During the past several months we have talked about various aspects of retirement, and particularly of the importance of planning.

This business of planning is not a massive one-time project. If you attempt to do everything at once, you're very apt to be overwhelmed and chuck the whole thing. Instead, take it in bits and pieces. Unless you're only a few months away from retirement, you have time to spread the job out and tackle the various facets one at a time.

In addition -- as I have said several times during these discussions -- this is not something to be done once and then put away until retirement time.

The different pieces of the retirement puzzle need to be taken out from time to time, reviewed and perhaps reshaped to conform to changing circumstances.

And it is not a job to be tackled alone. Members of the immediate family should be brought into the picture -- not for their approval, but because their input may be helpful in arriving at some conclusions.

In particular it is most important that husband and wife share in the decision-making. If both are employed outside the home, it is likely that optimum times for retirement will not coincide. You and your spouse should agree in advance on activities and responsibilities during the interim period as well as after both have retired.

If you have the once-traditional husband-breadwinner/wife-housekeeper marriage, then you have long ingrained habits to overcome. The wife should be able to look forward to retirement from the work load she has carried for so long.

Unfortunately, too often a wife's chores are mutliplied after her husband retires. Not only does the amount of work increase to some extent; suddenly her schedule is shattered with a husband who is underfoot all day every day.

In this situation a husband should be ready and willing to assume a full share of the housekeeping duties so that "retirement" has some meaning to the wife as well.

But a word of warning to husbands: This has been your wife's bailiwick for many years, and she undoubtedly has developed her own techniques for getting the job done.

You may have been a top-notch manager or supervisor at your job, but your wife may feel she is the boss here. Don't try to "improve" on her methods and tell her how a particular chore should be done.

If you can't take orders and do things the way your wife wants them done, then get out of the way -- go for a walk, feed the pigeons -- whatever -- and let her get her work done.

In today's equal-rights world, many people -- in particular the young -- may feel that this is gratuitous advice. If you're in that group, please bear with me; couples in their late 40s and 50s were brought up in a different world and may not yet have adjusted to changed concepts.

In addition to family councils, you can get quite a bit of outside help. The government has published some excellent booklets on retirement planning.

There are several national organizations devoted to the problems (and joys) of retirement. The American Association of Retired Persons offers a number of helpful booklets as well as a bi-monthly magazine for its members.

You must be 55 or older to join the AARP. Younger people looking ahead to retirement can join the AIM (Action for Independent Maturity), a division of the AARP. The AIM has its own publications oriented more to retirement planning.

Recently there has been a growing trend in industry (and in some government agencies as well) to offer preretirement assistance as an employe benefit.

This increasing awareness of the need to help people plan for retirement has spawned a whole new industry. The people at the AIM, for example, offer comprehensive counseling materials for use by employers who wish to sponsor such programs.

In cooperation with a group of major corporations and unions, the National Council on the Aging (a nonprofit organizaton based in Washington) also has developed a resource package for company use.

Retirement is a major life-cycle event that can induce substantial stress, particularly if you haven't prepared yourself for the shock. Adequate preretirement planning can ease the transistion and help make your retirement years the golden time they should be -- the time to do and see all the things that are only dreams during your working years.