Productivity of the soul

I was walking with my dog yesterday when I began contemplating on life’s hard problems, like “what am I going to do tomorrow?”

In the moment, it was a pressing question. Of most importance. I took it too seriously. I felt like I needed to have everything figured out about tomorrow. I felt that I needed to be productive. The right answer should have been something like “get some work done” or “make work for yourself if there isn’t work to do.” But I was in a good mood. So I took it easy on myself.

“I don’t know man. Read a book or something. Play some Rocket League.” And you know what? That felt like the right answer.

A lot of times, we are so focused on our task lists and our modern notion of productivity that we forgo productivity of the soul. I’m not sure what the soul is, but we can define it as sort of our emotional, immutable selves. It’s the unbreakable chain of our lineage from whence we came.

Productivity of the soul is the fuel for your main productivity. It’s the dimension behind your willpower. You can have a list of tasks that are easy to get done, but if your soul has not been productive lately, you will not have the fuel to complete even the simplest of tasks.

We already know, if not feel, that there’s something fundamentally off about our notion of productivity. We can feel it most times, but can’t always articulate it. We know that creating a dumb list of tasks and bearing some responsibility on our future selves does not always work. Yet we feel guilty when we are “unproductive”. We don’t view sitting down and doing nothing as productive, when really, it may be most productive of all.

Productivity of the soul. When your soul hasn’t been productive, you won’t feel like being productive either. The soul requires a task list just as well. Its requests are simple and rewarding:

  • Read a book, fiction or non
  • Play some video games
  • Play with the dog/cat
  • Call your mom
  • Have a conversation with another human
  • Scribble in a journal
  • Walk, run, or move
  • Lie down and be still

Really, productivity of the soul is anytime you’re not doing work off your main task list. But instead of feeling guilt and panic, you feel calmness and ease.

We tell ourselves we want to be successful so we can have the time to do these kinds of things guilt-free, but the fact is, you can do these things right now and find legitimate contentedness. Western productivity makes you feel guilty about it, but that’s only superficial. It’s learned, habitual behavior, and can easily be unlearned.

Having a productive soul fills up your fuel reserves and gives you what you need to do the “real” tasks you’ve been putting off.

I’ve enjoyed Jason Fried’s recent tweets about this topic:

Productivity is for machines, not for people. There’s nothing meaningful about packing some number of work units into some amount of time, or squeezing more into less. Think about how effective you’re being, not how productive you’re being.


If you’ve only got 3 hours of work to do on a given day, then stop. Don’t find 5 more to fill your day, just to stay busy or feel productive. Never feel bad about being done with something.

Joshua Bradley also writes: Efficiency is not the realm of the spirit. Productivity is strikingly at odds with creativity. But of the soul? To be creative is to have a productive soul.

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