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Issue #39

Mental Mise en Place

John Loeppky

March 19, 2024

A photo of the pass of a restaurant, where the food is handed from the cooks to the servers. There are hanging grey lights, people bustling around, and a lot of white plateware in view.
I can almost hear this picture/StockSnap from Pixabay

How Do We Put Everything in Its Place?

One of my YouTube favourites, especially if I’m in need of a comfort watch, is the genre of day in the life videos that trail chefs around. There are good ones, there are less good ones, and there are ones where you just know the person would be a nightmare to work for. 

Well, a couple of weeks ago I just let my TV autoplay whatever was next and, because I do tend to watch the same types of content over and over, it queued up something I had watched already. This video with LA chef chef Evan Funke. What he shared was all fairly standard fare, this is how we make the food, this is why we plate the food, this is my rationalization for an exorbitantly priced plate of food, that sort of thing. But one thing did sound a heck of a lot like cripped productivity. 

“I think a lot of chefs have, like, superstitions of sort in how they do things when they’re going into, like, a busy service. This is my mental mise en place. Physical mise en place is all the food that we prepare before we go in. But the mental mise en place is kind of how you set your station up so that your mind starts to focus on the job ahead.”

A kitchen is the ultimate example of organized chaos. Everyone has their system, everyone has their place, and when things go wrong—and they do go wrong—it can feel a lot less like a ship sinking and a lot more like a ship imploding. 

From a cripping productivity perspective, however, this little quote gives us an interesting place to build from. What is our physical mise en place? Where do we like our things? Where do we fit within our surroundings? For example, I have two monitors in front of me on a monitor stand, I have two cameras and a ring light above. I have two snoring puppies behind me, a day bed for naps beside my desk and a bookshelf/filing cabinet behind me. My desk is in need of a clean, but it is clean enough. I’ve written about 2500 words today, as I write this, so I’d say it’s a fairly productive day writing wise, but things aren’t perfectly in their space. 

But let’s Zoom out, the rest of my house is as clean as my disabled ass is going to get it a. I can walk into this space and feel like things are in place because those other places are under control. My inbox is at zero—-I use Tiago Forte’s system for that—but my folders/digital organization is otherwise in chaos. That is a task that I’ve added to my to-do list for tomorrow. If I was giving myself a physical/digital mise en place letter grade, because that’s a thing that’s perfectly rational to want to give myself (sarcasm), I’d go with a C+.

Now, what about mental mise en place. I’m settled enough to do the aforementioned work, but I have found myself mentally drifting. I’ve thought more about the fact that I missed therapy last week than I have about how much progress I’m making on my two deadlines this week. I fixed a bug in my Notion template and that settled things down for me a lot mentally, but I’m still feeling a case of the Mondays, despite the fact that this piece will come out on a Tuesday.. 

So, in other words, it’s not all swings and roundabouts, even if your physical/digital spaces are in decent shape. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t intertwined. To crip our productivity we have to try to understand what our optimal environment is. If that’s chaos at the kitchen table, cool; if that’s with a billion projects on the go at any one time, fine; if that’s in the most well manicured space imaginable, all the better. But stuff doesn’t have to be in its place for other people. Just for you.

Until tomorrow!


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I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.