Work Clean by Dan Charnas

Work Clean by Dan Charnas

Rating: rating-4

Centred around the concept of mise-en-place, the central principle of professional chefs, this book is a practical guide to personal productivity and organisation. It also provides practical ways to introduce more focus and organisational concepts in your life.

The book in a few sentences

This book is about bringing the organisational principles of chefs into other areas of your life. "Mise-en place" which means "to put in place", is the central theme of the book. In the kitchen, this is about gathering and organising the tools, recipes and ingredients chefs need to cook, this is especially important during times of service.

High-Level Thoughts

More than just planning and organisation, this book also touches on focus and how chefs stick to the plan even when things go wrong. This book is quite practical in nature and it discloses many practical strategies that you can apply in your life. I've implemented a number of them in my life already.

Who Should Read It ?

  • Anyone who is looking to be more organised in their life but not sure how
  • If you want to learn what systems thinking is, this is a pretty good introduction
  • Anyone who is into self-development or productivity

How the Book Changed Me

This book has taught me a lot about the importance of organisation and using goals to orient myself. It has also given me strategies to implement into my own system, which I go through at the end of all my notes.

My Top 3 Quotes

  • Mise-en-place is not about focus, but rather the process of negotiating focus and chaos.
  • How can you tell whether a process makes you better or worse? Understand first that what we’re after is excellence, not productivity. Productivity is working hard. Excellence is working clean
  • What are your standards? What habits make you successful? How strongly are you willing to hold on to your regimen of good habits in a world that will tempt you to ditch them, often without any immediate consequence? How much are you willing to keep your own focus despite the chaos around you?

Summary + Notes

How Mise-en Place (MEP) works

The idea of MEP is to have a place for everything, letting you access your tools and knowledge when you need it the most.

It's the idea of having a plan about how everything will happen and having a map of where everything should be.

The author argues that you should go as far as knowing where all your tools are blndfolded.

Working without Mise-en Place

In a normal office environment, preparation is always overlooked. Meetings are scheduled with no real goal and everyone not prepared for conversation.

Chefs on the other hand spend their life preparing. A dinner service that is 4 hours long can take up to a week of preparation.

The idea is not to follow tedious procedures, but to commit to becoming high-functioning in all areas of life.

Planning is Prime

It's better to lose 30minutes of sleep just to be able plan and create your day rather than rush through it.

It could be less than 30 minutes if you manage to plan all you need the night before.

it isn't enough to just create a todo list because you need to be able to work within your time and energy constraints. A todo list also doesn't tell you what order you should be doing them in. It's about a commitment to being honest with time.

Like Agile development, you need to triage your tasks based on time and importance which will determine the order you do things.

Find Your Meeze Point

To do this, figure out your Meeze Points, this is where you are the most efficient without burning out.

  1. Select 3 "big-ish" actions to complete for this day.
  2. Plan those actions on your calendar
  3. If you truly commit those tasks when and as quickly as you planned, you can up to 4 tasks tomorrow
  4. Keep increasing until you start to fail at completing your tasks. That’s your meeze point.

Plan this daily, and keep track of how you are performing. it's important to not beat yourself up about not achieving your Meeze point on some days. The idea here is to plan and understand your own work.

Remember to not squeeze too much and take into account travel and down time.

Try to arrive 15 minutes earlier to any appointment, so you don't feel rushed and have the right headspace.

Create a timeline

To string together the order of your tasks, you should create a timeline. Chef's do this to prepare and cook meals. I have started to do it for cooking and cleaning at home too

Here's how chefs do it

  1. Create a table with 5 columns
  2. In the first column, write down all the ingredients listed. Determine what you don’t have on hand and circle those items.
  3. In the second column, transcribe the circled items into a shopping list.
  4. In the third column, write the steps to the recipe.
  5. In the fourth column, the actual timeline, write the start times for each of those steps.
  6. In the fifth column, write the list of tools (pots, pans, spatulas, etc.) that you’ll need for all those steps, and also the tools you’ll need for service (plates, silverware, napkins, glasses).
  7. As an extra step, you can make a diagram of what item goes on which burner, for example, or where you’ll be setting up your cutting board.

