If you’ve ever watched any chef-related TV show, you know what a high-pressure environment an active kitchen is. Preparing a restaurant meal is all about maximum quality production in the minimal amount of time. Everything must work in order, and one mistake could derail the entire kitchen crew’s flow. So, how do chefs ensure they’re working as efficiently as possible? It all starts before they ever start cooking, with the practice known as mise-en-place.
A French term that translates to “putting in place,” mise-en-place is all about meticulously preparing your workspace and streamlining your workflow so that you can cook quickly and efficiently. It means checking your recipe, carefully measuring ingredients, laying out your tools, and any other preparation needed to make life easier once the dining rush comes.
Since we’re always searching for ways to better manage time and increase productivity, we’re a little enamored with the mise-en-place philosophy—in the kitchen and in life. Intrigued? Here are the fundamental principles to help you inject a little mise-en-place into your daily routine.
1) Review Your Recipe
Before they cook, chefs read the complete recipe to know both what ingredients are needed and what special preparations might be required (preheating the oven, marinating meats); tasks are prioritized accordingly. Whether it’s your to-do list, packing list, or meeting agenda, knowing what it is you are trying to accomplish—and what it will take to get you there—informs every aspect of your decision-making. Remember: Mise-en-place is about preparation and prioritization to help you take the path of least resistance.
2) Go Through Your Checklist
Before you make a meal, you make sure you have the right ingredients. Enter the checklist. Think of your daily inconveniences or personal pitfalls and consider how a checklist might help you. Are you forgetful when you leave the house? Make your own personal mantra (“phone, keys, wallet, laptop”). Did a project get to the client with an error in it? Make a quality assurance checklist for the future. A huge goal here is to free up brainspace. Look for opportunities to “outsource” your thinking so that you only need to follow directions.
3) Choose the Right Tools
Chefs have their workstations so organized they could find an item if they were blindfolded. You may need physical tools to get your task done, in which case your environment should be designed so that everything has a designated place for easy location, or more abstract tools, such as a team, emotional stamina, etc. Whether you’re trying to break through a communication barrier, organize the right team, or core an apple, the tools you choose make all the difference.
3) Tackle One Thing at a Time
Forget multitasking. The key to flow is solid concentration. For a chef, that means doing one thing at a time, such as chopping all ingredients (the celery, onion, carrots) beforehand—not as they are needed. Look for opportunities to bank tasks (think getting gas and returning an item to the store), then tackle them one at a time. Do your best to limit distractions so that you can execute tasks as quickly as possible.
4) Clean as You Go
Chefs do not let messes sit. If they did, at the end of a shift they’d be drowning in dirty dishes. It’s the same for all those little tasks that build up over a week—the emails that need to be responded to, the timecards that need to be approved, the clothes on the floor. They’re small nuisances that are easy to backburner, but once they build up they feel overwhelming. Throughout your day, be diligent in addressing the little things. (The 1-minute rule is a great strategy for this: If something takes less than a minute to accomplish, do it.) Of course, when you’re working on a single task, you want to avoid distractions. Instead, block out a specific time each day to handle all the miscellaneous things.
Have any life hacks of your own? Let us know. In the meantime, you might also enjoy these:
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