Productivity-Boosting Wardrobe Strategy

In the last couple of posts we have considered the usefulness of routine, habit and locations. Now, let’s look at how clothes can boost your productivity.

Give me the shoes…

My old mime and physical theatre teacher Desmond Jones was fond of quoting the theatrical adage, “Give me the shoes and I will give you the performance!”

This extends to more than shoes. Hats, jackets, trousers all enable you to get into character.

It is much easier to perform in a certain way if you are wearing the right costume.

As a performer, it dawned on me some time ago that this applies beyond magic performance, it is relevant for the rest of life as well. I am not the first to realise this. In 1975 John T. Molloy published his manual “Dress for Success”, developing the work of sociologist Erving Goffman, who described all the world as a stage. 

But does this apply to working from home?

I certainly think so.

Respect Yourself

What you wear has a huge effect on your self-image, self-worth and self-motivation. Changing your clothes changes your mindset.

This is why the army are so hot on ironing, boot polishing and button shining. It’s about self-respect. And, as the Kane Gang sang in the ‘80s, “If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give two hoots…” 

“Because I’m worth it” has never been so powerful.

Change Your Shirt, Change Your Mind

During lockdown, it can be a real challenge to maintain routine and establish focus.

I have found that changing into different outfits at different times of the day not only changes my attitude and focus, it helps to structure the day. The act of changing clothes also acts as a substitute for travelling between activities, time to mentally re-adjust.

Personally I wake up, exercise at home, change into dog walking clothes.
Walk the dog, come back and shower, change into work shirt, trousers, waistcoat and proper shoes.
At some point around 4pm I might switch the waistcoat for a smart sweater.
Between 5-6pm I decide that the working day is over and I change into jeans, t-shirt and trainers.

It works for me – could it work for you?

Even if no-one else can see your shoes on a Zoom call, polish them anyway.
You can see them.
And you’re worth it.

Location, Location, Location

Who, Where, Why?

When I walk on to a stage as a magician and juggler, I adopt a certain persona. When I walk up to to a small group at a posh reception to perform close-up magic I will adopt a similar, but scaled-down version of that persona. When I am at a church hall for a kids party I will shift character again.

The location of the performance helps the adoption of the persona. Travel time to gigs gives the opportunity to shift from one to another.

All the World’s a Stage

Outside of performing and outside of lockdown this was equally true. In my office my mind switched into admin mode. I walked to the library to switch on my writing setting. I would kayak down the river to become contemplative. And so it went on, different mindsets were associated with trains, coffee shops and club meeting places.

The location of the activity really helps me to adopt the right mindset for the activity in hand.

And now, in lockdown, most of those locations are not available. And there is no travel time to switch modes.

I felt comfortable and safe with my designated locations. Having them snatched away is unsettling.

What to do?

Location Improvisation

All is not lost. Like a magician when a trick goes wrong, you can improvise.

Depending on where you live and the space you have available, you may be able to create a number of different locations at home. You can then establish specific places for certain types of activity and new routines for switching between them.

For example, I have designated our sitting room as a stand-in library. It’s fine as long as I get there earlier than our teenagers in the morning! I have positioned a table and chair facing a bookcase and I go there at the same time each day to write. My mind has been successfully tricked into thinking that I am in the library.

Within my office, I still have my desk for admin in the same place.

However, for business reading, which I used to do in coffee shops, I now turn my chair to face a different direction, get myself a cup of herbal tea and, bingo!, my mind has again been tricked into a different mode.

A friend of mine suggested that another option might be rearranging your office so that you could sit on the other side of your desk for certain activities.

Travelling Without Moving

And what about substituting for the mental shift-time that came with travelling? 

I have found it important to be kind to myself, to give myself space between activities. It would be all-too-easy to rush from one video meeting to another with no break. I have to give myself time to go down tho the kitchen and make a cup of tea, sit in a chair for a few minutes and let my mind reset to the next thing. 

