I used to have a routine – it was called school. I woke up at the same time every day. I wore a uniform every day. I ate lunch at the same time every day. And you know what – I liked that routine. I felt vital, productive, energised.
But after leaving school my routine crumbled. I woke up when I pleased. I wore what I wanted. I ate when I felt like it. Life was suddenly full of choices, options, alternatives. And as my freedom soared, so my vitality, my productivity and my energy entered a steady nosedive.
I pondered this disheartening reality one afternoon as I read a Vanity Fair profile of Barack Obama. Midway through the piece, the author puts it to the then leader of the free world: “Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me how to be president.”
Obama considered this question for a moment before answering: “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing . . . You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinise yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
Obama’s words struck a chord with me. My life was one long distraction. I needed a routine, goddamit!
It was time to take Obama’s wisdom onboard; to “routinise” my life. I decided to wear the exact same outfit to work for an entire month.
Here’s what I learned.
Keep Your Uniform Simple
History is littered with over-achievers who wore the same outfit day in, day out. Albert Einstein wore a grey suit (and saved time by eschewing combs). Andy Warhol constructed a uniform of sartorial verve: a pair of 501s, a blue jacket and a striped tie. Steve Jobs constructed one of nerdish pragmatism: black turtleneck, baggy jeans and New Balance trainers.
I finally settle on a pair steel-blue chinos, a white button-down shirt, an unlined navy blazer, a navy woven canvas belt and a pair of dark brown desert boots. Simple but effective.
A corollary to this point: when you find an item of clothing that fits you and suits you and makes you feel good, buy it multiples.
Your Clothes Can Empower
On day 1 of my experiment I walk out the front door of my house feeling vital and purposeful. Maybe even a tad self-important. At Redfern Station I don’t break stride as I cut through the crowds. Out of my way little people – I’m a man in uniform!
It’s a sense of empowerment that continues throughout the month. Every morning I approach my wardrobe with a pleasant sense of certainty. Just as a policeman’s uniform connotes authority and purpose, so I find my uniform squares my shoulders each morning; slipping in to and out of my blazer become neat parentheses marking the start and the end of each working day.
No One Notices
On Day 2 of my experiment, I stride into the office expecting a chorus of howls and snide comments. In fact, no one says anything. No one seems to notice. Am I disappointed? A little. Although the silence is to be expected. Karl Stefanovic wore the same blue suit every day for an entire year on the set of The Morning Show. His findings? “No one noticed. No one gives a shit.” Note to female readers: I’m afraid this will not apply to you.
Routines Are Like Viruses
They spread. After a week or so of wearing my uniform, I find myself routinising other aspects of my working day. I start eating the same thing for lunch each day (tuna and avocado on rice), I start doing the same workout at lunch each day (a 15-minute kettlebell circuit). After another week, I find myself going to bed at the same time each night. And I find my waking has time become so grooved I no longer set an alarm. It feels good. Very good.
Routines Do Not Equal Ruts
Routines can be sources of joy and contentment; tent pegs anchoring our otherwise windblown existence. I came to relish putting on my desert boots every morning. I came to relish eating chicken and avocado at lunch. I almost came to relish kettlebell thrusters (in truth, my workout was the one routine that never felt entirely comfortable). These actions became touchstones that gave shape to my days.
But Make Them Flexible
This is important. Really important. The key to a productive, enjoyable, sustainable routine is the willingness – every now and then – to break it.
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