It’s no secret. I’m not very good at blogging while I’m working. I’m a freelancer, and the work I do requires full-on attention when I get it. Usually I’ll have three days or a week or three weeks (if I’m lucky), and in that time I (and my partners, if I’m working in a team) have to crack it. You can’t miss. You can’t screw up. This is payday; you have to earn and deserve. That’s it. So taking the time to blog is something I can’t really do, even though I miss it. Today I have a tiny break.
Ironically, as the project was just heating up, I had a post in mind for you. It had to do with the way we work. I heard this story on NPR over the Christmas holidays, and it’s been playing in my head ever since. “For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef.” At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I do try to work like this. It seems, actually, the only way, often, to get everything done.
Since I’ve had children, I’ve heard myself mutter in self-conscious advice mode more times than I’d like to remember, “The key is organization.” But I think it really is. Everything goes smoother, every one is happier, everything is just a wee bit saner, when it’s all well organized. But that doesn’t come close, not really, to the philosophy explained and espoused by the chefs in this NPR story. It’s all about mis-en-place, the organizational method/mindset used by chefs in the kitchen.
If you don’t have time or desire to hear the story, the basics are as follows (this includes some chefs’ individual interpretations):
1. Start with a list.
2. Become one with your list.
3. Adopt the preparation mindset—everything ready and at hand.
4. Account for every minute and every movement
5. Work clean—clear your workspace, clear your mind
6. Clean as you go
7. Slow down to speed up, or, as we say in the ad/design world: do it right the first time.
Underlying all this is, in my mind, an eloquent and beautiful way of seeing the world. One of the chef’s expressed it like this: “Time is precious, resources are precious, space is precious, your self-respect and your respect of others are precious.” Amen, a million times.
Many, many years ago, and some of my closest friends will already know this about me, I used to quote Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife, also entitled Methodical Cook, published in 1860. She starts the book like this, before getting into curing herrings and roasting snipes. I’ve put my favorite part in bold. It cracks me up:
The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules:–“Let every thing be done at a proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.” If the mistress of a family, will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease; but a few days’ growth gives them gigantic strength: and disorder, with all her attendant evils, are introduced. Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day, and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.
And so that confusion will not enter, I will close this blog post for the day and put my shoulder back to the grindstone. My freelance work continues tomorrow, so we may not hear from each other for a few days. Until then, work well, work clean, and enjoy yourself.