is basically empty during the day, I’ve been able to get better as a newb without feeling self-conscious. (Then I went and injured my rotator cuff but that’s another story).

Social/Staycation (3 hours)

Now that I have all the time in the world to work on relationships, well too bad because my friends still have to work! The first week that I took my sabbatical, I found a women’s remote working group. I’ve met up with the group every week. Otherwise, I try to keep my old lunch buddies when I’m in town. And every so often, when I’m ambitious, I just go explore the parts of the city that are less familiar. I’ve been to the African American Museum, seen the Constitution again, visited the monuments. Sometimes I forget about how great this city is that I live in. It’s nice to have the time to remind myself.

Travel Planning (1 hour)

Every month of my sabbatical, I’ve taken at least one trip. So far I’ve been to L.A., Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Capetown South Africa, and Redmond, Oregon. Planning logistics, researching and purchasing flights, researching events while there – it takes about 1 hours a week to anticipate these trips.

My family wants to go to Portugal next but my mom complains that there’s nothing to do but look at old buildings (that’s basically what there is to do in most places). Let me know your recommendations if you’ve been before!

Conclusion: Using a 40-Hour Workweek for Personal Goals

I was skeptical of the early retirement (#FIRE) movement. I mean, what does one do with all that time? But if you have personal goals, and you’re serious about meeting them, then early retirement provides time to work on them. Even if you’ve forgotten you ever had personal goals, because you haven’t had time to cultivate them, it doesn’t mean you can’t start if you’re on a sabbatical.

The above is a general guideline for how I spend my time but I don’t stick to a rigid schedule and there’s a fair amount of overlap in categories. And y’know, it doesn’t cover all the random little tasks I have to do. My days are pretty unpredictable and that’s part of what makes them wonderful.


Author: Lisa

A Washington, DC attorney discusses the financial struggles facing women lawyers.

10 thoughts on “What Do You Do with Your Time?: A 40-Hour Workweek for Personal Goals”

  1. Love this! You’re really doing the work of “self-care”! It’s so important. While reading this, I was trying to figure out where my 3+ yrs have gone, or what this looks like at mid-life. I honestly felt like a good chunk of pop-culture leapfrogged over me, and I woke up and said…”who are these people?” In some ways that’s good. Throw in a couple health hurdles, and boom, the years off add up quickly. I’ve been finding things to do, but not without guilt as the wife remains the sole bread winner. You’ve got yourself a good framework here…but I’d be careful about being too optimistic about maintaining it if/when you return to full time work. In my personal experience…it’s just never worked that way. People that are driven, strive to be the best at what’s immediately in front of them. It’s good to taste it though…so you’ll recognize it when you want to return to it!

    1. I think letting go of the guilt of “what I should be doing” was the biggest hurdle. I don’t know if any of it will be maintained when I return to full time work -but I also expect a less stressful job. We’ll see…

  2. This sounds incredible! Honestly, you are doing a lot of my favorite things (exercising, travel planning, reading) and things I look forward to doing (volunteering, organizing my home). My full-time job is luckily right around 40 hours so I have quite a bit of evening time. Usually I go on a walk or a run, call my folks or a friend, listen to a podcast, & do some chores around the house and before you know it the day is ending. Volunteering is an area I haven’t explored yet though. I enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. We likely have similar days. Volunteering is wonderful but it’s something I found many years ago. It’s an invaluable part of my life now.

  3. I think the what do I do when I don’t have to work problem is my wife’s problem. We are between 8-10 years from retirement , and she is worried about what to do. Me, I have more hobbies and interests, so I am not concerned. I just need to figure out if any of them will earn a bit.

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