Recipe for success: Commit to being honest with time. Plan daily and try not to live life rushing everywhere.

Arranging Spaces and Perfecting Movements

Arrange items that are frequently used and important physically nearer to you, so you don't have to waste movements. A kitchen is small, minimising movements leads to higher efficiency and fewer accidents.

Use both sides of your body, cultivate a habit of utilising all parts of your body.

Create checklists, so you have recurring recipes for your processes. Do the following:

  1. Select a task that you do often
  2. Break it down into 10 steps or fewer
  3. Determine if you need a Read-Do (read then do it) or a Do-Confirm (do the items then use the checklist after to confirm)
  4. Test your checklist by using it 3 times
  5. Update the checklist each time you use it, as necessary

By taking inventory of the way we set up our workspaces and whether whey are built to help us work the most optimum way we can. Try to do this more frequently.

Recipe for success: Commit to optimising your workspace and movements.

Cleaning as you go

the cleaner your station, the faster you work.

Practice “coming to zero”: every hour, take a minute to clean and tidy your physical and digital workspace, no matter what you’re currently doing.

cleaning reduces the visual and mental clutter that you may be experiencing without knowing.

Recipe for success: Commit to maintaining your workspace and keeping it clean.

Making First Moves

The first moments cost more than the later ones.

There are 2 kinds of work. The first is immersive work, this is the kind that you need to be "hands-on". Process work is the kind that needs some setting up or maintenance and is not fully "hands-on".

Try to start processing work first because you can do immersive work while waiting.

It's like you want to start the braising the beef first, then cut the vegetables while stewing, instead of cutting the vegetables then stewing the beef.

This is why creating a timeline is important, it gives you a bird's eye view of your process and immersive work.

Try to start out your day with 30 minutes of process work to unlock and unblock others.

Recipe for your success: Commit to using time to your benefit by planning ahead.

Finishing Actions

Batch similar nature tasks to minimise the switching costs. This is quite known now as task batching

Avoid orphaning tasks, this means if you can't finish a task, tie it up nicely. Collect all relevant items, write hand over notes and jot down notes on the next steps. Schedule your next session to resume the work and communicate with whomever you need to.

Record all your breaks when you are working (immersive work), to see where you lose the most time. The idea is just to be more strategic about when you take breaks.

To help understand how to finish tasks, the book suggests that we should turn out todo lists into a finishable matrix.

Finishable Matrix

  • High-expectation and high-ease tasks are finishable.
  • Low-expectation and low-ease tasks are delayable.
  • Low-expectation and high-ease tasks are distracting.
  • And high-expectation and low-ease tasks are the complex tasks that most need scheduling.

and with that criteria, organise them on this graph

Pasted image 20220528112616.png

Recipe for success: Commit to delivering and finishing.

Slowing down to speed up

Sometimes, it’s the panic about work that’s in your way, not the work itself.

If you find yourself interrupting or intruding on someone, you might be feeling anxious or insecure about contributing. Slow down and talk slower, it will calm you down.

Don't stop when you are distracted or tired, just move slowly. Let the motion guide you through the work.

If you are stressed out or overwhelmed, clean your work station, minimise any visual clutter, take a step back and plan your attack. Restore physical order which can restore mental order.

Recipe for success: Commit to working smoothly and steadily. There is no point in doing a rushed and sloppy job.

Call and callback

Being polite and rude can get in the way of progress. Effective communication should be concise, respectful and clear.

If others around you are derailing, bring them back with some questions. What's the consensus here ? What's the takeaway ? How can I help ? Who needs help ?

Recipe for success: Commit to confirming and expecting confirmation of essential communication.

Inspect and correct

For a day, record all your errors, big or small. At the end of the day, write down one thing that you could have done to avoid the error.

