If you’re a fan of cooking shows, you’ve heard the term mise en place. And, if you’ve ever worked in a professional kitchen, you’ve seen mise en place in action. Pronounced “meez-ahn-plahz,” it’s French for “put in place,” and it’s the organizational concept that keeps kitchens around the world running efficiently.
Mise en place encompasses everything in a chef’s life. How a chef reads, prepares the ingredients for and executes a recipe—that’s mise en place. How she sets up her workstation and keeps it clean—also mise en place. The concept even dictates how she runs the business end of the kitchen.
“You can’t be a chef and just go in and cook,” says Todd Engel, head chef at Greenhouse Craft Food in Round Rock, Texas. “You can cook, but to be a chef, you need to be organized to run the business, and it all comes back to mise en place.”
Taught in culinary schools the world over, every chef learns mise en place until it becomes a ritual mindset. It’s a way of life in the restaurant kitchen.
Chef Engel says he applies mise en place to everything from buying a car to achieving his yearly goals.
“Mise en place is a life skill. It’s all about being prepared for what’s to come,” he said. “You can’t control life, but you can be prepared for it.”
Unfortunately, many of us working outside of professional kitchens never learned how to organize… how to plan and prepare for what’s next. We try to figure it out for ourselves… often on the fly.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can develop your own organizational mise en place mindset, even if you never plan to cook a day in your life.
Mise en place your mornings
When you arrive at your desk in the morning, set aside time for a “10-minute meez.” Before you check email or voicemail, sit down, clear your mind and think about what you need to accomplish by day’s end to make you feel happy and satisfied.
Write down everything you need to do, as well as everything you want to do. Note the distinction. Then create a to-do list ordered by priority.
Put the tasks that require the most mental energy on the top of the list. Less taxing items like returning phone calls and emails work better at the end of the day. And, put the things you want to do, but aren’t critical, also at the end of the day, if you have time.
By generating a priority-ordered list each day, you give yourself a guide to get you through chaotic afternoons. That’s when your concentration and energy are waning. It’s harder to stay focused. Your prioritized list can help keep you on track as the day wears on.
Another important note about your morning “meez”… order your own priorities before you check other people’s priorities.
Start the day from a calm, proactive place instead of feeling frenzied or reacting to the needs of others. Your “10-minute meez” is the most important meeting you’ll have all day. Be sure not to miss it.
Slow down to speed up
In the kitchen it’s better to slow down for one minute and get the dish right than to do it in a rush and screw it up. If you have to redo the plate, that puts everyone behind.
The same is true in your writing life. Plan to be mindful about the task at hand.
Take research, for example. If you’re careless and distracted while researching a project, you may find yourself wasting time later, tracking down a source or quote you could have easily obtained earlier. Be thorough the first time around and organize your sources as you go.
It may mean you spend a little more time on your initial research. But, that will save you time later by making the drafting process easier.
When writing your first draft, you’re prepping all the raw ingredients of your research so your finished product, your copy, will be outstanding. Make that first draft the best first draft possible, so the second and third rounds of revising and editing go more smoothly.
When you’re revising and editing, working toward the final draft, work with purpose and attention to ensure it’s “perfectly seasoned” and exactly what your client ordered.
Clean as you work
To help keep your mind clear, keep your desk clear. When you’re done using materials for a project, put them away before you move on. Even if you just put papers into a folder and stack the folders in a big pile, it will reduce the amount of “visual noise” in your day.
The more visual noise in your workspace, the more distracted you can become.
If you start out the day at a cluttered desk, it can make you feel frazzled right out of the gate. If your clean morning desk looks like a bomb went off by 2:00 p.m., you’ll have a hard time staying focused for the last few hours of the day. And, let’s face it, that’s hard enough as it is!
By cleaning as you work, you carry the Zen you cultivated with your “10-minute morning meez” throughout the day.
And, when you clean your desk at the end of the day, you’ll be able to jump right into your “10-minute meez” the next day. You’ll create your own cycle of success!
At the heart of mise en place is value. It says everything from your time and energy to your resources are valuable, so use them wisely and reduce waste as much as possible.
The more efficient you are, the faster you can write. Writing faster means earning more money, which ultimately frees up your time to spend with the people you love.
“I wish I’d spent more time at the office,” said no one, ever, at the end of his or her life. Use mise en place to order your life today, so you get the most value out of every day you have.