Write the Rules

What does financial independence look like? Every morning I wake up and I get to write the rules. Starting with what time do I wake up. (Actually, my kids help me out with that one for now.) On this site, I write about how you can create more financial freedom. I also write about how you can intentionally design your life. So hopefully you get to the point where you get to write more of the rules. It’s a wonderful place to be. But. There is always a but. The more options you have available, the more rules you write. As a fun experiment, here are a few of the rules I wrote in the last few weeks.

What should my winter morning routine look like? When should I eat breakfast? Am I going to work out today? Should I spend some time working on projects or writing? How many hours will I work? What kind of work should I do? If I’m tired, do I take a nap or push through? If the weather is nice, do I head out for a hike? Do I watch TV during the day or just at night, maybe I should give it up altogether? What hobbies should I pursue today? How much time do I give those? Do I spend time with friends, going out for lunch or coffee? Do I blow off other plans to make that happen or stick with the plans I made that morning? Should I write or fold laundry this afternoon? What if I’m not in the mood for either, do I soak in a bath? Should I spend an hour reading a book about meal planning, marketing or gardening? We are planning an eight-week trip this Spring, I suppose I need to book some camping spots. I wonder if I should plan to do any work at all while we travel? If I write an hour a night, is that really work being as no one is paying me? Is it work if I never hit publish? Maybe I’ll take 2 days out of the 60 on our trip to do some of the mentoring calls. I was asked to speak at this event, how much should I pay out of pocket to go do that? It falls during our birthday busy season, do I really want to travel then? I would love to get together with some readers this year and do an in-person mentoring, but when could I fit that in? Do I charge for that or make it a large out of pocket expense for me? If I don’t charge, will people be flaky and cancel last minute? Which friends should we travel to see this year? Which family do we need to make sure we visit? When are we going to remodel that rental bathroom? Could we get in done this month? One of my dear friends asked me to do some freelance writing, do I really have time for that? Should we block off a full day each week for soaking in hot springs, skiing and hiking? Or I could use that time to build another course? Or if I opened it up on my calendar, I could mentor two more people. But what if all the kids get sick again; we need to make sure we don’t fill our weeks up too much. I wonder if I should pay someone to clean my house? I would much rather do an extra mentoring call than clean out my fridge each week. I would love to chat with more bloggers on Skype, I wonder if I have an hour for that each week? Should we make time for more one-on-one time with the kids? Should I say no to that big project I was offered? It would be fun, but really time-consuming. There is this other project offer and I could do a professional trade with them. That would be really fun and a great learning experience, but it might eat into our hot springs soaking day. I wonder if I could get some friends together for a mentoring retreat this year?

More freedom=more options=more choices=more rules that you write.

I write a lot about life planning and mentoring questions, and intentional living. And that is because the more financial freedom you create, the more rules you will need to write. There are no clear right or wrong answers. And it’s not always intuitive which rules will give you a life that fills you with passion, purpose, and happiness.

When you work for someone else 40+ hours a week or need to earn a certain amount of income, a lot of the rules are written for you. I’m very thankful we practiced intentional life design when we had 3-5 hours a day to write the rules for. We had a bit of practice as we grew into writing the rules for 16 hours a day.

I love that southern saying of “Oh, bless their heart.” Whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I’m really struggling to manage my free time now, but as soon as I have a lot more of it, it will be easier.” Ah, bless their heart. When is that true of anything in life?

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38 thoughts on “Write the Rules

  1. You are so right about more time needing more rules! But writing your own rules is a beautiful thing (but it definitely takes practice!) Reflection on what matters most to you is key – along with being flexible and changing those rules when needed 🙂

    • We used to go through my life planning questions once a year or so. Now we do them every quarter. So many things are possible now and there are so many options that it takes more focus on what we really want.

  2. Ahh military retirement, it really is one extreme to the other, isn’t it? I hear that’s also a reason that people struggle with release from prison, going from every single decision being made for them to seemingly endless freedom and an overwhelming number of decisions to make.

    I’m with you on endless choices!! I worry about some people in my life retiring because they don’t have enough to fill the time, but I am absolutely not that person!

    • There is a weird balance. Some people don’t know how to fill their time in meaningful ways. But people who have SO much they want to do are often also disappointed because they STILL don’t have time to do it all. Almost every early retiree blogger I know has gone through that. Plus we get asked to do so much more, so we actually have to set even more boundaries and say no 4x a much, which is such a bummer.

