Celebrity chef, TV host, and culinary rabblerouser Anthony Bourdain wouldn’t strike you as a religious man.
But he does have one ritual: setting up mise-en-place, which means “everything in its place.”
It’s helpful for chefs — and office workers.
“Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks,” he writes in “Kitchen Confidential,” his best-selling memoir.
“As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system,” he continues. “The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach, your defenses are deployed.”
What chefs call the “meez” — which Bourdain describes as “carefully arranged supplies of sea salt, rough-cracked paper, softened butter, cooking oil, wine, back-ups, and so on” — is what allows the cook to dance through each dish without pausing to find the pepper.
Without a well-tended meez, Bourdain warns, you’ll soon find yourself spinning in place and calling for backup.
The same goes for office workers.
Over at HBR, consultant and author Ron Friedman argues that we should take a page from Bourdain’s cookbook, a chef who understood that planning is the most essential ingredient to any dish.
We should start our days with 10 minutes of tending to the meez, Friedman says:
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk? For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.
A better approach is to begin your day with a brief planning session. An intellectual mise-en-place. Bourdain envisions the perfect execution before starting his dish. Here’s the corollary for the enterprising business professional. Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?
This follows important insights on how people get their best work done. President Eisenhower made a point to distinguish between urgent and important tasks — and the meez approach allows you to calibrate your day around importance. Making the meez a part of your day also bakes in reflection, which Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino has found can increase your performance by 22.8%.
So let us heed Bourdain’s advice: “Do not f— with a line cook’s ‘meez.'”
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