In my previous life, my to-do lists were generated by the demands of a busy family and exacerbated by my professional life: get the laundry done, finish the user documentation for Client X, shop for the ingredients for the taco casserole you’re taking to the soccer banquet, compile and distribute the meeting agenda for Organization Y, call and invite Prospective Customer Z to lunch next week to discuss possible projects. If I failed to check an item off the list, I ran the risk of causing a problem for a family member, a client, or my business. Now that my children are grown and gone and I no longer have a “professional life,” per se, the items on my list are all of my own creation and have little potential for impacting others negatively if I fail to get them done. So, why in the world am I stressing out over checking off the tasks? For that matter, why do I even bother to make lists in the first place? One word. Guilt.

I’m finding I feel just as much pressure to make my lists and be as “productive” now as I did when I was working. Actually, I feel more pressure to be productive, in large part–I suppose–because I’m not contributing financially to the household anymore. No paycheck, huh? No, but I’m baking homemade cookies and tackling home improvement projects and preparing yummy, nutritious meals every evening and writing every day and…and…  Ironically, no one around here but me cares that I’m not employed and adding to the family coffers at the moment. No one around here has ever complained about the lack of homemade goodies or the projects that have gone undone in the past. So why the guilt? Why can’t I sit down to read a book, stretch out on the couch for a hour-long afternoon nap, or watch the Barefoot Contessa make yummy chicken pot pies and enjoy myself? Actually, I would be lying if I said I never take an afternoon snooze or that I never watch my favorite cooking show. It’s just that I do those things sparingly and never do them without feeling guilty. I can never just “be” without guilt raising its ugly mug and ruining what, by all accounts, should be a pleasurable past time.

Strangely–and maybe fortunately–the guilt comes in multiple strengths. For example, I can sit down and read a book or magazine article without guilt if I’m reading the book as part of my research for a writing piece. That type of reading is productive, right? I can sit down and read a book with minimal guilt if I’m reading the book for my book club. Not income-producing maybe, but still productive. Read purely for pleasure? Now that is clearly non-productive. Guilty! I’ll give you another example. I feel guilty if I go out and play golf during the day without Tom. However, I can lessen the guilt if I walk instead of ride. Then the round can be considered exercise, and that’s productive, right? As for naps, I still haven’t figured out a way to rationalize those. No matter how good I feel physically after a nap, I always feel I need an excuse for having taken it even if no one asks for one. It’s goofy. I know it’s goofy, but I can’t seem to make it stop.

I suspect there are many like me. I know at least one, a dear friend who lost her job a couple of months ago. Before three weeks had passed, she had–among a number of other smaller projects–cleaned out every closet in her house, cleaned and re-organized her entire basement, and re-painted her living room and dining room. Now, with all of her home improvement projects completed, she’s offering to help me with mine. She’s nuts. We’re kindred spirits.

With the exception of vacation days, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to fully enjoy “non-productive” days. Even though I love the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a particularly productive day, I can’t help but think I would be healthier and happier if I could occasionally embrace a day–or part of a day–in which all I’ve managed to do is enjoy the singing birds, the setting sun, the building storm clouds, the back of my eyelids, and/or the company of my favorite author. Without guilt.

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