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Think Like a Chef to Accomplish More

An English term paper (worth half your grade) due in two weeks; once-a-week write-ups due for a Biology course; weekly meetings at the poetry club; best friend's birthday; date night; part-time work at the cafeteria; mom needs a ride to the airport - a bunch of little (and not so little) parts that make up every week. Where to start? Overwhelming seems like an understatement when you're neck-deep in obligations and assignments.

Instead of inundating yourself with time-saving apps and self-help organizational books, try applying the zen-like doctrine of culinary chefs. Mise-en-place (French for "to put in place") has made its way out of the kitchen into business offices and households everywhere as a method to organize one's day and squeeze as many productive minutes out of it as possible.

For a chef, mise-en-place is the process of arranging ingredients and preparing their cooking stations before they ever turn on a burner. But many chefs will argue that mise-en-place is more than just a single organizational method - it's a way of life. Melissa Gray, a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, told NPR: "'s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspect that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions." See where I'm going with this?

Applying the "meez" - the abbreviation for mise-en-place used by chefs-in-the-know - to your everyday life is a good way to organize your thoughts before tackling the day. How do you start each day? If you answered either checking your email or checking Facebook, then you're doing it wrong. Like Ron Friedman points out on the Harvard Business Review: "In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. [These] activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode..."

I'd like to add to the list of time-suck morning rituals: checking Pinterest, reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social media platform (of which, I am 100% guilty). Before going on the internet, make a to-do list. Then, David Allen, renowned productivity consultant, says to break up all the items on your to-do list into verbs. For example, if you write "English term paper" on your list, you might break it down like this:

  • Read the syllabus

  • Brainstorm & research topics

    • Skim textbooks

  • Choose & outline your topic

    • Refine thesis statement

  • Research topic

    • Go to library

    • Talk to professor

  • Write the paper

    • Introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion

    • References

  • Edit paper

See what's happened? The large, overbearing shadow of "English term paper" is now an accessible checklist of smaller items (which could probably be broken down even more with smaller sub-tasks and time units). By breaking down the large, vague notion of your assignment, you've essentially "put everything in place" for the day and the week, like a chef does before each meal.

Not only are you setting yourself up for a successful week, now you can plan other events in your life. When asked by a frazzled student in class why you look so calm, you can reply with a tranquil, knowing smile, "The meez, baby. It's all about the meez."