Mise En Place and Productivity

Photo by Rudy Issa on Unsplash

Mise En Place and Productivity

The principles of Mise En Place have historically stayed in the kitchen. However, recently many people striving to become more productive have begun using it in their workplace, outside of the kitchen. Many of the testimonials from those who have tried Mise En Place in their workplace have noticed a significant increase in productivity because of a few key principles. I myself have tested it and have seen a considerable increase in my own productivity and peace of mind.

I first came across Mise En Place in relation to increasing productivity listening to an episode of the Art of Manliness Podcast. In the episode, Brett - the host - and Dan Charnas talk about Dan's book "Everything In It's Place", or a deep dive into how you can take Mise En Place outside of the kitchen. There are a whole host of "ingredients" as Dan calls them that you can take away from Mise En Place and apply them to your day to day life.

Nevertheless, there are a few key principles that I have instituted in my life as a software and QA engineer to increase my productivity, and hopefully they can help you increase yours as well. Namely, the 30 minute meeze, squaring up your calendar with your to do list, and the distinction between immersive time and process time. These three major takeaways can greatly improve your time management and create a more productive system for you to get sh*t done.

The 30 Minute Mise

The 30 minute mise, or meeze, is a daily ritual that helps you set yourself up for success that day. In the kitchen, that usually means organizing your work station and plotting out each individual minute of your time in the kitchen.

For me, it means planning my day by looking at my to do list, adding items to my to do list, squaring up my calendar, and getting my tools ready. Since I use a variety of different apps and web technology, it's important for me to begin my day knowing that everything is running as it should and that I have the projects that I'm going to be working on accessible to me.

In tech, making sure your tools and work environment are set up before the work day begins can save you a lot of time. For me, this means opening up files I might need, getting my database UI up and running, getting Notion open and to the right page, and having slack and my email open. I also take stock of things that might have come up while I was AFK by zeroing out my slack messages and emails. This ensures that I've read all the messages I need to in order to understand the priorities for the day.

The mise is an essential start to the day because it not only allows you to prioritize what you have going on that day and get a birds eye view of what you'd like to accomplish, it also allows you to set up the perfect working environment for you to be successful in.

Square Up Your Calendar

I mentioned that during my daily 30 minute mise I also "square up my calendar". I think this is one of the productivity tools that's I've taken from mise en place that has had the biggest impact on my time management. As someone who likes to procrastinate, more than I care to admit, squaring up my calendar doesn't leave me a choice but to work on what's most important and also what's next on the calendar.

The idea of squaring up your calendar is quite similar to time blocking, another popular way to manage your time. However, I think the biggest difference between traditional time blocking and squaring up my calendar is that I don't just block 3-4 hours of generic "work" time like one might with time blocking. With squaring up my calendar, I intentionally block chunks of time based on how long an activity should take and what's on my to do list.

For example, if I have a JIRA ticket that will take me 1 hour to code out, I will block time in my calendar for that feature specifically so that I work exclusively on that feature for an hour. If I get stuck, I'll make notes and come back to it later. Without that blocked time specifically for that feature, I might push that ticket to the side and pick lower hanging fruit that might not be as beneficial to shipping out the new code to our customers. Or, I might start the ticket and get sidetracked by something else.

Inherent in squaring up your calendar is the need to know how long each item on your to do list will take. When I was starting out with this practice, I would guestimate how long something would take me, often allotting more time than I think I needed, and time myself doing it. This allowed me to take note of how long things actually took me so that I could get more accurate with timing my tasks. Now that I've been practicing squaring up my calendar for several months, I feel more confident in assigning time values to the tasks I need to complete in the day.

But what about tasks that can't really be timed?

The Difference Between Process and Immersive Time

Process and immersive time are two very different states of mind, but equally important. I think highlighting the distinction between the two helped me feel better about getting into a flow state and working on something longer than 15 minutes at a time without distractions.

One example that was spoken about in the Art Of Manliness podcast episode was crucial to my understanding of the importance of separating immersive and process time. The gist of it was a chef walks into the kitchen and needs to bake something that requires a lot of chopped vegetables. Knowing that they need to chop so many vegetables they get straight into chopping. 30 minutes goes by and they've chopped all the vegetables, they turn around to put the dish in the oven, but the oven isn't warm and they have to wait 30 minutes for the oven to preheat. This has cost them a significant amount of time when there was an obvious solution to use process time to turn on the oven while using immersive time to chop the vegetables.

Both time frames are crucial to your success, which is why making the distinction in your tasks between immersive and process time tasks sets you up for a more productive day. Some of the examples I like to think of that represent process time for me are sending emails that are awaiting a response (this allows the person receiving the email to get unstuck), taking care of any clerical work (setting up appointments, making a phone call, etc), checking slack messages, or really anything that I can start quickly that can run in the background while I focus on the immersive tasks I need to complete that day.

Putting It All Together

So, when I've put these three key takeaways from the mise en place system into practice in my own life, I've seen my productivity go through the roof. Not only does it give you a realistic expectation of what you can complete in a day, it also allows you to really focus on the immersive tasks that matter while limiting distractions. I think it's crucial to your mental state to not continuously overload your daily to do list and then be consistently underwhelmed with all the things you weren't able to complete that day.

I do set aside process time every day at least twice per day so that I can look through my built up slack messages, emails, and help anyone who's stuck get unstuck. Of course, sometimes emergencies happen and you have to pivot, but at least you have buckets of time dedicated to taking care of everything you need to have happen.

Hopefully these takeaways can help you in your productivity journey. Always happy to hear what your thoughts are too!