Productivity tip #3: No one cares (or even notices) what you look like.

I ran into a friend at the grocery store on Saturday morning. After exchanging pleasantries, he said, “I admire you. I could never leave the house like that.”

“Like that” consisted of a sweat pants, an old tee shirt and a baseball cap. I had just come from the gym, though I could’ve been just as easily dressed this way regardless of my previous destination.

“I look that bad?” I asked.

“No,” he said, immediately backtracking.  “I’m just saying…  I need to make myself look more presentable before I leave the house. You know?”

I do. I also know that he is not alone in his need to make himself presentable before leaving the house.

This need to look presentable in most, if not all, public circumstance, is highly unproductive. While I’m not saying that you need to look like a slob in order to be productive, I also don’t think that you should be too worried about your appearance if you’re destination is a grocery store, a retail outlet or a similar location, especially if it will delay your trip.

The store where I was shopping opens at 9:00 AM. I like to be there when the doors open because the checkout lines can become unreasonably long on a weekend. I also wanted to stop at the gym on the way.

I explained this to my friend, and he said that he just couldn’t do that. “It might save time, but I just couldn’t go shopping looking like that. I would need to work out at the gym, go home, take a shower, get dressed and then go out shopping.”

This poor guy actually thinks that people care what he looks like while shopping in a big box retailer on a Saturday morning. He thinks they will remember what he looked like a day later.

He’s not alone, of course.

I’m convinced that the less you care about your physical appearance, the more productive you can be. And caring less is a good idea in many, many cases. Perhaps not when you are meeting with a client or making a presentation or attending your cousin’s wedding, but in your day-to-day existence, caring less is good because no one ever cares as much as you think.

Here’s my hypothesis:

90% of all “good hair days” are only noticed by the person who owns the hair. I understand that a good hair day can make a person feel great, but those feelings are based upon the presumption that people will notice the hair.

They don’t.

The difference between a goof hair day and a bad hair day is only distinguishable by someone who has spent their life looking at the hair in close detail. You may think your hair looks terrible, but no one else does.

I attended a wedding last year. I no longer wear ties, and a friend pointed out to me that I was the only man at the entire wedding not wearing a tie. “Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?” she asked.

It didn’t. That wedding was a year ago. How many of the guests at that wedding still remember that I was not wearing a tie? How many even noticed the absence of a tie that evening? How many noticed and thought poorly of me?

The answers to all these questions are none or almost none.

No one cares what you look like.

The misconception that people are paying greater attention to you than they really are is known as The Spotlight Effect, and it has been demonstrated many, many times by social psychologists.

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In one test, students were asked to wear bright yellow, oversized Barry Manilow t-shirts to a large introductory to psychology class. Researchers then had them estimate how many people in the class had noticed their shirt.

Students estimated that 50% of their classmates noticed their shirt. In reality almost no one did.

Not only do people not care what you look like, but they are rarely paying attention.

When you can embrace this belief, you will be more productive. You’ll spend less time getting ready to go out. You’ll be more willing to jump in the car in pajama pants and a tee shirt to run an errand. You’ll be more likely to dress sensibly rather than stylishly.

Just imagine how much time you could recapture if you spend less time in front of a mirror every day. Or less time choosing an outfit. Or less time worrying about how you look.

If you spend 45 minutes getting showered and dressed every morning, but your competitor spends 15 minutes accomplishing the same task, the amount of time that your competitor gains on you is astounding.

More than 3 hours in a week. More than 14 hours in a month. More than 168 hours in a year.

Think about that:

Your competitor gains four 40-hour  work weeks worth of time on you every year because of the time you spend in front of the mirror. If he is using that time wisely, it will be extremely hard to ever get ahead of him.

Imagine what you could do with four extra work weeks every year.

All that for something that no one cares about and few people are even noticing.

Think back on how my friend would’ve handled his morning differently than me. He would’ve gone to the gym, returned home, showered and dressed, and then left the house again for the store.

By going from the gym to the store and then home, I saved a needless trip. My route guaranteed that I would be at the store when it opened, allowing me to avoid the checkout lines. My way was much faster and therefore more productive, and I promise you, I used the time gained wisely.

I am not saying to look like a slob. I am not saying that you should ignore your physical appearance entirely. I’m suggesting that you probably spend too much time worrying about your appearance, and as a result, too much time making yourself presentable.

I’m suggesting that you could probably shave precious minutes off your morning routine while not changing anyone’s opinion of you or your appearance whatsoever.

Try it for a week. Keep track of the time that you recapture, and use it wisely. Spend it with your children. Go to work early and accomplish a goal that has been sitting on the backburner. Make yourself a healthier breakfast. Read 10 pages in that book that has been sitting on the nightstand forever. Send an email to an old friend. Meditate.

15 minutes is a long time. You can do so many things in 15 minutes.

Embrace the idea that you can look just as good as you do in half the time, and then begin living that belief.

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7 Responses to Productivity tip #3: No one cares (or even notices) what you look like.

  1. Barbara green says:

    I disagree 100%

  2. Plato Karafelis says:

    I’m with Barbara.

  3. Jaymie Barnard says:

    Some of this may be accurate, but people sure do care when they are posting photos along the lines of “Walmart disasters,” “look what she wore,” “fashion don’ts,” “white trash outfits,” and “check out the freaks” on social media along with catty comments, which encourage public shaming and bullying. I am not saying that this justifies changing the way you look. If you feel comfortable, by all means, dress as you will, and more power to you for your self-confidence. Personally, I try not to look as if I just rolled out of bed, but I am among those who has never felt the need to do hair and makeup and an outfit check before running to the drugstore.
    But the truth is that people DO notice. And they can be cruel.

  4. Plato Karafelis says:

    Hope science keeps you warm at night!

    • matthew says:

      Toasty, in fact. Can’t wait to share more data on this subject (released last week) on this very subject!

  5. Plato Karafelis says:

    There is a saying in research, “Figures lie and liars figure.” For every study produced on the nature of appearance, I could probably generate an equal number of studies with contrarian hypotheses and findings. A quick google search bore this out. Here is one of many websites that presents a number of studies and meta-analyses:

    link to ehps.net

    Appearance is a very complex construct. In short, I choose to believe that appearance is important (and I could find a lot of research to support my position). You feel differently. I believe there is no right answer, just a chosen path.

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