There’s Joy In Doing Productive Work

”I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked — and behold, duty was joy.”

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There’s this thing I noticed with people who do well in life. They are all very active and productive. Just think of any person you admire, and ask yourself, “Why do I look up to this person?”

Let me give you an example. My favorite filmmaker is Christopher Nolan. I’ve seen all his feature films (except for his latest), and they are all amazing — from the cinematography and music to the casting and acting.

The man is a master of his craft. But why is Nolan respected by so many people? It’s not because he made one or two great films. There are many great films, made by great directors. No, he’s one of the most consistent filmmakers there is — in terms of quality and output. Take a look at his filmography:

  • 1998 Following
  • 2000 Memento
  • 2002 Insomnia
  • 2005 Batman Begins
  • 2006 The Prestige
  • 2008 The Dark Knight
  • 2010 Inception
  • 2012 The Dark Knight Rises
  • 2014 Interstellar
  • 2017 Dunkirk
  • 2020 Tenet

For 22 years, he has made a movie every two/three years. It’s mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine how much time and energy goes into creating a feature film.

This goes beyond talent and creativity. To put out a movie every few years, one needs a relentless work ethic. Nolan doesn’t only make great movies, he’s also one of the most productive filmmakers.

The Void Is What Gets You Stuck

In a world with endless opportunities, our biggest challenge is picking something we dedicate our time and energy to. Most of us are in a perpetual state of inactivity.

Every day, week, month, and year looks the same. Time goes by, we do our work, pay the bills, and we get older. We don’t create any art, books, music, movies, businesses, furniture, clothing, jewelry, etc. We don’t learn new skills, we don’t explore our curiosity.

We are in a state of consumption. We consume food, tv, social media, and in recent years, we started consuming “experiences.” Everybody needs to go on a vacation three times a year. We need to rent super cars, fly air balloons in Turkey, have endless Sunday brunches, dine at Michelin star restaurants, and so forth.

What we don’t get is that we’re consuming those experiences. We’re not creating anything. “Yeah, but I’m creating memories!” I can’t disagree with that. There’s nothing wrong with doing fun things every now and then. But you know what you’re also creating?

A void inside your soul that no “experience” can ever fill. And when you have a void inside of you, you’re stuck. Nothing feels good. You need to have better, faster, and more expensive experiences. What kind of life is that?

Being Active & Productive Is The Way Out

I recently read Yes To Life by Viktor E. Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. This new book is about the key ideas from a series of lectures he held in 1946.

Frankl is the founder of Logotherapy, a form of Psychotherapy that helps people with finding meaning in life. According to Frankl, that’s the only way to live happily. There’s great danger in constantly seeking pleasure and experiences. Instead of that, we need to dedicate our lives to a higher purpose. Here’s a quote from Yes To Life:

“So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation. And there is certainly joy in life too, but it cannot be pursued, cannot be “willed into being” as joy; rather, it must arise spontaneously, and in fact, it does arise spontaneously, just as an outcome may arise: Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome; the outcome of the fulfillment of that which in Tagore’s poem is called duty, and that we will later try to define more closely. In any case, all human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.”

The pursuit of happiness is doomed to failure. One of the most obvious ways joy arises within human beings is when we create something. When we spend time on something and actually finish it, we get a sense of accomplishment and inner satisfaction. A feeling of joy that’s different from lying on the beach.

Here’s Tagore poem that Frankl refers to in the quote above. Please read this a few times:

”I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked — and behold, duty was joy.”

Duty is joy. I wish we could imprint that in every baby that’s born. Duty is joy.

When you’re stuck and you have no joy in life, seek duty. Find something in life and dedicate your life to it. Doesn’t matter how easy or hard it is. You don’t even have to like it. Just adopt a sense of duty. Joy will arise as a side product.

Improving Productivity Pays The Bills

Now, you don’t necessarily have to dedicate your life to something that pays the bills. But to make a living, we need to be productive. The investor Ray Dalio often talks about the importance of raising productivity. He says:

“Being productive leads people to make money, which leads them to acquire capital (which is their savings in investment vehicles), which both protects the saver by providing money when it is later needed and provides capital resources to those who can combine them with their ideas and convert them into the profits and productivities that raise our living standards.”

While it’s great if your work also gives you meaning, it’s not necessary. The truth is that work is how we earn a living. Whether we like our system or not, history has proven there are no other viable options for capitalism.

But that doesn’t mean we should suffer at our jobs or become slaves to rewards. Improving your productivity will help you to get your work done with less resistance. That’s the main reason I got into productivity in the first place.

Between 2010 and 2017, I’ve worked on things I wasn’t very passionate about. It started when I was in grad school. I started a business with my dad in the laundry industry as I was writing my thesis. To be honest, I wasn’t passionate about either.

But I realized that productivity yields results (I also talk about this in-depth in my class, Procrastinate Zero 2).

Results helped me to improve myself, so I could eventually have more meaningful work. But if I wasn’t productive, I wouldn’t achieve any results, and I wouldn’t be here writing this article.

We always need to be practical. Sure, life is meant to be enjoyed. You don’t need to do work that absolutely crushes your soul for the rest of your life. But as Frankl demonstrated, we can also enjoy duty. It’s the only way to never get stuck in life.

The beauty is that the more productive you are, the more opportunities you will have in the future. So at some point, you will always have something in your life that gives meaning. But it all starts with taking care of your tasks today.

Written by

Creator of the Stoic Letter (new letter comes out every Friday) | Author of 7 books and 6 courses at dariusforoux.com

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