Is semi-retirement stressful? You bet: here’s what to do about it

Reducing stress can sometimes be more important than maximizing revenue.

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One of my semi-retirement philosophies is that reducing stress can sometimes be more important than maximizing revenue. Assuming you’re self-employed in semi-retirement, as I am, you may find yourself juggling multiple clients and conflicting demands on your limited time and energy.

The topic of stress has come up a few times with my clients lately, as summer starts to give way to fall. Given the sporadic nature of freelancing, most freelance writers and suppliers know how hard it is to turn down paying work. I was like that in my first stint as a freelancer back in the 1980s, long before I achieved a modicum of financial independence.

This time around, though, I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I want to work on. Of course, if you say no too often, you run the danger of permanently losing the work to a hungrier (and likely younger) rival supplier. So, I may take on more work in the winter, but the summer is another matter. Any Canadian who dreads the long winter knows well how precious the time between spring and early fall can be. Considering that the more taxable revenue you generate, the more your ultimate income tax liability will be, both corporately and personally, there may be a case for occasionally turning down additional work, especially if it creates additional stress. 

The bonus of working less is paying less tax

I’ve even boldly told some clients: “My goal these days is to minimize stress, not to maximize taxable revenue.” 

According to the academic researchers of the paper “The power of saying no,” published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal EMBO Reports, it’s good for us to say no, especially for our stress levels. They wrote: “[Saying] no is an instrument of integrity and a shield against being exploited. ‘Yes’ becomes a commodity. There will always be opportunities[.]”

Another way to look at this is through the age-old dilemma of time versus money. It’s been years since I read the classic book on financial independence, Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (Penguin, 2008). However, I’ve never forgotten the book’s core message that “time is life energy.” When we earn money, we do so by exchanging time or, in effect, giving up some of our life energy. 

So, it follows, if you’ve saved enough money after working a lifetime to accumulate a sufficient retirement nest egg, then at some point it may be necessary to stop and say “Enough,” when it comes to requests to expend still more of your life energy. 

Considering phased retirement as a first step

True, not everyone who is semi-retired is self-employed and can enjoy the flexibility of these trade-offs. I suppose it’s possible a valuable long-term employee can craft an arrangement with an understanding employer under so-called “phased retirement.” Maybe they could work only three or four days a week. And in the post-COVID-19 era, the growing trend of working from home, or hybrid arrangements mixing home and office, confers still more flexibility on our schedules and work demands.

More likely, though, a semi-retired person is self-employed or working part-time on one or two gigs, while simultaneously collecting some combination of government benefits, employer pensions and investment income. The more secure those passive sources of income are, the less you may feel compelled to take on more work requiring your time and life energy.

These days, my main gig, apart from my MoneySense Retired Money column, is keeping my website running. While “the Hub,” as many call it, is a commercial proposition, for me it is also fun and creative and, I like to think, it provides a public service. Sometimes I write for fun rather than for money. In fact, that’s how this column began. In the course of chatting with an understanding editor, I learned that to some extent we both shared the philosophy of “Minimize stress, don’t maximize revenue.” 

Off the top of my head, I wrote a draft — just for fun — to see if the topic was meaty enough for a column. It easily met the allotted word count, even without the usual process of sprinkling in commentary from various experts, which told me there was indeed “a column there.” 

Those familiar with the Hub may know I aim to publish something every business day, 52 weeks a year. I blog under my own name once or twice a week, and the rest of the content is generated by guest authors or sponsors. And this summer, I’ve started to experiment with running just four blog posts per week. 

“Whoa,” you say? “That doesn’t sound like retirement — semi- or otherwise,” you say? 

I suppose that’s true, but as Mike Drak and I wrote in our co-authored book, Victory Lap Retirement (Milner, 2019), we’re at the stage where work is meant to provide us with meaning and purpose, not so much meant to generate revenue. It provides us with a bare-bones structure on which we can hang all the other activities of semi-retirement. 

The aspiring artist who “buys time” to paint

Whether workload applies to blogs or writing assignments, it’s all about managing your workflow, time and energy. In our book, Drak and I described an artist who used the phrase “buying time.” This person, formerly a neighbour of mine, had a day job that involved commercial painting, but he also aspired to be a creative painter, which he ultimately became in full retirement. But even in his working years, he’d take on well-paid multiple-week commercial projects in order to build up savings sufficient to temporarily “quit” so he could spend months at a time on his true love of creative painting.  

In my case, I seldom take a full week off unless travelling abroad. But, I will try to “buy time” by building up a blog/column bank, so it’s seldom necessary to work nights or weekends. And this way, I seldom feel the weight of a deadline when writing, either. It’s a question of rationing time and energy. In the summer, I aim to clock out by midday Friday, so in effect my weekends are two and a half days. 

If you manage your clients with deadlines (yours or theirs) sufficiently in advance, you should be able to even out your workflow and revenue, so you can work a four-day (or four-and-a-half-day) week. 

Sometimes, a client may want a rush job at the last minute. Of course, it’s your call whether you wish to accept it. The beauty of self-employment is that you can always say no and decline the extra work. Remember how saying no is about managing stress?

To the extent you’ve reduced your stress and conserved a bit of your life energy, that’s a win. To the extent you’ve avoided paying tax on extra revenue you didn’t generate, that too is a win. Well, at least it’s a loss for the Canada Revenue Agency. 

This article was written by Jonathan Chevreau from MoneySense and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to

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