For bigger transitions there are your essential shopping trips and daily exercise outings.

How can you play with different locations to aid your different focus points during the day?

Muscle Memory

Many performers depend on muscle memory: dancers, musicians and certainly magicians.

They have to practice the moves again and again until they can do them automatically, without thinking. This gives them confidence when they are distracted and freedom to focus on the audience and the prevailing conditions.

However, when the unexpected happens, a magician has to be ready to adapt on the spur of the moment. Maybe they will have an alternative ending to the trick up their sleeve. Maybe they will have another trick on standby, just in case. Once the unexpected is dealt with, they can return to their normal routine and the audience will be none the wiser.

Rinse and Repeat, Avoid Defeat

The same is true in life and work. There is immense value in developing habits and routines that then get hard-baked into your mind. They become your muscle memory, your auto-pilot to carry you through when you get distracted, they will allow you to continue to get important things done whilst allowing you the freedom to focus on those around you and the prevailing conditions. 

However, when the unexpected happens, eg, a lockdown, you may need to flex some of your routines. 

But, whatever you do, don’t get rid of them all. They are too valuable for that.

Be Like Grass, Not a Tree

In a strong wind, long grass bends for a while and then returns to upright. A rigid tree risks being blown over.  Flex like grass, don’t be rigid like a tree.

Habit Audit

Have a think about your habits and routines. Which ones can you continue through the lockdown? Which ones could continue in a modified way?

Pre-lockdown, my morning routine was:

Wake up
Put the coffee in the cafétiere
7 minute workout in the front room while the coffee brews
Plunge the coffee
Get changed into walking clothes
Do my bullet-point journal and triage emails and to-do list
Walk the dog Have breakfast
Change into smarter clothes and go to the library to write for an hour or two
Home for lunch

Since then lockdown, most of it has continued, although I can no longer go the library. I have had to flex that bit of my routine but I still write at the same time each day, I just pretend that my front room is the library. It is fine as long as get there early enough, before our teenagers colonise it for their own screen-based activities!  I will write more about the usefulness of different locations in my next post.

What parts of your life/ work routine can carry on and what parts can be adapted?

Think about how you can adapt your existing tricks and routines for your new performing environment.

Let’s Get This Show Off the Road

Maybe you are a little like a magician when it comes to work and productivity?

When the Trick Doesn’t Work Any More

You learn a new trick. You practice it by yourself. You practice it in front of a mirror.

You video yourself doing it. You know you have the moves down. No-one will be able to see how it’s done.

Then you take it out and start performing it real people. You do it again and again. Each time you learn a bit more about how to time it, when to put the pauses in, where you are likely to get reactions.

You’ve got it nailed, it has become one of your signature tricks, something you do really well.

And then you perform it to a different audience and it falls flat. It just doesn’t work, they don’t react, it has lost it’s magic.

Do you give up? No, you flex, you pivot, you try something else: a different trick for that audience, the same trick with a different presentation, or you go and find a different audience.

Lockdown Shakedown

I have spent the last couple of years figuring out how I work best. I have worked out that I am most effective when I have set routines and different locations for different activities and I that there are different times of day when I am more creative.

A lot of that has been challenged because of the lockdown. I can no longer go to the library to write, I am shut in with my family so routines have to dove-tail, I can no longer go out to perform shows.

Maybe you are in a similar position?

What to do?

Do you give up? No you flex, you pivot, you try something else. 

It is worth taking some time to examine your existing habits, routines and work methods. Which of them can you carry through to the new normal and which must be parked for the time-being?

Over the next three posts I will look at how you can stay productive and sane during the lockdown by paying attention to:

  • Habits and routines
  • Locations and journeys
  • Clothing

A lot of it is about tricking yourself into different mind-sets by using the stimuli available to you.

You can find new tricks, you can find new presentations and you can find new audiences.

The magic can continue…