Clean Your Meez! Three Ways to Stop Your Cluttered Workspace from Cluttering Your Brain
In a professional kitchen, each line cook, prep cook, and chef has his or her own station known as the mise-en-place (meez-on-plas), or simply "the meez." It's a French culinary phrase that means "putting in place" or "set in place."
In his book, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain says: Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks. Do not f*ck with a line cook's 'meez' — meaning his setup, his carefully arranged supplies of sea salt, rough-cracked pepper, softened butter, cooking oil, wine, backups, and so on.
The 'meez' is the workspace containing all the line cook's supplies and tools to produce that night's dishes as they race to keep up with the dinner rush. Good line cooks keep a clean 'meez' so they can put their hands on a single item without searching for it. It's how they keep up with the rush, pausing only to straighten it up and wipe it down every few minutes.
You have your own mise-en-place — your office, your desk, your computer's desktop, and even your email inbox. It reflects your work habits and the state of your brain. And if you let it get cluttered, guess what it's doing to your head.
Anthony Bourdain again:
If you let your mise-en-place run down, get dirty and disorganized, you'll quickly find yourself spinning in place and calling for backup. I worked with a chef who used to step behind the line to a dirty cook's station in the middle of a rush to explain why the offending cook was falling behind. He'd press his palm down on the cutting board, which was littered with peppercorns, spattered sauce, bits of parsley, bread crumbs and the usual flotsam and jetsam that accumulates quickly on a station if not constantly wiped away with a moist side towel. "You see this?" he'd inquire, raising his palm so that the cook could see the bits of dirt and scraps sticking to his chef's palm. "That's what the inside of your head looks like now."
Take a look at your desk right now. Is it clean or dirty? Do you have a lot of clutter of things you've been meaning to get to? You pick up a reminder note only to spot a business card and remember you're supposed to email that person. You go to write a note on one of three notepads, and have to test three pens before you find one that works.
What about your email inbox? Do you treat it like a to-do list and keep messages until you complete them? Or is it the electronic analogy to that pile of magazines and trade journals teetering on the corner of your desk like something out of a Dr. Seuss book? Do you have thousands of messages sitting in your inbox, or can you see all your messages on one screen? Have you ever achieved Inbox Zero, or is that only a far-off myth, whispered about over coffee?
If you're not very organized, or you feel like you're always running behind, it may not be the amount of work you're taking on, it could be that your 'meez' is cluttered and fogging up you brain.
Here are three ways to keep your 'meez' clean and your brain focused:
1. Block out one hour every week and clean your office and desk.
Put away all files (assuming you're still working with paper), put books on a shelf, and recycle all the trade journals and magazines you haven't read, since we both know you're not going to read them.
Put all your pens to the "one stroke test:" Draw one line with each pen. If it doesn't draw, throw it away. Get your desk completely cleaned off and wiped down. Organize your shelves. If you've got knick-knacks and family photos, put them somewhere out of your line of sight. Your desk should basically just have your laptop or monitor(s), a mouse, and a coaster.
From now on, don't put anything on your desk that you're not going to use that day. Once you're done with something, put it away. If you won't get to that item/folder/note immediately, make it an item on your to do list, and put it away until you need it.
2. Clean off your computer desktop
I've seen people with so many documents and folders on their desktop, I couldn't even see the wallpaper underneath. Their excuse is that they need those 200 documents on their desktop so they can find them when they need them. But that's just an excuse for being unorganized.
All your documents should go into your Documents folder, or even their own sub-folder — for example, put your TPS reports into a "TPS Reports" folder. All of them. You're not deleting them, so don't worry that you won't be able to find anything.
You also don't need aliases to your most commonly-used applications on your desktop. Keep them out of sight and use your Dock (Mac) or your Spotlight Search (Mac) or Start Menu (Windows). Set your Dock to remain hidden until you move your mouse to that area, and click on the appropriate icon. Mac users can launch the Spotlight Search by pressing Command-Space and then type the name of the application; Windows users, just press the Windows key and do the same.
If you have any files remaining, create a folder called Desktop Detritus and shove everything in there. If you don't get anything out of it in two weeks, that will give you an idea of how important those really are. Only put items on your desktop when you're working on them. (See #1 above.)
3. Without looking, delete all your unopened emails older than two weeks.
Don't kid yourself, you're not going to get to them. If they were important, you would have opened them two weeks ago. And the people who wrote to you have already given up on hearing back from you. If they really want a response from you, they'll write again. But to salve your conscience, run through all your emails from the last two weeks. Delete, archive, and respond as needed. If you can't give a response right away (i.e. only touch it once), delete it.
If you're a Gmail user, use the Tabs feature. I've got mine set to the default Inbox, Social, and Promotions. I know anything that appears in my Inbox may be important, while anything in Promotions is probably an email I signed up for but never really wanted. This way, I can delete Promotional emails without looking, but can react to the Inbox emails quickly.
If those promotional emails are newsletters that you don't really want, unsubscribe from them. You can do it one at a time, but you can also use Unsubscriber on Gmail (it also works with Outlook, Yahoo, and AOL, for both of you still using AOL). Drop unwanted email newsletters into the Unsubscribe folder and it will send an unsubscribe message to the sender. Until you're completely unsubscribed, all new messages from that sender will be automatically moved to the Unsubscribe folder. Last year, I used Yahoo's similar Unsubscribe function to unsubscribe from a few hundred newsletters and junk mailers, and now I only get 2 – 5 emails a week on Yahoo.
Finally, as new emails come in, don't answer them right away. Schedule two or three times per day — morning, lunch, end of the day — to respond to all of them. And then only touch those messages once. Respond to the ones that are important, delete the rest, and Boomerang the ones you want to get back to later. (Boomerang lets you schedule emails to reappear in your inbox at a scheduled time, so you can safely ignore them until it's time to respond.) If it's something you have to read, open the article and save it to your Evernote or Pocket app, then delete the email.
And if it's an email that requires some work to complete, I'll create a to do item on my Todoist app and create a web link back to the original email. That way, I can get it out of my inbox altogether, but won't forget to complete the task related to it.
Mise-en-place may be a cooking term, but it's a concept we should all embrace. A cluttered 'meez' means a cluttered mind, and you're not going to be at your best if you're trying to break through a mental fog to find things in a pile of junk on your desk, your computer desktop, or your inbox.
Clean everything out, and then develop the habits of keeping everything clean. You'll be able to find everything more easily, you'll be more productive, and you can reduce your stress.