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Week of 4 September 2023

Week of 4 September 2023

84 Minutes

I often hear the lament that people have no time to read. Leaving aside the option of going cold turkey by cancelling your video streaming subscription and quitting the infinite scroll of social media, and leaving aside the fact that the secret gift of reading is time, the best way to get enough time in your day to read and achieve something approximating optimal flow is by maximising your commute on public transport. The average Singaporean spends 84 minutes a day on their commute, so you can potentially open and close your day with 42 minutes of reading each way.

Yes, the commute in crowded trains and buses can be a bit much. The travel to and from work does take a physical and emotional toll. But there is a way to ‘arrive in better shape’ as the Cathay Pacific slogan from the 1980s promised. We can float above the tedium and reach a cognitive cruising altitude by reading. Reading is a very solitary act, and in a crowded confined space, losing ourselves in a book helps us access a welcomed degree of seclusion. Moreover, readers know that reading in the morning keeps unproductive emotions at bay, and initiates an equanimous clear-headedness that endures for most of the day. And reading at the end of the business day is such a balm for the depleted breadwinner.

There are practical considerations, of course. It takes practice to read a book while standing up in a crowded train. And it takes a bit of planning if you are the kind of reader (guilty as charged) that reads with a pencil in hand and a set of 5-colour Post-It tags in shirt pocket. You’ll get your groove after some practice and quite a few snapped 2B graphites. Top tip: only annotate when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. A side benefit of waiting for the bus or train to stop is the extra time this gives you to compose your thoughts. I sometimes take a few moments after reaching my bus-stop or station to sit on a bench to go over my annotations or to finish a paragraph.

Those of us lucky enough to have a double-decker bus in their commute have it best. With cushion seats, panoramic windows, adjustable air-con vents, these two-storey coaches are a real step up (pardon the pun). But while the seats may be more comfortable, the snatches of one-sided phone conversation and the sound of feet stomping up and down the stairs can be distracting. But if you use wireless earbuds and turn up some white noise, you should be good.

So there you have it. Eighty-four minutes of reading that you can unlock today. 

Top title of the week:

Depression & Anxiety: The Causes & Treatment According to the Quran by Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti 

Reading this week:

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