Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Sanctity of Productivity


A buzzword that has been instilled in all Singaporeans since nursery. You probably see this word used more often than a public bicycle gets taken for a ride, and definitely more daily than a KTV hostess can play "butterfly" on a nightly basis. Through various outlets, we have been told to be more productive, to work harder, better, faster and stronger in all facets of life, be it at home, at work, on your relationships, on yourself, which might have provided the spark of inspiration for that awesome Kanye West and Daft Punk remix of "Stronger".

In all honesty, I don't think there's anything wrong with that ideology.

Given the only natural capital Singapore has is its people, I would think it's absolutely rational for the administration to want to beat the productivity drum 24/7. And for the citizens to continue dancing to that same beat (only faster post each round of music :p). After all, if your only asset is a milk bearing cow and you're trading milk for other goods, you would want to squeeze the cow to its maximum, to the thin red line that separates it from death, in order to generate maximum milk production, and yet keep the cow alive in "good enough" condition so it wouldn't "burn out".

I do identify with this as an investor, where I want my dollars to be working 24/7, with employees of companies I have partial ownership to be working like dogs to generate higher profitability and better returns on my capital. "Do more with less" seems to be making a come back these days, especially with banks cutting ranks of front-line grunts. Oh wait, that has been in vogue since 2008. My bad.

You've got to be learning 24/7 to be ahead of competition. Take as many "co-curricular" activities as you can to boost your resume. You don't have to be interested, just get it done (thank god I had natural inclinations towards finance since I turned 17 or so. I shudder at the thought of what I would have been doing now if I was not). Push on, or someone else will have your lunch. Do all these gibberish sound familiar?

As an adult who has been through the Singapore education system for more than 12 years, the "productive" word has been drummed into my thick skull, so much so that I've had to fight off the hordes of self-conjured monsters hell bent on inducing guilt in myself if I'm not doing something "useful" with whatever free time I have, say during commuting, on "holidays" and on seemingly down time, such as the "weekends".

I admit, a major part of it is personality driven. Which has been made functioning along the lines of maximum productivity something that I do find somewhat enjoyable as I've always viewed that as a personal challenge. However, for some unknown reason, in recent times, I've been questioning the means which has got me to my current state of play. Questioning the sanctity of productivity, of whether it really makes sense from an individual perspective.

And the conclusion I have come to is a resounding fuck no. My theory is that humans are essentially animals. Do you see a cat working 9 to 6 daily in the office, trying to attend countless meetings which are seemingly productive but leaves much to be desired? Do you see a dog thinking it has to do a daily 5 km run for exercise? A cat does what it pleases. If it feels like sleeping, it sleeps. If it feels like hunting for rats, it hunts. If it feels like mating, it just goes ahead and does it. In essence, it does what it is interested in doing.

Granted, humans are "somewhat" different from other animals, among other differences, a more scientifically attuned one would be that humans are blessed with the ability to control their primal needs (err most of us do I think). But don't you think this productivity concept is somewhat flawed (at least at the individual level)? I would like to think that a human being has the right to pursue his/her own interests.

He should be able to pass an entire week watching reruns of Breaking Bad Season 1 to 5 if he so desires. He should be able to plan and execute a trans-national motor bike riding adventure if he would like to. He should be able to learn Spanish or French if he so desires. In essence, he should be able to call the shots in his life, to direct his precious life essence towards things that matter to him. Not meddle about and marching to the "productivity" beat being drummed out by someone else, regardless of whether he is conscious of it or not.

But he can only do so if he is free of the shackles of society. The very shackles that he has unwittingly tied himself with, through a culmination of past decisions. The very shackles that he can rid himself of. All he has to do is to make the right choices and stick with them till those shackles disappear. Only then, can he ignore the concept of "productivity" and partake in activities of his sole interest. Such as spending an entire week slaying monsters in Dragon Age: Awakening.

Boy I certainly feel the time used to pen this post was productively spent. Did you feel that you had a productive use of your time reading this? :)


  1. hi,

    productivity is simply generating more output per unit of input.

    in its traditional sense, the output is GDP/ money/ results and hence the inputs and activities are rather limited.

    however, if the output is defined in a more fuzzy and intangible way then you potentially have a much wider range of activities and inputs.

    so i think it is the framing that is the problem. rather than the concept itself. productivity is a good concept and we should all strive to be as productive as we can. hence, breaking out of the framing is key rather than breaking free of the concept per se.

    what do you think? hope you can stay sane as you strive to be as productive as possible.

    1. Yep, conceptually the most productive animal would perhaps be in the best position to compete and hence "win". However, the application of productivity in modern society needs to be finessed and applied more discretely. You'll have to choose where you want to be most productive, in order to maximize your return on life. Sounds like a two level productivity issue. :)