5 Things We Can Learn About Organizing from Chefs

5 Things We Can Learn About Organizing from Chefs

Do you long for a tidier life, a greater sense of control? Don't we all. The secret, a recent post on NPR's The Salt suggests, may lie in organizing like a chef.

Chefs approach their kitchens following a system called mise en place, a French phrase that means "to put in place." Before chefs start cooking, they spend time painstakingly gathering and arranging their ingredients and tools — that way they know where everything is and it's ready for them when they reach for it. It is, many chefs believe, the key to cooking well — and some suggest it is also the key to living a well-ordered life. Some even refer to it as their religion.

"I know people that have it tattooed on them," Culinary Institute of America student Melissa Gray told NPR. "It really is a way of life ... it's a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions."

Business experts have embraced it. "Most of us do not work in kitchens. We do not interact with ingredients that need to be collected, prepped or measured," workplace consultant Ron Friedman recently wrote in Harvard Business Review. "And yet the value of applying a similar approach and deliberately taking time out to plan before we begin is arguably greater."

So what mise en place practices culled from the kitchens of professional chefs can we apply to our own lives, inside and outside the kitchen? Here are a few:

1. Have a Specific Place for Everything: If you always store your scissors and Scotch tape, say, in the same spot, you know where they'll be (and won't have to turn the house upside down looking for them) when you need them — just like a chef makes sure to know where his or her tools will be before beginning to cook.

2. Make Lists, Prioritize Them and Then Internalize Them: Cooks read and reread their recipes so they know what they're going to do and in what order, down to the last detail, before they start. Advance planning helps bring a relaxed, less stressful approach.

3. Clean As You Go: Don't wait till the end of your dinner party to clean up — or until tomorrow to pick up those toys your kids scattered all over the living room floor. "Clear space to work. Clear mind," Greg Barr, a sous chef at the New York City restaurant Esca, told NPR.

4. Slow Down: Working deliberately cuts down on mistakes and brings efficiency.

5. Stick to Your Schedule — and Always Be on Time: "Practiced at its highest level, mise en place says that time is precious," NPR notes. "Resources are precious. Space is precious. Your self-respect and the respect of others are precious. Use them wisely. Isn't that a philosophy for our time?" Indeed, it should be.

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