In my personal issue tracker, I want to sort tasks into one of two categories: The first category is labeled "physical" and contains all tasks involving physical work, e.g. housecleaning or handiwork. The second category contains all tasks that only require mental capacity, e.g. accounting or doing phone calls. I'm having trouble coming up with a nice one-word label for that second category.

I considered "intellectual", but it doesn't fit well since many of these tasks are just office work and not really intellectually challenging.

I also considered "mental", but at least to me (as a non-native speaker), that word is strongly correlated with mental disorders and phrases like "being/going mental". Is that concern misplaced? If not, can you suggest a better word?

(I might just go with "non-physical", but would prefer a label that's not that lazy.)

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    Sitting tasks vs. active tasks. That is the functional division you described that you would like to focus on, I guess. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 6:52
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    The only reason "mental" has connotations of psychiatric disorder is that, particularly in the early days, people referred to "mental illnesses" as opposed to "physical illnesses". Before mental illness was recognised there was no need for the term "physical illness" as all recognised illness was physical so the general public shortened "mental illness" and "mental hospital" to "mental" in common speech. Howevever "mental" really is only an adjective meaning "to do with the mind" so "mental task" is a perfectly good way of describing anything which requires thought rather than action.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 4:13

4 Answers 4


The term mental is perfectly adequate for this type of task. Most native speakers will not associate it with mental illness.

But, if you prefer something that implies thought process, I'd use the term cognitive.

Cognitive means:

Of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering)

The key notion here is involving conscious intellectual activity which I think is a good description of the types of tasks you're suggesting.

If you prefer, you could also use the term intellectual as it also refers to tasks requiring the intellect (i.e. mental processes) to carry them out.


The tasks you've listed here, such as accounting and phone calls, seem to be office work. So to set it apart from the physical tasks, you might try calling them "clerical" or "administrative" tasks as these terms deal with office work.

Clerical: (of a job or person) concerned with or relating to work in an office, especially routine documentation and administrative tasks.

But this is only based on the examples you've given. I'm not certain if all non-physical tasks you're dealing with fall into the realm of office work.

  • This is an excellent answer. I'm surprised that it wasn't accepted instead of my answer.
    – David M
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 14:40
  • Thank you, David M. I think it was just a matter of answering a day later.
    – Heather
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:48

Actions and Considerations

How about ‘actions’ for things to do, and ‘considerations’ for things that require cognitive process or are as yet unformed?


I doubt whether there is a suitable answer to your question. What contrasts with physical depends on the nature and range of other things involved. That, in turn depends on the purpose of your classification. If you were a surgeon, then performing an operation would be both physical and mental/intellectual/professional... or whatever. Similarly, feeding or comforting your child is both physical and all sorts of other things, like emotional, mental and so forth might apply.

What, I suggest, you do not need is an antonym for ‘physical.

  • He's building a task manager for himself. As it's unlikely that he'll suddenly become a surgeon, his choice in division is his choice in division. This whole answer would be better served as a comment.
    – David M
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 22:47

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