Mise en place.  I vividly remember learning the term as a freshman in college.  To say mise en place resonated with me would be an understatement; it became my mantra and something akin to my definition of utopia.

The culinary term is French and is defined as put in place or everything in it’s place.  The term is commonly used in professional kitchens to describe the prep work required for a shift and/or the overall layout of the kitchen — both ease the effort of production and reduce waste.  I believe mise en place applies to much more than a kitchen, commercial or otherwise.  I believe it can be applied to how we organize our daily lives to manage time and resources, i.e. productivity and efficiency.

I am not alone in my view of mise en place as a lifestyle.  Many similar declarations have been made based on similar logic.  In 2016, Dan Charnas authored a book entitled Work Clean: The life changing power of mise en place to organize your work, life and mind.  (Work Clean is on order from Amazon and will trump other books in my queue to be read.)

In the meantime, mise en place has been described as:

  • A religion; a mind-set
  • A form of order and organization; a type of discipline
  • A concept similar to eliminating clutter to get something done
  • A concept of slowing down to speed up (not dissimilar to measure twice, cut once)
  • An exercise in mindfulness and deepening of concentration

I agree with all and would add to the list that to mise en place is to simplify all that you can.  Noteworthy is the use of mise en place as a noun (the setup of ingredients), as a verb (the process of preparing) or as I believe, as a state of mind.  All are correct uses of my favorite phrase.

Grouping Like Items

To put everything in it’s place, one needs to be organized.  My approach to organization is quite simply to group like items.  For me, it makes sense.  If I can accurately predict where something is, I can move more quickly and get more done.  It is all about a sense of order, access to items needed to accomplish a goal, and knowledge of what items you have available.  Once organized, it becomes very clear if you are prepared or not.

Hobbies and lifestyle dictate what organization opportunities exist in your home.  I enjoy cooking and entertaining so I have a considerable amount of equipment and supplies.  As such, I reap the greatest benefit from having my kitchen and party closets highly organized.

What I am suggesting is not profound.  Dedicating shelves to stemware, serve ware, tablecloths, disposable plates and plasticware, candles, candleholders, vases, etc. is not a new concept but it is a concept that works well for me.  My commitment to organization allows me to setup to entertain with a moment’s notice — something I thoroughly enjoy.  In that sense, mise en place is also a means to an end.

I am also suggesting that I may have a solid obsession with The Container Store in my quest for mise en place.

The epitome of mise en place and an irresistible example of grouping like items: a library. Every book in it’s place.

Streamlining

Streamlining is essential to mise en place.  The only objects that should be consuming time or energy are those that are required to satisfy a goal.  Effort expended to manage outdated or useless items contradicts the spirit of mise en place.  Furthermore, clutter (defined here as anything without clear purpose) will detract from your goal.  By eliminating clutter (including visual clutter) we increase our ability to focus and magic happens.

Clutter takes many shapes and forms but ultimately it consumes precious resources — literally and figuratively.  Clutter can be junk mail on the counter, ill fitting clothes, a household item that doesn’t offer the planned convenience or any object that continually grabs your attention for all the wrong reasons.

Clutter is not without value, however the key is to recognize what may be more useful to someone else.  Let it go.  Free up your space for purposeful work.

Planning

To put everything in it’s place, requires a plan.  The better the plan, the more efficient the effort.  Planning and prepping a week of meals is a great plan and one of my favorites although not one of my strengths.  If done well, time and money is saved.  Multiple trips to the grocery store are not required, meals are not delayed and spontaneous, potentially expensive and unhealthy dinners out are avoided.

Financial planning can be considered another example of mise en place.  By planning your spend, you estimate where expenses will occur and for how much.  You assign value to savings and other investments to insure that your future is considered.  Every dollar has it’s place.

Maintenance and improvements on your home can be mise en placed as well.  If you are anything like me, you have a long list of dream projects of varying effort and expense.  By sequencing them you can “place” them where it makes sense in terms of impact, disruption, benefit, cost or otherwise.  The possibilities to apply mise en place are truly endless.

List Making

I am a proud list maker.  I create lists daily, even while on vacation (true statement).  Imagine my delight in meeting someone recently who voluntarily offered that she too creates lists on vacation.  I finally met my people.

Lists serve several purposes for me.  Above all else, they assist in helping me prioritize.  Naturally, there are items I must do, I want to do or that would be nice to do.  Knowing exactly what is outstanding — and the impact of doing or not doing — allows me to make wise decisions on how I spend my time.  It is not a fool-proof system but the reasoning stands.

List making also serves as a source of reinforcement for me.  Once having committed to writing something down, or entering it into a device, the task or data becomes real.  Not only am I not going to forget it, I will be somewhat haunted by it.

List making is a tool I use to put (my life) in place.  The most important list that I create daily is the list of things that I am grateful for.  Starting each day with gratitude puts all else into perspective, including the lofty list of personal and professional to-dos.

Behold the power of paper, pen and thoughtfulness in creating order.

Consistency

The power of mise en place comes from consistency.  Performing each of these tasks frequently, as part of your daily routine, prevents any single task from becoming overwhelming.  More importantly, every effort in the meantime will be done with greater ease and less urgency.  Best case, you end up with extra time to do something enjoyable, perhaps even something unplanned.

Mise en place.  I have to end by admitting that I smile with content simply seeing the phrase.  Order brings me great peace of mind as well as the ability to get a great deal done.  I strongly believe the value of mise en place extends far beyond the kitchen to how we manage our lives. Coincidentally, my children believe the same.  As evidenced by a remarkable packing effort recently.

How do you apply mise en place in your life?  Have you read Work Clean and if so, what did you think?