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12 Oct

Three tips of efficiency from the kitchen

Datum: 2023-10-12 09:00
Three restaurant chefs working in a restaurant kitchen. There's pots on the stove.

I lis­tened to an inter­est­ing pro­gram on the NPR, the US pub­lic ser­vice radio, about effi­cien­cy in restau­rant kitchens.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

In a brief reportage, a hand­ful of chefs shared the three prin­ci­ples they regard as cen­tral to being effi­cient while cooking.

  1. Take out every­thing you will need before you start: In the indus­try it is called mis en place” and the idea is that if we place every­thing we will need for a cer­tain task lit­er­al­ly or fig­u­ra­tive­ly at arm’s length before we start, we will work smoother and faster when per­form­ing the task.

    In the heat of the moment we need to move through the steps of the process quick­ly and eas­i­ly, and if we then have to stop to look for things, we will lose speed and flow.

  2. Clean (wash dish­es) while you work, not just after: Instead of sav­ing all the dish­es and all the clean­ing until you are done with the task, clean away (and wash some of the dish­es) while you are in the process of solv­ing the task. You will keep the work­space (phys­i­cal as well as dig­i­tal) free from dis­tract­ing and irrel­e­vant clut­ter, and once the task is done it will be much eas­i­er to just move on to the next — with­out hav­ing to deal with a moun­tain of dish­es first.

    To divide a larg­er task (wash­ing dish­es and clean­ing up) into small­er steps is one of the most com­mon and effec­tive strate­gies of get­ting a task we tend to pro­cras­ti­nate done.

  3. Low­er the speed so that you work faster: Bill Telepan, own­er of the New York restau­rant named after him (now closed, though), adds that the one who takes his work tem­po down a few notch­es and who is more thor­ough does not have to spend time cor­rect­ing errors made due to haste and slop­pi­ness.

    They might appear less effec­tive in the moment, but work­ing slow­er and with greater thor­ough­ness def­i­nite­ly pays off both in the short- and long-run.

What does it have to do with us?

Wouldn’t you say that we catch a glimpse of a real trea­sure com­posed of years of expe­ri­ence and exper­tise in just three brief state­ments? And would you not agree that they seem worth tak­ing to heart?

After hav­ing applied these prin­ci­ples myself while cook­ing, I have noticed what a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence it makes both in the feel­ing I get while cook­ing and the ease and flow it has brought to the entire expe­ri­ence of prepar­ing meals, and I have start­ed to reflect on how these three prin­ci­ples actu­al­ly are applic­a­ble to oth­er areas of life and work as well — regard­less what we do.

Three ways of doing dishes

Per­son­al­ly I apply the prin­ci­ple of clean­ing while work­ing by putting away some­thing I just used that I know I will not need in the next lit­tle while in its place, rather than just putting it down some­where for now”, more often than I used to. It can be some­thing as sim­ple as the roll of tape. If we put it back where it is sup­posed to be right after using it, we don’t have to both­er putting it away lat­er after fin­ish­ing the task and when we would much rather move on to the next task — not clean up after the pre­vi­ous one.

If there is one thing at least I find tru­ly bor­ing, it is clean­ing up after myself. And by clean­ing up in the process of com­plet­ing a task, we make room for all the things we need for the new task we are about to commence.

And if what we are clean­ing aside con­sists of a pile of papers, we no longer risk catch­ing a glance of some­thing that dis­tracts us since it is back in its right­ful place.

When it comes to dig­i­tal doc­u­ments, the equiv­a­lent would be to not save any­thing on the com­put­er desk­top oth­er than doc­u­ments relat­ed to what we are cur­rent­ly work­ing on (except for maybe a short­cut or two). I have seen plen­ty of com­put­er desk­tops lit­tered with doc­u­ments that were once saved there tem­porar­i­ly”, but which have remained there and is now only dis­tract­ing.

