Opinion

3 Ways Almost Every Singaporean Wastes Precious Time

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Joanne Poh

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Time is money, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve got something against those people who spend all their lives surfing Facebook. Part of the reason Singaporeans spend so much money is because we’re time-starved thanks to long working hours.

That’s why we’re guilty of spending on convenience: getting maids to do everything from minding the kids to cleaning the house, and being clueless about how to feed ourselves without the help of an army of hawkers and restauranteurs. We’re some of the world’s most wired people and buy everything from groceries to Christmas gifts on the Internet, but we still complain when stores close before 9pm.

Yet we’re also some of the world’s most sleep deprived people, and our work-life balance is notoriously poor. We have no time to read, exercise, date or spend time with our families. It’s no wonder people are willing to spend money just to save themselves an hour or two each day.

But take a look around you, at the office or on the MRT, and you’ll realise that Singaporeans don’t seem particularly concerned about using their time productively, either.

People continue to spend hours on the MRT surfing Facebook or playing mindless games, and work in a maddeningly inefficient manner just so they can stay late at work to please their bosses.

Here are three ways Singaporeans waste precious time that they could otherwise free up to start a side gig, do stuff for themselves instead of paying others to do it and de-stress.

Commuting

The average Singaporean’s commute to work takes 40 minutes, which is almost an hour and a half every day. The MRT at 9am is the most depressing place on the face of the earth. You’re surrounded by zombified faces staring into smartphone screens. Take a peek at some of these smartphones and you’ll realise that most people are happy to waste that time each and every day on either Facebook or Candycrush.

It’s not easy to make commuting time productive, but the problem is that most people don’t even try. If you take public transport, you can read a book (it baffles me that Singaporeans say they have no time to read when they clearly have time for mindless smartphone games), listen to podcasts or even read work-related documents.

The crazy thing is that even those who drive to work apparently can’t tear their eyes from their smartphones, at least based on the number of people you see texting from the driver’s seat on a daily basis. Instead of endangering the lives of the people around you, you could listen to audiobooks, learn a new language, listen to podcasts, or even listen to meditation music so you zen out and stop taking out your crappy life on other road users.

Now that the cycling network is expanding, more Singaporeans have the chance to replace part or all of their commute with a bicycle ride. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to cycle anywhere, which would remove the need to take time out from our day to exercise and resolve the nation’s diabetes and obesity problems.

Dead time at the office

One in five Singaporeans works more than 11 hours per day. That’s a mighty long time to spend in the air conditioned death grip of your office.

But if you ask yourself honestly what people are doing at the office, you’ll get a more accurate picture of how Singaporeans spend their time. I’m pretty sure almost any Singaporean who works in an office with more than five employees can name at least one person who stays at work till late in the evening, and is doing jack sh*t 90% of the time.

Sometimes, it’s not even their fault. Local bosses have the habit of dropping urgent work on your desk only at 5:30pm, and saying that if it’s not completed by tomorrow the world is going to end—which can be very annoying for the worker who’s been twiddling his thumbs since 3pm waiting to knock off.

Then there are bosses who decide to schedule meetings at 8pm, which is basically an invitation to spend your entire night at the office.

This results in many employees spending a certain amount of “dead time” at the office, where they’re just sitting around waiting for the day to end. So how do they spend this time? Procrastinating, gossiping with colleagues and surfing the internet mindlessly.

Considering how much time you spend at the office, that’s a pretty poor way to let your life pass you by. If you have a modicum of privacy behind those cubicle walls, you can get a hell of a lot of stuff done when you find yourself with nothing to do but unable to leave the office. I know people who’ve started freelance side gigs during dead time at their day jobs, while others have studied for big exams like CFA or learnt a new language on office time.

I hope my ex-boss isn’t reading this, but let’s just say that if I had spent all my free time at the office bonding with my colleagues I wouldn’t have been able to build up a freelance career that enabled me to quit that job.

Waiting in queues

We live in a super crowded country, which means that some amount of queuing is inevitable, even if you’re not the kind of person who would subject yourself to standing in line for > 2 minutes for the sake of a Hello Kitty doll / H&M sale / substandard frozen yoghurt.

Anyone who’s ever tried to visit a polyclinic on a Monday morning knows that you could easily perish in the queue before ever getting to see the doctor. You’re looking at hours of waiting. It can be just as frustrating trying to run an errand at the bank in the CBD after office hours or during lunchtime, when everyone else and their mother is trying to do the same.

Heck, even having lunch in the CBD during the workday can mean you stand in a food court queue for 20 to 30 minutes.

It’s always a good idea to bring something to do in case you have a long wait. Bring a book to read, print out some documents from work to review, or load up your iPod. Just do anything besides scrolling through your WhatsApp messages or shooting murderous looks at the person ahead of you in the queue. If you’re visiting a polyclinic and don’t have an appointment, bring your laptop. You can get a lot of work done since you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat no matter how crowded it is.

Right now, Singaporeans only know how to complain about not having enough time, but at the same time it seems we haven’t realised how to make good use of the time we do have. We’re just too undisciplined to spend our time fruitfully in the absence of someone telling us what to do. That’s the real tragedy here.

What are the ways in which you’re most guilty of wasting time? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.