“Nerdy yes, but this kind of thinking landed me a television show.” Alton Brown, “I Am Just Here For the Food” In reference to his habit of keeping copies of recipes with notes in a binder.
I have been reading through Alton Brown’s book, “I Am Just Here For the Food” and he has reminded me about the need to be organized. Talking about Mise En Place in the kitchen, (Getting everything ready ahead of time) has got me thinking about Mise En Place in other areas of my life.
Mise en Place
Any good cook or chef knows the importance of prep work. If you are working a line you have to be able to quickly grab all of the ingredients you need, to assemble the final dish. If you are doing large batch cooking, such as I do in my job, having the food ready to be fired (or heated) allows us to get everything done on time and keeps the stress level low.
In a professional kitchen prep work and organization is everything. At home this is easy to forget. Yet if you are looking for sustained productivity in any area, you have to make a plan and execute that plan. Working with whole foods, whether cooking or growing them, takes planning to a new level.
If you are going to make any recipe, you have to buy the ingredients, and do any of your chopping, dicing or other preparation to get everything ready. (True Mise en place) When you are cooking whole foods you might have to ferment or soak something, or you might have to work with larger portions of meat that you are breaking down into smaller portions.
If you are planting a garden you have to decide what to plant, order the seeds, start seeds indoors for transplanting, till the soil a few times, buy the tools you need, and gather mulching materials. All before you even put the first seed in the ground. Then there is harvesting and preserving the harvest.
I am not the most organized person but I am working at it, both at work and at home. This has been a process and a struggle. I am learning, when organization happens, the work happens a lot easier.
I am learning, when organization happens, the work happens a lot easier.
In the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, Allen Suggests that you break every task down into action steps that you can take. That is essentially what I am talking about. In the kitchen you have to have a recipe, and each recipe has steps to take in order to get to the finished product. Some of those steps can and should be done ahead of time, while others will have to be done just before serving.
Doing what can be done ahead of time is what Mise en Place is all about. For instance today I am cooking some fish oven fried fish. A Couple of days ago I put the tilapia in the fridge to thaw and I made the bread crumbs The next step is to season the bread crumbs, mix up the eggs, and get some flour ready. Then all I have to do is assemble.
You can do this in any area of life. Just write down your tasks, and then break down those tasks into easy action steps. Make sure each action step is something you can do in a reasonable period of time. The smaller the better, but don’t get to bogged down in details.
For instance I am working on building a chicken tractor. So the steps look something like this.
- Determine the plan I am going to use
- Enlist help
- Buy materials
- Cut the wood.
- Put the wood together for the frame
- Put on the roof
- Cover with Chicken wire
You can see that each of those tasks is something I could get done in an hour or two. When the list is done I am done with the project.
Here are some other projects that I am applying this method:
- Gardening: It is ongoing but just focusing on the most important task for that day.
- Harvesting and Preserving: Taking one product at a time, Harvesting one day, cooking the next.
- Listing Items on ebay: Taking pictures, writing a description, and then posting.
- Writing a Blog: Free writing, then editing, then posting.
The key here is focus. You know work gets done by accomplishing tasks that lead to projects. But do you take the time to break your tasks down into manageable action steps that you can easily be accomplished. I know I don’t as often as I should.
What area of your life do you need to break down into action steps?