Can Mise-en-Place Organise Your Professional Life?

A Lesson from the Kitchen: My Recent Culinary Mishap

Recently, I embarked on an ambitious culinary experiment involving my Instant Pot (a popular electric pressure cooker) and a succulent pork dish drenched in apple cider. However, I misread the recipe and accidentally used apple cider vinegar instead. The overpowering acrid smell of heated vinegar soon filled the kitchen, prompting my hasty correction and having to start over from scratch. This silly mistake led me to an intriguing correlation made by productivity expert Tiago Forte [1].

Forte observes, "Our careers as knowledge workers are beginning to resemble those of chefs – non-linear, itinerant, based on short-term projects, demanding flexible collaboration with a constantly evolving group of collaborators."

An Introduction to Mise-en-Place

The inspiration behind Forte's article was Dan Charnas' book, 'Everything in Its Place' [2], which posits that we can apply the principles of 'mise-en-place' beyond the kitchen and into the wider realm of our lives. Originating from French cuisine, 'mise-en-place' translates to "putting in place," representing the practice chefs use to cook and serve numerous meals efficiently.

The Emergence of the Knowledge Worker

The term 'knowledge worker' was coined by Peter Drucker in 1959 [3], and he characterised these individuals by their autonomy, creativity, and problem-solving skills. As knowledge workers, most work consists of intellectual or cognitive tasks designed to solve complex problems. However, these tasks can often become secondary to the endless barrage of minor tasks and interruptions that permeate our working day.

The Challenge of Knowledge Work

As Forte insightfully points out, while we may be domain experts, the strategies for managing knowledge work need defining. How to make decisions, what to focus on, managing a constant influx of information, setting objectives, documenting our knowledge, and planning and completing tasks are all part and parcel of our role. Still, we need a reliable and repeatable framework to navigate these challenges.

Consider if we were to draw inspiration from the chef's kitchen. Mise-en-place may provide the basis for fostering an organised and efficient professional environment.

Forte's article explains the potential parallels and how knowledge workers might adopt the mise-en-place approach to structure their work. His insights are worth exploring for those looking to refine their workflow and productivity.


[1] Tiago Forte, "Mise-en-Place for Knowledge Workers"

[2] Dan Charnas, Everything in Its Place

[3] Peter Drucker, The Landmarks of Tomorrow

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