Can A Shirt And Tie Make You More Productive? We Investigate
“Why are you dressed so smart? You’re a writer.” It’s Wednesday evening and my landlord is putting me in my place. He’s not wrong. I shouldn’t be dressed so lavishly as I cycle off to collect a takeaway order. I’m in a grey sports jacket, dusty pink shirt buttoned to the top, light flowery tie, and navy chinos. I may look like I’m about to give a banging speech at a wedding, but I’m at the tail end of an important experiment: do I get more work done while dressed as formally as possible, or while dressed in my pyjamas?
The temptation to sink into the warm quicksand of one’s own PJs has been overwhelming a lot of us these days. Like schlepping into an office, donning smart clothes for work has been a casualty of corona: what’s the point? Whom are we trying to impress? Yes, maybe you should throw a shirt on for a Zoom call, but you must never disregard the golden rule of video-conferencing from home: if they can’t see your legs, they can’t tell if you’re wearing trousers or not (you’re not).
As someone who worked from home pre-pandemic, I have always liked to draw a clear divide between bed and work. It’s my scientific opinion that I can’t blossom into the butterfly of the day until I’ve shed the horrible caterpillar of the night. I have always tended towards the formal and would never wear sweatpants when working from home.
But, as my social feeds filled with people extolling the virtues of working in loungewear, I wondered: had I had been doing it all wrong for years? Was I missing out on a huge advantage of working from home: the freedom to dress as if no one is watching? Perhaps my deadliest rivals were more productive than me because they felt so supremely relaxed in their clothes. I needed data. Would I be more productive wearing pyjamas for a week, or wearing a suit for a week?
Pyjamas are up first: a white T-shirt and checked navy trousers. Punishingly, when in my pyjamas, I don’t allow myself the dignity of styling my hair because I don’t want to feel as though any part of me would look acceptable in an office. So, when I sit down to work, I look exactly as I did when I heaved myself out of bed. It is, in a word, appalling. My bed hair, often an astonishing sight to behold, makes me look like I’ve just French-kissed an electric fence.
I am writing a play at the moment and will measure my progress on the project in both states of dress. On my first PJs day, though I sit down at my laptop promptly as ever (or as promptly as is possible when one has a 10-month-old daughter), it never feels as though the day has started. This is the revolting truth of working in bedwear, and the knock-on effect is twofold: first, I write literally nothing; second, I end up pulling out of my work commitment in the evening because I break down in tears. Yeah, that got darker faster than you were expecting, didn't it?
Now, I can’t lay the blame for the crying at the feet of my pyjamas: we are in the horrific process of sleep-training our daughter. The pandemic has made everyone stressed and afraid – but I will go to my grave saying that any problem is worse if you’re experiencing it while stuck in a pyjama prison.
“The pandemic has made everyone stressed and afraid – but any problem is worse if you’re experiencing it while stuck in a pyjama prison”
Over the next few days, my white pyjama top continues to attract multicoloured stains thanks to our daughter’s tiny wayward paws but, to my surprise, I begin to get a little writing done. In three days, I write 11 pages of the script. But – crucially – this is the only work I manage to achieve. Being productive in pyjamas is a real slog. What I discover is that wearing what you wore in bed – and, worst of all, then slipping into bed wearing the same thing at night – is infantilising. You don’t actually feel as though you should be doing any work at all. Though I finish the PJs week of the experiment having written 17 pages and carried out a couple of interviews, my conclusion is simple: pyjamas basically make me feel like a failure.
I cannot tell you how good it feels when I get to the suit portion of the experiment. Wearing a navy suit jacket, white shirt, tie, red pocket square and brown tweed trousers, I feel like a different person. No, the opposite, in fact – I feel like myself again. Finally, able to comb and put product in my hair, I have returned to the land of the living. This might make you think of me as a fusty Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg-like figure, some kind of square who feels alive in starched collars and tails. I don’t care. I honestly don’t care. The uncomfortable truth that I’ve learned about myself in the space of a fortnight is that I’d rather look like Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg than The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
Without a shadow of a doubt, I am more productive when I’m suited and booted. A couple of days in, in the span of one workday I write four pages, do a workout, carry out a podcast interview, finish editing a podcast episode and work on the editing for another. One drawback of a suit and tie is that it makes it harder to put my daughter down to sleep because the tie flaps into her face as I’m bending down to soothe her. Still, I can tell she has more respect for me in this iteration and is grateful she’s no longer forced to look at me in my PJs. Even 10-month-old babies have the capacity to feel shame.
Over the next few days, I average four pages a day, submit my application to the acting website Spotlight, send multiple interview requests for pieces that I’m working on and set up a podcast online. By this stage, the foul whiff of the pyjamas has well and truly left my nostrils and I have become evangelical about dressing smart if you want to achieve anything substantial.
The paradox of wearing baggy pyjamas is that, to me at least, they’re not freeing at all. They hem me in. I like knowing that if someone were to walk past my window or hack into my webcam, they would think, “There’s a legend – smart, sophisticated – about to do some work”, not, “There’s a loser about to have his 12th bowl of cereal and spill milk down himself while watching another episode of Takeshi’s Castle.”
The image of the writer might be in need of an overhaul if people assume that we dress like we’re having a sleepover. I think more of us should look like Mr Gay Talese, waistcoat and all. In future, I’m even more determined to give my pyjamas the cold shoulder and dress at the more formal end of the spectrum – although perhaps as though I’m attending my own book launch, not my own wedding. One of the benefits of this job is that we can wear whatever we like. And that’s the point: if you can wear whatever you like, why would you choose to wear pyjamas?
Illustration by Mr Slowboy