Mise–en–place (French pronunciation: [miz ã ‘plas])
Yesterday morning, I listened to a story on NPR called “For a More Orderly Life, Organize Like a Chef,” which talked about applying the French culinary concept of mise–en–place (literally, “put in place”) in everyday life. One chef told how he uses mise–en–place for his daily “list.” He said:
What I used to do is, let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So I’d take a pad and I’d write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list up and throw it out.…On my way to work I’d write the list again. And you become one with your list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched into your head.
–Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of New York restaurants wd~50 and Alder, as quoted by Dan Charnas, NPR.
I’m all over the place
This got me to thinking about my schedule. As a freelance interpreter, I work for several different agencies and drive to many venues to interpret for classes, consultations, and conferences. In a hectic week, I often can’t remember where I’m going from one job to the next without looking at my calendar. I use GPS to get places; I look at my phone once I’ve arrived at an address to see what suite I need to get to, and even what the name of the venue is; I look at my phone again when I get to a venue before I can tell the front desk the client’s name.
Putting myself en place
I’d rather be like a chef who knows where everything is and how he’s going to get from one thing to another than a rock star who can’t remember what city he’s playing. I need to mise-en-place my schedule. Case in point: I recently had a morning job that I knew was medical and far away. I left in time to get there early. Fine. However, I did not remember the name of the patient, the medical office, or even what kind of specialty it was. I also didn’t realize I was scheduled to come back the next morning. I had taken the jobs separately and not seen the connection. When I showed up, another interpreter was there because the office accidentally booked two interpreters for the job. I just figured I would let her do it because she got there first. What I failed to consider was that I was scheduled for the follow-up as well, and it would have been better for me to stay so I could provide continuity to the clients.
If I had it to do again:
I should look at my schedule for the week and note that I was scheduled to interpret for the same patient at the same doctor’s office two mornings in a row– this would remind me of the patient’s needs and preferences and alert me to the repetition; I should look at the name of the venue and note the specialty– this will help me find the venue when I arrive at the building or complex and I can spot the name on the outside, and it should help me prepare myself mentally for interpreting in that specialized setting; I should note the suite number– this should help me locate the venue either from outside the building or inside. I should call the venue the day before or the morning of, the latest, to confirm the appointment– this would have either alerted me to the double-booking, saved the clients the change in interpreters, and saved one of us the drive.
Mise–en–place = Me at work
There’s another big reason to mise–en–place my schedule: so I can get more work! The way I get jobs is the agencies I work for send out mass emails with the dates, times, and locations of jobs they need to fill. I have to have my smartphone with me at all times to get the mass-emails the agencies send out, and I have to respond instantly or the jobs will be snatched up by those who respond faster. There have been many times I have responded in two minutes only to get the reply “covered, thanks” a minute later. I have spoken with many interpreters in the area who report the same experience, so there might be more to covering these jobs than speed-of-response; still, to speed up my response time, it would help if I had my schedule memorized. See, it takes me a minute or two just to switch to my calendar app and see whether I’m available before I can even reply. If put my schedule in my head, I might put myself in the job.
- Memorize my schedule, including:
- Day (so I know what I’m doing “next Tuesday”)
- Venue name
- Venue geographical area
- Venue suite or room
- Client names (have I worked with them before? how do I work best with them?)
- Specialized setting (environmental goals, tone, mood, protocol, barriers to communication)
- Topic (specialized vocabulary, sensitivity, overarching theme)
- Pattern (does this job repeat? how often? how many times? have I done this job in the past?)
- How to get there (routes, alternate routes, time to location, security or other hurdles to cross before getting to where I need to be on time)
- Confirm the job with both the agency and the requestor (call or email to make sure it’s still on, and let them know I will be there — this would save double-booked interpreter hassles and pointless drives)
- Check my phone and email before I leave for a job to see if I’ve received a cancellation (this could save a lot of pointless drives too)
- Keep intouchbysmartphone:
- Keep the ringer on whenever I can
- Listen for notifications
- Respond immediately
- Check my smartphone at every break
- Always check my email before anything else (like Facebook, which can be a distraction from getting jobs)
- Inform interpreting agencies of my schedule as often as possible
- Call or email interpreting agencies to see what I can do for them
- Let agencies know if there is to be a follow-up appointment and let them know I am available for it (if I am)
I could probably go on, but it would be a start if I could just memorize my schedule for each day, let alone each week. I think I might try what the chef did and see if I can write my schedule by hand without looking at my calendar. Even if I could just have the details of a single job memorized before I get to it, that would help.
I believe in sharing my failures and successes, problems and solutions, and I write about them so others might learn from my experience. I would love to learn from others’ experience, too. Please comment if you have any mise–en–place practices you find helpful in your daily life.