The idea is to be aware of your flaws and to continually work on improving them.

Recipe for success: It's about improving yourself through feedback.

Total Utilisation

Aim for total utilisation of your time, you will never get there but it's the strive for it that counts and the awareness of when you are losing time.

Log where you lose time and resources to see how you might make better use of those resources and time periods. How can you plan better to avoid waste?

Create routines for when you have downtime, for when you’re distracted, for when you know you’re passing through a particular place.

Recipe for success: Commit to valuing space, time, energy, resources, and people. Waste nothing.

Commitments of working clean

  • Commit to Preparation with the daily Meeze
  • Commit to Processes that make you better
  • Commit to being present in whatever you do

The Work Clean System

The book talks about creating an overarching system to help guide people to work better.


It starts of with deciding on your long term goals which the book calls a mission list. Long term here is about a year but can be longer.

To create your mission list, think about the 3 biggest areas of your life. Work, Family and Self. For balance, we want to try to work on all of them at the same time.

For reference, 10 missions seems like the right number to have at any given time.

Back/Front Burners

It's quite rare that you will be able to work on all 10 missions at once. So you have to decide what is important and what you would like to work on first.

This is akin to cooking where the front burner gets all the attention and the back burners are cooking but they may be cooking a bit slower.

Decide on Routines

We then look at creating routines for our missions. Routines are the tasks that we need to do to achieve our missions.

Routines should fall into 1 of these categories:

  • Personal Time
  • These are the actions that are vital for our health and well-being
  • like going for lunch
  • Sleeping
  • exercising
  • Often these are actions that are non-negotiable except for some occasions
  • Meeting Time
  • Appointments, conferences, phone calls
  • Immersive Time
  • Reserve for deep-focused work
  • Process Time
  • The time that you use to do small things that can't really be fit into other routines
  • Like answering emails, checking in on people, calling people
  • These should be shorter and more frequent than the other routines because these are often the routines that unblock other actions
  • So, it is important to schedule them and constraint them because things like that are very easy to get out of hand
  • and talking to someone can bleed out into your other things

A day of the work clean system

Prepare for the next day's Daily Meeze

Step 1: Cleaning your station

  1. Sift through all physical and digital inputs
  2. For each input, decide whether to
  • Throw away
  • File it (Put it back where it came from)
  • Log it (note it down or keep a reminder of it )
  1. Clean and tidy up your workspace

Step 2: Sharpen your tools

  1. Adjust your calendar based on what didn’t get done today, move the relevant things to later in the week
  2. Adjust your to-do list so you have an accurate view of what needs to get done

Step 3: Plan your day

  1. Make a list of the things (actions and routines) already scheduled for tomorrow and what else you want to do tomorrow
  2. Identify the immersive and process tasks
  3. Ballpark how much time you’ll have available
  4. Schedule everything on your calendar

Step 4: Gather your resources

  1. Collect anything you need for tomorrow, load up your bag, lay out your clothes, etc.

For me, I make my coffee at night and pack my work bag

The Next Morning:

  1. Greet the day by waking up early
  2. Do a morning check-in in case anything has come up that means you need to adjust your plan
  3. Start with 30 minutes of process time to free other people up.

In my case, I try to start with the most important task of the day

The Afternoon

  1. React to surprises as they show up, adjusting your schedule and task lists
  2. Tie up anything you can’t finish so it’s easy to pick up later

Final Thoughts

The strategies and systems presented in this book are very practical but they may not suit everyone. I think the hyper-organised methods don't apply to exploratory or creative work because it's hard to estimate when work will be done.

I think the strategies can be used to impose time constraints but you should be more flexible with time because the creative process doesn't always seem productive.

That being said, I have taken elements of the Daily Meeze and advice about cleaning and organisation into my own system.

Notes Disclaimer

Anything written here is extremely opinionated and is subjected to bias. Some parts of these notes are also taken from various summaries across the internet. Namely, this summary by Nat Eliason.