Working Too Hard To Be Able to Retire? How to Get Your Life Back

Last Updated Jun 22, 2010 5:20 PM EDT

Consistently working overtime can boost your risk of dying from heart disease or a heart attack by 60 percent. That's the conclusion of a study recently released by Finnish researchers.

Working overtime also crowds out time for friends and family, personal interests, and taking care of your health. Too often we cram down unhealthy fast food and skip the daily exercise we really need in order to put in more hours on the job.

Mix these issues with long commutes, the pressure of constant deadlines, office politics, and maddening work rules and bureaucracy, and you'll find all the reasons so many professionals, managers and office workers who have been working for decades fantasize about retirement. Tell the boss to shove it, and go lie on the beach!

Unfortunately, as I've written about before, most boomers don't have the financial resources to retire any time in the near future. So what can you do -- other than grit your teeth and keep your nose to the grindstone until you can finally afford to retire?

There's another way: You can get your life back by working fewer hours. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Make a formal part-time work arrangement with your company.
  • Say no to overtime, possibly citing health reasons as noted in the above study.
  • Turn your job into "stealth" part-time work by simply taking more time off than allowed under your paid vacation policy. The time you take off will be unpaid, but if you're judicious about using this technique and make sure you get your work done, there's a good chance you can make it work.
I admit that these ideas can be easier said than done or that economic pressures might require you to continue working full-time. But I also believe that too many people simply accept their workloads without question and never look for ways to reduce their monthly living expenses in order to cut back on the job. It might be a lot healthier over the long run for you to confront the issues of too much work and too much spending, and look for alternative solutions.

Working too hard to support an expensive standard of living is simply not sustainable for many people. If this sounds like you, I encourage you to set up your work and personal life so that you can continue working for 10, 15 or 20 more years. Here's a video clip that does the math on part-time work to help you see how to set up a sustainable life.

Your later years should be the time to pursue what's really important: your interests, spending time with friends and family, and taking care of your health. While downshifting won't solve all the problems mentioned at the beginning of this post, you'll be off to a great start. You can't afford to sit back and accept the status quo. Take the initiative to get your life back!

More on CBS MoneyWatch:
Can't Retire? Don't Despair
Do the Downshift to Survive Your Retirement Years

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.