At first glance, cooking and office work don’t seem to have much in common. Kitchen work is extremely physical; office work is mostly mental. Office work happens from nine to five; kitchen work is done at all hours of the day and night.
But as author Dan Charnas argues in clean work, knowledge workers have a lot to learn from the way leaders work. At the heart of this idea is the principle of establishment.
French for “put in place”, establishment is the credo of every chef and professional kitchen. It describes both the mindset and the physical setup that leaders use to stay organized. Only when everything is in place can chefs begin their demanding and often hectic work.
clean work explains how knowledge workers can apply the principles of establishment to their daily workflows.
I highly recommend reading the full book for all of its delicious anecdotes and lessons from professional cooks around the world. But if you’re just looking for a taste, check out these seven productivity lessons we learned from Own work:
“Chefs become planning machines to become cooking machines”
–Dan Charnas, clean work (45)
How much time and thought do you devote to planning your work? According to Charnas, probably not enough. Chefs, he observes, spend more time planning than cooking (46). It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s the key to culinary success.
When a chef “stands in line” to prepare food for customers, there is no time to do anything but execute. To ensure a successful execution, thorough planning is essential.
Among other things, the chef will plan the layout of the ingredients, how he will organize his tools and the cooking time for each dish. This way they have less to think about when they’re in the middle of a dinner rush.
Although the time pressure of your job is not as intense, you can still benefit from careful planning. For example, how many times have you sat down for write an articleonly to realize that you don’t have the books you need?
This can completely derail your work, but it doesn’t have to be. If you take a few minutes to plan out the steps you’ll need to write the document, you’ll make sure you have all the necessary materials.
You don’t have to go as far as many chefs and spend more time plan than execute. But give yourself a few minutes to plan; it’s never a waste of time.
Chefs don’t just plan to make their jobs more efficient. They also know that a little proper planning can reduce stress levels and allow good relaxation.
Long before being in the kitchen, a chef has already planned the day’s work. This way they know they have all the materials and tools they need before the job begins.
Likewise, you can set yourself up for tomorrow’s success when you gather your resources today. Every night before going to bed, get ready for the day ahead. This includes tasks such as:
- Pack up
- Checking the next day’s weather
- Arrange your clothes for the next day
The goal, as Charnas puts it, is to “give yourself as little as possible to plan or do the next morning” (258). Not only will this make your mornings feel calmer; it will also allow you to enjoy your evenings and your free time without worrying about having forgotten something for tomorrow.
For professional cooks, keeping a clean workstation is non-negotiable.
For starters, a messy station makes mistakes more likely. The clutter of a cook’s work area usually indicates an equally cluttered mind. And with a disordered mind, correct execution is impossible.
In addition, a dirty kitchen is a health hazard; he can literally kill diners in extreme cases. Good hygiene and health codes both dictate that cooks work as cleanly as possible to ensure the safety of restaurant patrons.
While it’s unlikely that someone’s life will depend on keeping your office clean, it can still have significant psychological benefits. Physically wiping your desk with a damp towel or cloth “has a profound effect on many people” (252).
And taking a few moments to put away all the items on your desk before working can help your mind go into “work mode.” This is especially useful if you are about to do mentally intense work that requires a lot of focus.
Keeping your physical workspace clean has obvious benefits. Less obvious (but still profound) are the benefits of keeping your digital workspace clutter-free.
If you’ve ever opened too many browser tabs, you know why a clean digital workspace is essential. When your screen is cluttered, it’s much harder to concentrate. It often indicates that your mind is disorganized, with all the apps and tabs you have open catching your attention in a dozen different directions.
The antidote is, again, something you can learn from the chefs: Clean up when you leave. Charnas recommends this rule of thumb: for every hour you work at your desk, spend one minute resetting your physical and digital workspaces (94).
For example, let’s say you just spent the last hour responding to emails. Now it’s time to move on to editing a video for a client. Instead of opening Premiere and jumping straight to editing, pause for a moment. Close the mail app, your browser, and anything else you don’t need for your editing work.
This type of clean-as-you-go only takes about a minute. But it ensures that incoming emails won’t distract you from the hard mental work of editing.
Whether you’re in college or in the corporate world, the temptation to overprogram yourself is always there. And overscheduling can lead to a cycle of disappointment, with each day never having enough time for all the work you planned to do.
As an alternative, Charnas suggests that you “subprogram” yourself (257). He cites fashion entrepreneur Coco Chanel, who advised people to “look in the mirror and take one thing off” before leaving the house (258).
You can do the same with your schedule. After planning tomorrow, look at your schedule and cut one thing out of it. It won’t always be easy, but that’s the goal. Seeing your schedule this way forces you to prioritize.
Leaders strive to minimize wasteful and wasteful movement. Every move a chef can eliminate or simplify means an extra second to perfect the dish they’re preparing. And during a busy shift in the kitchen, those extra seconds really add up.
You can also apply this principle to intellectual work. Any process you do on a regular basis probably has room to be more efficient.
Charnas recommends finding the sticking points in your work; i.e. any part of a process where you get stuck or make mistakes (75). Once you identify these sticking points, you can eliminate or minimize them.
Take a task that most of us have to do at some point: create a presentation. If you write down all the steps that go into this process, you’ll likely notice room for improvement.
For example, you may realize that you spend too much time designing the layout of your slideshows. Realizing this, you decide to download attractive presentation templates to save time on designing.
It’s a simple example, but imagine what would happen if you applied the same mindset to all the projects you do on a regular basis.
“Excellence is the quality delivered”
– clean work (130)
Have you ever spent so much time trying to perfect a project that you missed a deadline? If so, you might be a perfectionist. The mindset is understandable: you want to do your best work. But it doesn’t matter how good your work is if you never return it.
Leaders understand that there is a difference between pursuit of perfection and perfectionism (130). Chefs always aim for perfection, but they also know that their work has a deadline. They can’t take forever to prepare a dish; customers will be hungry and upset.
Additionally, delivering a product on time is critical to professional growth. Unless you deliver, you will never get feedback. And without feedback, you’ll have no idea how to improve your work.
So the next time you wish you had “just an extra hour” to perfect a project, remember that deadlines are good. A deadline keeps you from working on details indefinitely and gives you the information you need to do an even better job in the future.
I hope this article has given you some unconventional productivity lessons that you can apply to your work or study. Even if you’ve never worked in a professional kitchen, you can still learn a lot of the principles of establishment.
Are you looking for a tool that will help you work cleanly every day? Check out our Ultimate Brain template:
Picture credits: cook pulling an order ticket