Mise en place is a phrase from French professional culinary arts and it means “putting in place” or “everything in its place” and it refers to the necessity of careful and thorough preparation, arrangement and organization for every tool, ingredient and material in advance of running a shift in the professional kitchen.
Although the phrase comes from the food world, time and again, I’ve seen the super-pro’s in any field of endeavor you’d care — to name, prepping and arranging in such a way that the term mise en place could easily be applied.
What this means for us is that how you prepare to work and how you prepare to get the most of out of your resources requires adding the concept of mise en place to your process and resource thinking.
Now… using simple logic, when might be the best time for one to consider your mise en place?
To me, your weekly review and planning sessions seem the perfect time to consider the mise en place for the week.
You think through what materials need to be arranged, what you need to have immediately to hand, and what conditions have to be arranged in order for you to be able to move smoothly and easily, directly into your workflow.
This is opposed to ambling through your week with a half dozen or more “punctuations” of wasted time, attention and energy in random searches for physical materials (“where did I put that toner replacement for the printer?”, “What did I do with my favorite writing pen?”, “Damn! I’ve run out of paper. I’ll go get some now.”, etc.); farting around and avoiding beginning to work because you don’t know what comes next, or what the piece of work is all about (its purpose), or what the outputs are.
Your mise en place is the habit hacker’s way to smooth and streamline a workflow (that means you, and the things you do, to produce specific outputs).
Your mise en place is a demonstration both for yourself and any who happens to notice, that you really know what you are doing.
Your mise en place can extend to taking your planned outputs for a week and working out a mini plan for exactly what the output is, what its purpose or function is, any special features or key points, research materials, and whatever tools or specific capabilities need to be arranged before you start.
Serendipity! A live example of what we are talking about, being talked about…
I happen to be coaching someone at the moment, who is interested in the various things I do, and who is now asking questions about mise en place.
I just demonstrated what I do by pulling forward some of my weekend planning material, and in this case, it’s planning for you!
We look at where we are in the production process, what we’ve accomplished and what remains to be done. We look at any lags or over-due outputs, and then what we have already scheduled for next week.
We look at the context, and other non-prosperity habit projects, and then make the call on exactly what will be recorded, edited and post-produced, written, planned or otherwise output.
We pay special attention to over-due items or problems, and how those conditions came about – the choices that were made, the issues that arose or the problems in production, and then design out the causes.
(Note: don’t fuss, don’t explain, don’t waste any time on the past beyond determining your own part in how conditions arose – even things you have little or no control over – and design a different way forward that prevents or minimizes the conditions from arising again or, at worst, minimizes the intrusions in your workflow.)
We then look at the mise en place for each item. For example, with the writing outputs, on the material side, everything is already in one place (the computer).
Looking at each writing output, we then determine from the specifications which were written months ago, exactly what each finished output will be about (what’s this specific piece of writing ‘for the purpose of?’, what the difference will be to a reader having read it, etc.) – just a few lines – and then any special notes on examples, anecdotes, bits or pieces, etc. It takes just a few minutes for each output.
My observer is now fatigued because I’m writing at top speed while I plan – he has suggested that my hands “are a blur” as I type – and that is because I am working WITHIN a clear bigger overall plan that I frequently review, and I have all of my projects organized in such a way the cross-referencing and thinking into the context is A NO BRAINER because the elements are vivid, strong and powerfully connected to what I want.
In fifteen minutes I have completed my workflow for next week, arranged the outputs, created my mise en place and also made a fallback plan for certain perpetually arising interferences – so that I am not moved to homicide or mayhem when or if they arise.
You mise en place – for the bigger contexts of your life and work, right down to the smaller chunks of daily tasks – you can craft and perfect your arrangement so that when it is time to work; you work and the work is straightforward and the flow is easy… because your mise en place supports you.
Create a mise en place for some piece of work that you are working on. Start practicing right now.
On your planning and prep day, add the mise en place for your major outputs from now on.
This is a skill (a cognitive and emotional skill, I should add) and over time, you get better and better at it. Take the opportunity of going pro right now.