^finally got round to reading this after opening it in Safari then saving it in pdf format to preserve the meagre 3G that I have left to last the month. here is a bit that will not stop swirling about in my head:

“At the very bottom of our anxious urge to manage time better… it’s not hard to discern a familiar motive: the fear of death. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel has put it, on any meaningful timescale other than human life itself – that of the planet, say, or the cosmos – “we will all be dead any minute”. No wonder we are so drawn to the problem of how to make better use of our days: if we could solve it, we could avoid the feeling, in Seneca’s words, of finding life at an end just when we were getting ready to live. To die with the sense of nothing left undone: it’s nothing less than the promise of immortality by other means.

But the modern zeal for personal productivity, rooted in Taylor’s philosophy of efficiency, takes things several significant steps further. If only we could find the right techniques and apply enough self-discipline, it suggests, we could know that we were fitting everything important in, and could feel happy at last. It is up to us – indeed, it is our obligation – to maximise our productivity. This is a convenient ideology from the point of view of those who stand to profit from our working harder, and our increased capacity for consumer spending. But it also functions as a form of psychological avoidance. The more you can convince yourself that you need never make difficult choices – because there will be enough time for everything – the less you will feel obliged to ask yourself whether the life you are choosing is the right one.

Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. “How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.””

What a cheery read as I prepare to hop into the workforce tomorrow. It reminded me of this:

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me… What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is hevel (smoke, vapor – that which cannot be grasped despite our best efforts).”

Now it is only fair to add that Ecclesiastes does not end on such a bleak note, though that is part of the grim reality which it boldly sketches. And in response, as I step forward with all my flickering hopes, this is my prayer:

Two things I ask of You, O YHWH; do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread.

Otherwise I might have too much, and disown You and say, ‘Who is YHWH?’

Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.

This prayer will be familiar to those of you who frequent this space, yet just as it has rung a timely knoll in my head and heart when I needed it most through my 4 years at NUS, so I pray that it will ring truer than before in the year to come. 


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