It's easy to think of retirement as an all-or-nothing prospect: You work until you're ready to call it quits, at which point you submit a letter of resignation, pack up your desk, and get ready to enjoy your newfound freedom.

But going from a full-time work schedule to an absent schedule can be both mentally and financially daunting. And it's for this reason that diving into retirement without a transition period could make for a very unsettling experience.

A better bet? Ease into retirement by cutting back on work hours gradually. Doing so could spare you a world of distress as you adjust to an exciting but challenging period of life.

Older man in wicker chair reading book, holding mug, and facing the ocean


Why it pays to ease into retirement

To be clear, easing into retirement isn't always an option. Some employers don't support the idea of a phased transition and insist that their older workers either commit to full-time employment or otherwise prepare to resign. But if your company is willing to be flexible, which many are these days, then there's much to be gained by adopting a phased approach to retirement -- cutting your work hours gradually rather than going from 40 hours per week or more to nothing overnight.

For one thing, easing into retirement will give you a sense of what it means to fill your time in a meaningful way. Imagine you transition from a 40-hour workweek to a 20-hour workweek. At that point, you'll have 20 extra hours to occupy -- and you'll get a sense of how easy or difficult it is to spend that time in a way that leaves you content. And if you find that you have too much time on your hands, you can try adding working hours to your schedule if you're not yet ready to cut back too drastically.

Furthermore, by easing into retirement, you'll get a chance to assess your financial situation and make adjustments, as necessary. Imagine you cut back from 40 hours of work per week to 20 and money becomes surprisingly tight. If that's the case, you can work longer to boost your savings or give yourself time to rethink your retirement plans.

You may find that if you're already struggling financially on half of your former paycheck, it makes sense to relocate to a cheaper part of the country or downsize your home. But these moves take time, and if you scale back your working hours gradually so that you still have an income to rely on, you can pursue your options in a less-pressured manner.

Take it slow

Eager as you may be to leave the workforce for good, going from a full-time schedule to a full-fledged retirement could end up being an unwelcome shock to your system. As such, it pays to consider gradually cutting back on working hours to make the process less overwhelming. And if your employer won't support a phased retirement, try venturing out on your own by consulting in your current field. That way, you'll get control over your schedule, and it will be within your power to decide how and when you'll continue to scale back.

Rushing into retirement could ultimately make you miserable. Taking a more gradual approach, on the other hand, could spare you a world of mental and financial anguish.