You may not think there is much you can learn about your job (or life, for that matter) from the dude in the back of the kitchen at your favorite restaurant. After all, what does sautéing some chicken have to do with your career?
Well, as someone who has worked in the corporate world and the kitchen, let me just tell you that if you’re looking to be productive, quick, and thoughtful at the office, there is no one better to study than restaurant cooks. In fact, there is one trick all chefs know and follow that you can apply tomorrow—and that will instantly make you better at your job.
All great cooks (for the record, I’m not one, which is why I now work in an office) know that the secret to success is something called mis en place. Which, roughly translated from French, means “get your &#@$ together.” Okay, it doesn’t mean that, but it’s close.
Really though, mis en place is more of a universal concept focusing on the idea of readiness. When chefs walk into a kitchen, they don’t just start cooking. They first assess the situation and make sure they will have everything they need for their entire shift. Why? Because in cooking, taking minutes or even seconds to go chasing after something you need can be the difference between a perfectly executed dish and total garbage. (Take it from Anthony Bourdain.)
So, how can this help you at your job?
Think about it: When you get to the office in the morning, what do you do first? If you’re like most people, you just get started returning emails and phone calls. And before you know it, you’re up and running in the middle of another day, maybe getting a lot done, but maybe not.
Instead, try taking the chef mise approach. Before you do any work, stop and assess your day. What’s on your calendar (meetings, phone calls, travel?), what projects do you have to get done, and what things aren’t as important? Then think about what you’ll need to successfully accomplish everything you’ll need. For example, you may need your boss’ approval to move forward on a project. Asking her first thing in the morning will give you more runway to get it before you realize at 3 PM that you can’t do anything until she signs off.
Even something as simple as getting everything you need—the right documents, important files, your coffee—ready to go before you get down to business can mean the difference between a productive hour and a totally scattered one. Taking those few minutes to mentally prepare for the day will force you to think differently about what you want to work on, and more importantly, how to best work on it.