  3. Agreed! I think it is important to revisit your purpose or to remember to be intentional with the freedom. Our “rules” or guidelines from how we CHOOSE to spend our time should come from why we have decided to retire early. (More family time, learn Spanish, experience others culture, serve others). I have personally found freedom in remembering that more time with my kids was a goal. Since I am such a task oriented person, keeping this in mind allows me to experience the fulfillment of a day spent just hanging out at home with my son.

    • We revisit often! =) It takes those deep “why’s” to keep me focused on what I should be doing each day. Even when that “should” is family game night and weekend adventure. =)

    • It’s exactly what we want, but it’s been a learning curve. The more early retirees I talk to, I realize it’s a common phase. Learning to write your own rules for entire years of our life. I’m really glad I started our path of intentional living early, because the learning curve would have been awfully steep otherwise.

  4. Great post, Jillian. I think too many people focus on the financial side of retirement, and not enough on the “Softer” issues. In retirement, the “softer” issues become more important than the finances, and many folks are not prepared.

    I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking on it, and could write a 2,000 word comment here. Maybe I should just write a post instead….. Bottom line, I’m going to have a 12 month period of “No Obligations” following my retirement. I’m excited about having more time to get in shape, more time to fish, more time to hike. More time to fill. Hmmmm….time to write some rules?

    • I honestly think blogging is one of the best ways to prepare for early retirement! Commit to thinking through and organizing your ideas for 5 hours a week on the how you are going to get to FI and what it will look like. I think in some ways we do a disservice by not acknowledging that part of what makes our retirements great is how much time and thought we put into the planning via our blogs. We almost make it look too easy and like “well, of course it works out well!” Where my non blogger friends tell a very different early retiree story.

  5. Well said. The more rules you can write, the better, but when you’ve gained that freedom, it’s a bit of an obligation too! I’ll take that burden any day, though, rather than having the Man write them for me.

    • It’s the best possible problem to have! But it’s a bit like winning the lottery. All of a sudden you need to know all these things that weren’t super important to know before. I’m sure there is a learning curve to knowing how to manage life after a 300 million ticket. Relationships, purpose, time, investments, taxes, charity. A wonderful problem to have for sure. But I bet it’s nice to chat with other lottery winners and share tips. =)

    • The best problem! Hopefully every single one of my readers will find themselves with that problem at some point. And hopefully this blog will be like the insider info they need as they learn to navigate this new, amazing opportunity. And pull it off seamlessly and with flair!

  6. Beautiful post – while reaching Financial Independence enables you to quit the rat-race, you no longer have to wait for permission to move forward (or backward), you have location independence, can take care of bigger problems, have the freedom to be more creative, you got to call the shots: Ready Player One?
    One of the first steps to a sustainable solution is to “actively unbusy yourself”. The fundamental irony of many people’s life is they don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet, they are very active. It’s almost like “being busy” is like a drug some people need (instead of alcohol or smoking) to distract themselves from their actual lives. As you wrote, it’s not always easy to know “which rules will give you a life that fills you with passion, purpose, and happiness”. I strongly believe we have to be courageous enough to embrace “boredom”, at least for a while – being “actively bored” (I like the idea of that). Think activities that encourage deep thinking such as long hikes, hanging out with friends and family or road trips with campfire evenings will enable you to have meaningful thoughts and conversations – and will bring you closer to your why on a step-by-step basis. Cheers!

    • Being busy is the easy default. And a lot of people will see your new found time and offer to fill it for you!!! It’s hard to say no, when you supposedly have so much time, but 10x as many people are asking. Oddly enough, I need stronger boundaries and say no a lot more than when I was working. We go through my life planning questions each quarter now just to have a pause to reflect and see what’s working, where we want to go in life and if we are actually making progress. This spring we will do an 8 week trip and largely unplug. It’s my most creative and refreshing time. Just being outside all day, camping, hiking and exploring.

  7. This made me chuckle and feel a little overwhelmed to be honest. I think because the last thing on my mind when I initially exit will be these questions.

    The only thing I’ll ask is “What do I feel like doing today?” and I’ll do that. At least for a while. Over time once I decompress I think I’ll start asking more questions like this, but for a while it’ll be a concerted effort to reduce the amount of decisions I need to make, and just kind of go with the flow.

