I recently came across this post on Facebook from CBC Radio:
The article centres on a tech worker who started wearing the same thing (more or less) to work every day in order to free up resources in her brain to do “more important” things. We’ve seen this before – it’s a similar approach to workplace productivity to people like Mark Zuckerberg, and it’s basically an application of the concepts presented in The Paradox of Choice. There is a lot of online discourse about how doing this can improve your work performance and leadership capabilities.
I just can’t help but wonder if this hype about “decision fatigue” in the workplace is wholly a good thing, and whether it maybe ignores some other key aspects of psychological health.
Listen, if you want a formulaic wardrobe, that’s fine. If choosing an outfit is stressful for you, of course you want to reduce that weight! I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t use approaches that work for them. And I’d be a hypocrite to do so: I refused to wear makeup for years because I like sleeping in, and I am a big fan of reducing my mental load by “working smart, not hard.” I even refuse to use Instagram filters because the energy it takes to choose one seems wasteful (and the #nofilter picture always looks totally fine).
But, please, let’s stop glamorizing the drive to become little more than productivity machines.
In nearly every piece I’ve read or watched about streamlining one’s wardrobe, it always seems that the outcome is “I was better at my job.” Not, “I could spend more time with my family” or “More sleep helped me feel more alert” or “I reduced my ecological footprint while saving money.” But to me, optimizing our jobs (and our jobs only) feels restrictive and seems to have a high risk of backfiring. To me this ties in with articles that tell us to wake up at 5 am every day and replace our breakfasts with Soylent in the name of productivity.
These continued narratives about being more efficient at work by cutting out “frivolous” pursuits and focusing on work above all else are insidious because they imply that for every bit of self-indulgence we allow ourselves (doing our hair, making waffles with fruit, sleeping in on Sundays), we are sacrificing our potential. We could always be “doing more” if only we had our schedules and habits down to an exact science. With fashion and other beauty-related pursuits, there’s the additional implication that it’s feminine, and therefore trivial. Feminine people don’t have to be masculine to succeed in the workplace, but sometimes it sounds like that’s the expectation.
On the other hand, a lot of these rituals are forms of self-care that help us prioritize our well-being so that we aren’t weighed down by the stress that accumulates as a result of personal and professional obligations.
I painted my nails a different way every single week this summer. I also got an Outstanding on my co-op work evaluation because of my creativity and problem-solving abilities. The two are not mutually exclusive, because doing my nails is a form of self-care that helps me regroup so that I can focus on important things.
To add on to that, we need to recognize that cutting out a handful of decisions per day has a negligible effect on our total number of decisions. One of the numbers floating around on the internet is that we make 35,000 decisions per day, and we make nearly 200 decisions per minute just when we’re driving. The shirt, shoes, sweaters, pants, and accessories you choose are only going to reduce that overall number by a small fraction. Agonizing over some sort of productivity algorithm for your lifestyle is counterproductive for a lot of people, and it seems like the costs might outweigh the benefits in most cases.
Again, I actually agree with Desirae. She sums the specific issue of fashion up here:
For some people choosing what they wear every day is a very important part of their day to day routine. It’s an important part of how they express themselves. And that’s wonderful. Power to them. If you enjoy choosing what to wear, this is not a good strategy for you. But if you’re like me and it was more of a hassle than anything else, I think you really could gain a lot and you’ll be very surprised at how little anyone cares or how little anyone even notices.
I just hope that when we read pieces like this, we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that the things we find enjoyable are the things preventing us from being superhumans. For many of us, the places where we express our individuality are important outlets that prevent burnout and add some colour to our lives. Personally, I feel my best when I’m wearing something that was consciously put together and different from my usual. Rather than distracting me from my responsibilities, it makes me feel more vivacious and more creative.
So if you’re going to adopt a “work uniform,” my advice is to make sure you’re doing it because it’s something you want to do for yourself, and not because you think it will confer some magical professional benefit overnight. More than likely, it won’t.
Interesting, related read: Decision fatigue: Does it help to wear the same clothes every day? by Dr. John M. Grohol