When we are not quite cer­tain of where exact­ly to save them, what to do with them or which ver­sion that is the most updat­ed one, we tend to think that we will deal with it lat­er” since we now have oth­er, more impor­tant things on our mind. We save it to the desk­top for now”, and there it remains — as an ele­ment of dis­trac­tion, wor­ry and stress.

Per­ma­nent­ly in place

When I first head of the mis en place”-principle, some­thing as sim­ple as hav­ing a jar for keep­ing pen­cils in sprung to mind — an obvi­ous and giv­en place for all the pens we use on a dai­ly basis. A client of mine described how he used to con­stant­ly look for the right pen amongst every­thing else he kept on his desk, but that he now knows exact­ly where to find it — they are always in the des­ig­nat­ed jar at arm’s length. He appre­ci­at­ed that he by mak­ing this small improve­ment no longer has to spend a total of a few hours every week look­ing for pens as he used to.

At first I thought his esti­ma­tion sound­ed slight­ly exag­ger­at­ed, but I real­ized that the actu­al time saved is of lit­tle impor­tance and rel­e­vance. If it feels like we are reclaim­ing two addi­tion­al hours every week, that holds a great val­ue in itself, regard­less if it is com­plete­ly accu­rate or not. All the apps and tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to us is fan­tas­tic and can help us tremen­dous­ly in our work, but isn’t it love­ly how the sim­plest things can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence as well?

Anoth­er way to imple­ment mis en place” is to write down the link for the web­page or doc­u­ment you need when doing cer­tain recur­ring tasks in the sec­tion for notes in your dig­i­tal to-do-list tool. What you need is now only one click away.

Or get your­self small ziplock bags, cas­es, or toi­letry bags to keep in your brief­case into which you put all the items you need for cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. When you find your­self in the con­text or sit­u­a­tion, you sim­ply take out your com­plete kit instead of rum­mag­ing about in your bag to locate all the items your need one by one.

I need to pace myself

When it comes to the prin­ci­ple of pac­ing your­self, this is an area I need to work on as well. The struc­ture pit­falls I some­times fall into in spite of con­tin­u­ous­ly refin­ing my meth­ods and ways, are often brought about by my rush­ing through things — I do or read some­thing (such as read­ing an email, for instance) so fast that I miss some­thing, and before I know it I am at the bot­tom of one of those sinkholes.

Do this

If you want to, take minute or two to think about how you could apply one or all three of these prin­ci­ples from restau­rant kitchens.

  • What could you take out before start­ing a cer­tain task?
  • What could you put away right after using it? Is it per­haps some­thing that tends to nev­er be put away and that always just lays about?
  • In what sit­u­a­tions have you worked so fast that the result has turned out slop­py and you had to go back and redo part of the task? Could you ensure that you are some­how remind­ed to pace your­self and work a lit­tle slow­er and more method­i­cal­ly next time you are about to do the task?

Let your­self be inspired by others

If we take after oth­er people’s good exam­ple, for instance those we nev­er thought we had some­thing in com­mon with, we will end up with a smoother and eas­i­er work­day than if all improve­ments and adjust­ments sprang only from our own ideas and mind­set. When it comes down to it, most of us work with sim­i­lar things or dynam­ics, and since we are in need of sim­i­lar struc­ture and sup­port­ing habits, there is great val­ue to be gath­ered from oth­er people’s expe­ri­ences.

If we ask oth­ers how they do things and then reflect on how we could imple­ment or trans­late their meth­ods and expe­ri­ences into some­thing appro­pri­ate in our lives, we will find amaz­ing solu­tions, ideas and habits that we oth­er­wise would have missed out on.

What is your way?

Have you been inspired by some oth­er indus­try or line of work than your own that has shaped how you struc­ture your life and work? I would real­ly love to hear about it if you have, so please tell me.

(Speak­ing of use­ful prin­ci­ples from oth­er indus­tries than our own, have you heard about this from the world of museums?)

There's more where this came from

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If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

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