Notes on

Work Clean: The Life-changing Power of Mise-en-place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind

by Dan Charnas

The book leads with a story on cooking students learning Mise en Place. Then cuts to a guy frantically trying to keep up with his office job demands, unsuccessfully.

Then presents the core components: preparedness, process, and presence.

  1. Plan and prepare well.
  2. Establish systems and processes. Efficient ones.
  3. When you're working, work. Be present and focused.


We must regularly plan. We must also be honest about what we can undertake with the time we have. Not too little, and not too much.

If you had prepared properly, planned accordingly, you wouldn't have to rush so much.

Late? Didn't get out the door early enough. Can't finish in time? Didn't start early enough, didn't plan accordingly, didn't delegate, didn't prioritize. The list goes on.

Daily planning

The daily planning session is interesting here. It seems to have a good structure.

First, clean your workstation. This means to take all unprocessed stuff and log/file it, or throw it away. And add inbox stuff to action items. So this is messages, emails, whatever. Inbox things. Then, reschedule or unschedule things you didn't do. And lastly, plan your day.


You should have a range of checklists (i.e., standard operating procedures) for the tasks you do regularly.

Having checklists are like having an external brain—or a personal assistant—helping you.

This is how you can create a checklist:

  1. Select a task, errand, or routine you do often.
  2. Break it down into 10 steps or fewer.
    1. Checklists are better when they are shorter.
  3. Determine the type of checklist you need. Atul Gawande divides them into two groups:
    1. Read-Do—read the checklist item, then do it
    2. Do-Confirm—Do all items, then use the checklist to confirm
  4. Test your checklist by using it a few times
  5. Each time you finish it using it, note any additions or modifications you need to make—this way, your checklists improve over time.

Continuous improvement of your checklists is a big part of maintaining your systems. They should always be shiningly clean. Keeping your systems clean and removing impediments is key—you should always be removing friction from what makes you productive.

Quality Control Checklist

Make a quality control checklist. Seems like a pretty solid practice. Especially when combined with the standards you defined.

Make the items on it actionable, measuring quantity or quantity, and fit one page.

Your idea of mastery

Learn to set standards. Any inspection needs standards to measure against.

  • Who is your model for performance? Your mentor? Why?
  • What is an example of ideal product or service in your line of work? Why? Because of which qualities?
  • Which habits help you achieve your standards?
  • Which habits hinder your progress towards it?
  • Which environments assist you? Which ones impede you?
    • What part of the environment?
  • Which external rewards or consequences do you desire or expect from the impact of your work?
  • Where are you willing to compromise?
  • Where are you not willing to compromise?
  • Which trade offs are you willing to make?

You must learn to coach yourself.

Downtime Routine

It's very useful to have routines for downtime: what you do while waiting in line, on the phone, while you wait for programs to process, etc.

It could be something that takes a very short time:

  • Quick cleaning of your desk
  • Flagging and returning emails
  • Quick stretch
  • Filling dishwasher / Washing dishes

Or something you can do for a variable length:

  • Meditation
  • Being present
  • Reflection
  • (Mental) Planning
  • Reading
  • Exercise
  • Cleaning

Distraction routine

Similarly, you might want to have a routine for when you need a break from a particular project. This is useful when you don't want break time to be unproductive.

Some ideas:

  • Organization—planning, cleaning, structuring
  • Communication—reaching out, emailing, etc.
  • Work on other projects

And why should you even have routines such as these? Because we're committing to valuing space, time, energy, resources, and people. So we don't want to waste it. And that's why we always try to act with purpose.

Creating momentum

Making a first move makes progress easier. It creates momentum.

I use this to do stuff with lots of friction. Starting to prepare for an entire lecture is hard. Reading a few pages is easy. And that starts the task, creates momentum, and it's much easier for me to continue later.

On perfectionism

Perfectionists either quit or keep refining, tweaking, working on the same project forever.

This is a mistake. Not delivered can never be perfect. If you want excellence, deliver.

A chef can't keep tweaking and working on a dish. Customers are hungry. The food can't keep its consistency, heat, texture, if you keep fiddling with it-always delaying. You just have to get it out there.


  1. Have a daily planning session to clean your workstation and prepare for the next day.
  2. Commit to becoming better. You've made a plan. Now follow it. After, make sure you evaluate your performance. What can you do better next time?
    1. Follow the schedule you've made for yourself. Keep your promises to yourself.
    2. Create checklists, routines, cultivate techniques, life hacks.
  3. Commit to be present when when you do something.
    1. Show up.
    2. Never give up.

Greeting the day

It's pretty reasonable to greet the day by doing something good for yourself in the morning. Meditation. Exercise. Healthy breakfast. Whatever.

Process time

It's important to have process time. Daily.

This time is where you make first moves. You initiate. Tasks done here bring more tasks later. Could be sending emails. Reaching out.

This is somewhat analogous to putting a stock on simmer for some hours. You initiate it, and then it's a background process. You can do other things while you wait.

It's usually good to schedule this kind of time after meetings. And perhaps early in the day.

This is also a contrast to immersive time, which is analogous to deep work.

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