How To Make Your Mornings Run Like Clockwork: Think Less About Your Outfit

Creative Commons

Closet full of clothes

Creative Commons

Katie Jay
Katie Jay
June 20, 2024 at 5:45AM UTC

We love clothes as much as anybody but when we read this piece by blogger Katie Jay about how to create a "routine" for your outfits, we thought it was a helpful way to think about the many small decisions that we make every day that can suck away our productivity and valuable mental energy. In the spirit of enjoying more free time this July 4th weekend, we thought we'd share her tips on how to free up a few more minutes every day right at the start.

A version of this piece was originally published on Katie Jay's blog:

How many times have you gotten dressed for work only to decide that your pants didn’t fit right or your shirt clashed, or the outfit just didn’t feel good?

You end up trying on 3 different outfits before you finally pick one, and in your rush to get out the door they land in a pile on the floor to be dealt with later.

You’ve taken so long figuring out what to wear that your little one is already awake and calling out for you. You rush to get him dressed, diapered and fed--by the time you get out the door you realize you’ve only put mascara on one eye, you left your coffee at home, and you’re late for your morning meeting.

Sound familiar?

Don’t you hate mornings like that? You start off behind, and you can never catch up for the rest of the day.

Now my mornings are completely different.

I jump out of bed before my alarm (OK not really, I still hit snooze a few times). I hop into the shower, then walk into my closet which is no longer covered in rejected outfits from the day before. I glance at my phone and I know exactly what I’m going to wear, that it fits, and that I’ll feel great. I get dressed once and only once. I pop into the kitchen to eat breakfast alone, in the quiet. By myself. I’ve had my coffee and am ready for the day, all before my toddler starts to stir.

Deciding Ahead

The magic behind my mornings is pretty simple, actually. I call it deciding ahead. You decide what you’re going to wear to work once and only once. The "work uniform" isn't new.  President Obama claims it's the secret to his productivity. You don’t have to wear the same thing every day like Mark Zuckerberg, or Matilda Kahl, either.

My system is this:

Just list out all of your outfits (literally) and cross off any that you don’t like, that don’t fit, or that are wrong in any way.

Wear what’s on that list. Just move down the list in order, every day.

No complicated “capsule wardrobe” planning, no epic closet clean-out, and no shopping required.

Maybe, like me, you need a list for work clothes and are willing to “wing it” on the weekend, or maybe you need two separate lists. Do what it takes. Think about it once, then just continue to follow the plan you laid out.

It really is that simple, but I’ve included some more detailed instructions and a sample list below.

Does it sound boring to you? 

To be honest, it is a little bit boring. But for me, clothes and work clothes in particular, need to look professional and put together. Original, bold, vivacious--none of those things would work for me at work. So boring is OK.

But what if you need to look original, bold and vivacious? I still think you can decide ahead, but you may need more total outfits than I do since yours will be more memorable, and you probably shop more than me so you'll change your list up more often.

Try it for two weeks. Seriously, test out whether this could make a difference for you--what have you got to lose? Grab a piece of paper and write down 6-10 outfits, then tape it to your closet door and commit to wearing them in order each day for two weeks. It is ridiculously simple, but that’s why it works. You take the thinking out of it, you’re good to go.

Of course you can change it any time--add outfits as you shop and subtract them as you get bored. Add as much detail as you like (shoes and accessories), the more the better.

Fringe Benefits

Once you get started with the system, you might find a few fringe benefits.

It will be easy to declutter your clothing: anything that isn’t on your outfit list can be donated. You probably weren’t wearing it much anyway.

You’ll be much more directed when you buy new clothes.  You’ll either be completing an outfit or you’ll buy an entire new outfit. No more one-off items that just hang in your closet because they don’t go with anything else you own. Any orphan item that you just can’t part with should go on a list so that you can look for completer items.

You will save money. Personally I haven’t been shopping in months. Seeing it all written out shows me that I have enough clothes, and I don’t need or want any more.

Most importantly, your mornings will be So. Much. Easier.

Clearing Mental Clutter

My husband and I actually both use a similar system, because it works. I know it can work for you. I have essentially cleared my brain of all things clothing-related, and there’s some valuable real estate there. By automating small decisions, I am much more productive.

Maybe you don’t want to clear your mind of clothing-related clutter--that’s fine! The same system applies for other parts of your life, like what to eat or what to do with your kids. You can even create standing social engagements--many top executives do. The main objective is to look for ways to stop thinking so hard so that when you do need to think hard, you can.

What would you do with that mind space you free up? How productive would you be? Would you pack your lunch or plan your meals out so you could finally lose those last ten pounds? Would you finally get some time to yourself? Would you play with your kids more?

Here’s the bottom line.

You have a million things to do, and your brain is overflowing with all the little details you need to remember, and the decisions you have to make. Willpower and the power to make decisions is precious, and limited. Each decision makes all the rest of them that much harder, even decisions that seem trivial or unimportant (like what to wear).

You can free up some mental space and increase your capacity to focus on the things that matter to you (and be more productive) by making fewer decisions.

Automating your wardrobe is just one example of how you can simplify and systematize to preserve your mental energy for what truly matters to you. It’s an easy to do and has disproportionate payoff. You’ll save up your willpower to spend on more important things, like being present for your children, being effective at your job, or sticking to your diet. You’ll even create a little extra time for yourself in the mornings to meditate, enjoy your coffee, take a longer shower, or catch some extra sleep.

You’ve so got this.

Need more details?

The process goes like this.

List all of your work outfits in descriptive terms: Grey J. Crew suit and pink gap shirt, grey suit and blue shirt, grey suit and white shirt; blue suit and pink shirt, etc. Do this electronically.

Now, delete any of the outfits that you routinely reject either due to fit, comfort, style or emotion. If you need to, try on a few to make sure the pass muster.

Now rearrange the order so that you’re not wearing the same suit or same shirt two days in a row and so you have time to wash them as needed.

Store the list on your cell phone (I use the Numbers App on my iPhone). Now all you have to do is look at it each day and wear what’s next on the list. When you get to the bottom, start over at the top.

(PS: if checking your phone for what to wear will just send you down a rabbit hole of email and facebook checking, just print out the list and tape it to the wall)



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