Work Smarter//

This French Phrase Will Completely Change the Way You Work

"Mise en place" translates to “put in place" and it will give you a new perspective on how you get things done.

Courtesy of Nikita Sursin / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Nikita Sursin / Shutterstock

DON’T WORK LIKE A CAVEMAN

Naturally obsessed people typically fall into one of two camps: the clean freak or the caveman. If you’re the former, you’re hyperorganized. Paperclips are lined up and color coded, file names are consistently structured in beautifully organized Dropbox folders, and you turn your water bottles label-side out. If you’re the latter, you’re buried in chaos. Your hair looks like you’ve been electrocuted. Your pants are wrinkled, maybe even inside out. You frantically jot notes on CVS receipts. You’re barricaded beneath a pile of papers, sticky notes, Coke cans, and empty Pirate’s Booty bags. You, dear friend, work like a caveman.

All obsessive minds are mosh pits of randomly firing synapses and scattered ideas, so that’s why obsessive Rare Breeds need orderly, structured physical environments. They keep us sane and on task. A clean, organized space imposes discipline and pulls the mind back from wild flights of fancy so that we can, you know, actually deliver.

A Laser Pointer from the Crow’s Nest

Nowhere is running a tight ship and attending to detail more crucial than in the cutthroat world of white tablecloths and fine cuisine. Award-winning French chef and culinary superstar Daniel Boulud understands this. A couple of years ago, we saw Boulud speak at the Charleston Wine + Food festival in South Carolina, and later he invited us to follow him around Daniel, his world-renowned New York City flagship restaurant, during dinner service prep. Both occasions showed us not only why he’s built a remarkable global restaurant empire, but why he’s become a mentor to many of the world’s top chefs (and to us non-chefs).

Great chefs will tell you that the secret ingredient to running a successful kitchen is keeping things clean and orderly and having a system that enables everyone to work as efficiently as a Swiss watch. This is an organizing philosophy practiced in the culinary world called mise en place, a French phrase that translates as “put in place.”

Without order, dishes wind up mistimed or overcooked, people get cut or burned, sanitation goes south, and the customer experience suffers. With order and synchronization, kitchen staff can focus on creating culinary masterworks.

Boulud is maniacal about neatness and order. How maniacal? Well, he has admitted to using a laser pointer from his elevated office, a sort of glass enclosed “crow’s nest” perched above the kitchen, to highlight his staff ’s shortcomings—a dreaded rebuke that sends his cooks into a frenzy.

When we talked with some of his protégés, they told us the same thing. He’s famous for warning, “Don’t work like a caveman!” and preaches this ground rule to his kitchen staff. There are never any exceptions.

As it turns out, order, precision, and organization aren’t the opposite of creativity; they enable it.

How to Own This Mantra

When you work like a caveman and let the little things fall to the wayside, it all falls to the wayside. So quit chomping on that granola bar and getting crumbs all over this book or your Kindle; sit up and pay attention. It’s time to return to order and mise en place yourself. 

First, stop equating sloppiness with being creative or edgy. That’s a myth. Ignoring the periods and commas doesn’t make you a great writer; it makes you the world’s worst poet. We’ve seen obsessed, brilliant writers with desks neat as a pin and product designers with laptops you could eat off of whose work generally reflects the same kind of order and attention to detail as their environments.

Mise en place can be applied to all kinds of daily chores and activities:

  • Clean up as you go, no matter how fast and furious you’re working.
  • Wipe down your workstation—especially your laptop screen, because we’ll bet it’s disgusting.
  • Calendar your meetings, and we don’t mean writing “Meeting @ 10:30” on your hand.
  • Prepare your outfits by picking out your clothes the night before to save time getting dressed in the morning.
  • Pack your lunches for the week on Sundays.
  • Create a file-naming convention that is consistent and logical, not random and meaningless.
  • Check your work for errors 3x. Then check it another 2x. Spelling mistakes? Alignment issues? Entire sentences left out? Sloppy work not only damages your reputation, but it can also negatively affect your team and its productivity.

When things are orderly, your thoughts we will be orderly. Now:  Clean that up tout suite!

Excerpted from RARE BREED: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different by Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, copyright 2019. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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