    • We did that for a few months to decompress and rest. Our default ended up being going out for biscuits and gravy every single morning. Which was fun. And not helpful to my waist line. But we needed that time. It took about 6 months to start new things. And about a year to feel excited for bigger things. Now two years in we are finding our pace. But there are so many more choices than I ever had before. And these were just mine! Adam just was voted in as a board president of a non-profit two weeks ago. Asked to help an abused woman move to a new apartment. And signed up for regular snow shoveling of a non-profit. There are 100 great choices. And we have time for about 10. The best problem to have. But we still have to pick and say no. =(

  8. Oh man, this is really daunting for me. I already have a hard time setting rules for my (very limited) free time. I’m a terrible relaxer, so I fluctuate between having massive to do lists and then trying to teach myself to prioritize “chill time”.

    Good thing I’m far from retirement so I can learn how to set my rules 🙂

    • That is so me. Wanting to relax and have down time but loving a massive and exciting list of things I can do. I have to schedule our down time. I think we are going to block off a full day a week just for a fun date for Adam and I. Go skiing or drive to the hot springs. I need the down time but love doing exciting things.

      • You are more fun than me – my list isn’t anything exciting, haha! I knew it was bad when Adam asked me if we could prioritize having one movie/popcorn night together a month. No tasks or productivity after the kids go down. Apparently I’m a bit of a slave driver 🙂

  9. I got dizzy reading all those questions!

    It does take some rules to manage your free time when you’ve got a lot of it. We find falling into a small routine works for us, but we need to remain flexible if we don’t feel like doing something. OR feel like doing something else.

    • I need some sort of routine. I can’t whip up a new schedule every single day. I like having a set morning routine. I drink tea, read, mediate, write, drink more tea, say hi to the kids and then hit the gym for 90 minutes. If nothing else, I got that stuff in. =)

    • I think part of our success was being very faithful to write good rules with the time we had. And slowly we were able to earn more time and freedom. There are so many cool options! And more and more keep growing which I love. But it makes it harder to choose! I’m not picking from 3 ok options, but 100 really cool ones. Money is an easy filter. Once we can take that out, things become more complex!

  10. Are you in my head 😉 These are very similar to the things I often think about day to day – except I’m still working the 40 hour week at this point.
    I can’t wait to reach a point where I really can pursue all the thoughts that pop into my head.
    Have a great day,
    B

    • Well, if your head is like mine, you might never have enough time to pursue all the things that pop into your head! The list of things I would love to do THIS year would fill a full decade. So I still have to pick and choose. What am I going to focus on this month? This year? And what can wait.

    • It’s a weird post. Perhaps my strangest yet. =) But hopefully it will encourage people to be thoughtful right where they are at so as the opportunity and freedom grows they will be excellent managers of it. =)

  11. I can so relate to this!! While I’m not at a point of financial independence, I work flexible hours from home. That freedom to make the rules is actually sometimes very difficult to handle. It can be so easy to feel like your time would be better spent doing something else than what you actually do choose to do.

    And I totally get having way more things that you want to do than you actually can do. I have so many interests- blogging, reading, photography, programming, hiking, biking, camping, yoga, art, playing drums, science, travel, naps, etc.

    It seems like some people just have one hobby. I know an older couple and he works out in his shop and she sews. And that is so just not the type of person I am.

    I understand the concepts of being better at fewer things and focus and whatnot, but I just can’t help it that I have a ton of interests.

    One thing I can say though is that I do fill my time with lots of interesting cool stuff. Maybe I don’t get to it all, but I’m not the sort of person that would lose my sense of purpose and meaning if I didn’t have to work. And I can tell you’re not either!

    • It’s a difficult balance at really experimenting with a bunch of things and also leaning into a few so I can see real progress. It’s fun for me to dabble but also fun to create something big and significant. I don’t think I’m built to be a one hobby person, but I also try not to spread myself too thin any given year.

  12. I ask myself these same questions everyday… I love reading about others doing the same. I have learned at the ripe old age of 38 to gaurd my free time for those things I’m really passionate about. Have fun traveling with your littles!!

    • I think it’s such an important practice. Being intentional with however much free time we have. So when we are able to have more choices and more free time we are already experienced at managing it well. =)

  13. While my son is young, I actually love having a 6 hour escape for work every day 😉 But then again, it’s a far cry from the 45+ hours I used to work. I’m finding that even an extra 2-3 hours a day than you’re used to is magical.

    • In my “ideal day” mentoring question, I absolutely like a bit of work time in my day. Some sort of creative or productive outlet. I love hanging out with my kids, but I need an hour or two to organize my thoughts and tackle complex problems. The trick is finding that perfect balance in each season. 12 hours a day would be no good. But zero hours is no good either for me. I’m glad you have found your sweet spot in 6 hours. =)