'Work Clean': Organization for Work & for Life

Happy Hump Day! I hope your week has been positive and productive so far! I want to share with you a few key points on a book that was introduced to me by my good friend and fellow artist, Jer'Maine, called Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind by Dan Charnas. This book was a quick and easy read, plainly spelling out the organization practices of the culinary industry and show to apply these practices in my own life as an artist and entrepreneur. 

Work Clean lays out the blueprint for how culinary professionals and world-renowned chefs all use the same basic principles as they work, aiming for efficiency and productivity in their daily work. Mise-en-place (French for "put in place") is described by the author as a method of working and being; an informal regimen of values and behaviors to achieve excellence. One key takeaway that I noted in the beginning of the book that is totally in line with my personal journey to minimal and organized living: You can't master physical organization without first organizing your mind. This is a principle that is crucial to my current lifestyle as I aim to achieve more intuitive, habitual, and healthy actions by creating a mental and physical system that helps me attain excellence. Note that excellence is not the same thing as perfection. Perfectionism is something that I struggle with, knowing that my talents and skills vary and battling the anxiety that comes with that. Excellence, in chefs' terms, is defined as quality, delivered. I've noticed that I'm able to deliver my own self-defined excellence in different areas in my life by using routines, habits, and lists that allow me to move from task to task with ease and contentment. 

Learning how to work clean has helped me refine organization practices that I had already been loosely following, and explains why these principles head to efficiency, calmness, and a clearer mind. The 3 main values of mise-en-place are the pillars of how chefs work, and can easily be applied to other industries and the tasks of daily life: PREP, PROCESS, and PRESENCE. Prepping and planning are non-negotiable practices that set us up for success. Perfecting a process once and then repeating it leads to that success. Being with your work and working with mindfulness cultivates focus and openness. Meticulous preparation, mastering routines, and aiming for a mindful flow are all values that separate the mediocre from the great, and values that will no doubt produce excellence in work and personal life. 

Work Clean gives you the 10 main principles of mise-en-place that can easily be inserted into your daily life and work in other industries outside of the culinary world. These principles, and planning in general, give me the best shot at getting things done. 

  1. Preparation is prime: be honest about what it takes to plan and set yourself up for success to avoid a sense of panic. Keeping it real about what is required to complete a task or component of a project has helped me go into my day and week without a sense of dread. In the kitchen and in other workplaces, planning and preparation can take longer than the actual task itself. But that preparation translates into confidence, organization, and the ability to execute excellence on a consistent basis. 
  2. Arranging spaces, perfecting movements: expend less energy and get more done. Organization isn't only about making things look good, but about allowing yourself to move freely, with small, rhythmic, and automated movements. Movement directs memory and habits, so making your space conducive to the most efficient movements eliminates the resistance to complete a task based on the organization of your workspace. 
  3. Clean as you go: clear your space to clear your mind. Cleaning your workstation creates an optimal mindset and allows you to see details that may have been hidden under clutter, junk, or unfinished tasks. A key takeaway from this chapter: try not to start a new project without putting the previous one away. This has been an easy and important change for me to make, and I can already see that my mental and physical space stays clearer when I focus on one thing at a time and clean up after myself when I'm done with one task, as opposed to moving hurriedly from one task to another. 
  4. Making first moves: first moves count more than later moves. Charnas explains, "an action taken now has immeasurably more impact than a step taken later because the reactions to that action have more time to perpetuate". Do the most important and hardest work first while you have the time and energy. 
  5. Finishing actions: maintain a finishing mentality! The author reminds us that it's too easy to give into fatigue or frustration, or to indulge in restlessness and procrastination. Starting priorities current and future actions, and finishing takes tasks out of sight, out of mind. 90% done = 0% done. 
  6. Slowing down to speed up: rushing produces sloppy work. Chefs never rush because they're always in the right place at the right time. I'm guilty of rushing through something and seeing less than stellar results. If you're rushing, it means you're not prepared. Slowing down, deep breathing, and recalibrating focus steadies your body and helps your brain break down movements into their rightful place and time. Slowing down is the only way to produce quality work. 
  7. Open eyes and ears: maintain constant consciousness with your 5 senses. I touched on this briefly in my post about going places or doing things alone, and I totally recommend this grounding practice to cultivate awareness. Staying in tune with the physical senses produces the ability to maintain focus and to develop deeper sensitivity and alertness. 
  8. Call and callback: give people information when they need it and let people know when you've received information or communication from them. This seems like an easy one, but we all fall victim to being too "busy" to respond, confirm, RSVP, approve, etc. This chapter encourages us to use active listening to verify to the other people we work with that messages have been received and that we're all on the same page. Brevity is key in this principle! Charnas says, "communicate with esteem and pare away everything but the most vital information". In other words, get to the point. 
  9. Inspect and correct: defend your work by monitoring your workspace and movements within it, inspecting your finished product for mistakes, and maintaining a sense of integrity with your work. Failure or mistakes are always an opportunity. Set standards for yourself and know that self-inspection can only be as effective as your vision is clear. 
  10. Total utilization: If you're finding yourself with wasted space, wasted energy, too many things, and not enough use for those things, it's crucial that you read this book! This final principle brings everything together and puts the other principles in perspective. Learning how to conserve and fully utilize space, motion, time, and resources will allow you to cultivate a respect of the steps and ingredients necessary to produce a finished product with excellence. Nothing is to be wasted. 

Imagine if you were taught a set of principles to help you be a better organized person, both mentally and physically. This is what mise-en-place and working clean is all about. A clean and organized living environment and workspace leads to clean and organized thinking, which leads to excellence on multiple levels of your life. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to simplify their work flow and minimize excess. I'd love to chat with you if you've read this book before or if you have other tips for mental and physical organization. Feel free to comment below or reach out to me via email or Instagram. Have a great day!