by Rebecca Faith


by Rebecca Faith



Wear your pajamas or boxers all day; get up late and work whenever and however much you feel like; catch up in the afternoon on your favorite YouTube videos or scroll your social media.

Family members may assume that because you are your own boss and work from home that you are available to take Grandma to her doctor’s appointment or watch your sister’s kids for an hour. After all, you’re the one with the luxury of working from home. You have time, don’t you?

In my previous post, “Roadblocks to Productivity,” I described five hindrances to productivity as a freelancer. 

You Are What You Wear

Isn’t that an outdated idea? This is the era of remote work, and everyone who works from home dresses presentably only from the waist up—don’t they? Surely many do. But maybe Grandpa was onto something when he told me to dress up when I went to work.

My first freelance gig required me to work 30 hours a week, at my own pace and on my own schedule. However, I was expected to produce a certain volume of work each week.

Before my first day, I received a piece of advice: Dress the part.

You’ve heard the phrase dress for success, but social psychologists have shown that the clothes we wear may influence productivity. Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky studied productivity related to how we perceive certain types of clothing, such as a lab coat or a painter’s jacket, as well as the behavioral effects when the clothing was worn. Their series of three experiments showed that participants who wore a lab coat, the typical attire of doctors and scientists that signifies a scientific focus and careful attentiveness, performed at a higher rate and at sustained attentiveness than participants who wore their own clothes. In addition, they showed that the sustained attentiveness only happened when the participant was actually wearing the coat, not when wearing the same coat that was called a painter’s coat nor when simply viewing the lab coat. They coined the term enclothed cognition to designate the “systematic influence of clothes on the wearer’s psychological processes and behavioral tendencies.” In simple terms, wearing certain types of clothing triggers something in the wearer because of the symbolic meaning attached to the clothing.

What we wear triggers our brains to what it is time to do, what Adam and Galinsky called “the importance of symbolic meaning.” The soft and stretchy fabrics of loungewear cue our brains that it is time to relax. Wearing business attire or a uniform tells our brains to get the game face on and get to work. Workout clothing preps us to hit the track or gym and burn a few calories. Pajamas get us ready to get in bed and sleep.

I’m not suggesting that you buy a business wardrobe and sit in your home office in a power suit every day, but I am suggesting that you devise your own dedicated business attire. In other words, give yourself a dress code. Help your brain transition from nighttime rest to daytime work by retraining it to understand your work attire. 

Is it possible to be productive while dressed in the “wrong” attire for work? Well, yes, of course. Who hasn’t worked in pajamas because you had a cold and still had a deadline? But if this is your usual get-up and you are struggling to be productive in your freelancing, perhaps consider making some changes. The afternoon cup of coffee many not be the only answer to a wandering attention span.

Adam and Galinsky conclude their study by saying that although “clothes do not make the [person], our results suggest that they do hold a strange power over their wearers.”

Hajo Adam, and Adam D. Galinsky, “Enclothed Cognition,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 918–925.

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