Prep like a French Chef.
Fancy chefs prep before they start cooking. They chop vegetables, slice cuts of meat, mix sauces and sometimes even par-cook select ingredients. They also take out the tools and spices they will need. This preparation is essential for handling the mealtime rush. It’s so vital, in fact, that there is even a special phrase for this practice: it’s called mise en place.
Literally translated, mise en place means ‘putting into place.’ The chef puts everything she needs into place so that, once she begins to cook, she is free to engage in her creative work with single-pointed concentration.
I have done this at home a couple of times—got everything ready before I started cooking. It was awesome. (I included pouring myself a glass of wine and finding a great playlist as two essential steps in my prepping protocol).
But mise en place goes beyond mere logistics. It’s also a state of mind. It means you value preparedness. It means you acknowledge that setting up the conditions for creativity—be it in the kitchen, the lab, the studio or the office—has value in and of itself.
No matter what you do, chances are you will do it better with a little mise en place.
Let’s use a documentary filmmaker as an example. For a filmmaker to create a new film, she has to set up her working space. She has to order supplies. She has to schedule and coordinate filming, make travel plans, book a studio for editing, and pay her bills.
You could even take this idea a step further. Presumably, the filmmaker lives in a house or apartment. That means, she has to clean, do laundry, and take care of maintenance issues as they arise.
And let's not forget that the filmmaker lives in a physical body. She needs to eat, exercise, and find inspiration. (After all, she's not a robot! She needs to regularly cultivate her creativity and energy). And she needs to clear out the physical, emotional and mental space so that she can actually think.
Whether she likes it or not, whether she acknowledges it or not, these activities are prerequisites for her creative work.
Unfortunately, we tend to chronically undervalue or downright neglect the value of such tasks.
It makes sense. We’re busy. We feel overwhelmed. We’re struggling to just get through the week. We're convinced we can't afford to clear out time in our precious schedules for such basic things. Instead, we tell ourselves we’ll squeeze in the prep work whenever we can. Stuff it in the margins of our already overloaded work week.
The thing is, this way of thinking generates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. This is because there is no way around the fact that we need to prepare and that preparation takes a certain amount of time. (Usually, a lot more time than we'd like to admit). Ignoring this reality makes us feel like we’re always playing catch up.
We need to switch things around. We need to take our cues from chefs and intentionally reclaim time for mise en place.
I’ve experimented with doing just that. I reserve some time on Sunday or Monday to shop for food and supplies, tidy my desk, pay my bills, schedule appointments and meetings, send out invoices and respond to emails.
Once in a while, when things inevitably pile up and I start to feel overwhelmed, I even schedule a ‘misen place retreat week’. I spend 5 days decluttering my office, computer, and mind. During these retreats, I also focus on setting up systems and structures that facilitate productive work during the rest of the year.
I’ve found that this practice makes me feel calmer and more focused. I get to clear out all the little tasks that are nagging at the back of my mind. I then have the rest of the week to zoom in on my productive work.
I’ve also discovered that there is something incredibly dignified and self-caring about acknowledging the fact that I need time to set up before I can create.
Inspired to try it out? Schedule half a day or even a full day every week (ideally on Sunday or Monday) for mise en place. If you feel like you can't afford that much time, even a dedicated hour or two at the start of the week will make a big difference.
What would you include in your mise en place protocol?
Do you need to start with a mise en place retreat?
Let me know if you try it out.