Mise en place and “habit fields”

Chefs rely on “mise en place“, which is French for “putting in place”, for an orderly, efficient work space. All the kitchen tools and ingredients for the next meal are placed in a way that allows the work to flow with minimal resistance and maximum focus. We can arrange our work spaces for optimal effectiveness, too.

I just came across this thoughtful post, Habit Fields, by Jack Cheng. What if we arranged our work tools and surroundings to embed work habits that more readily get us into the “zone”, where we create with less distraction? Go read the whole post, but here are Cheng’s first and last paragraphs:

Consider the desk in your office. Maybe it reminds you of when you opened the box and put the pieces together. Or maybe it recalls your first day at work, when your colleague showed you where you would sit. The desk, the computer on top of it, the chair you sit in, and the space they comprise are all repositories for memory. But these things don’t just store our memories; they store our behaviors too. The sum of these stored behaviors is an object’s habit field, and merely being around it compels our bodies and minds to act in certain ways. By understanding these invisible forces and employing strategies to shape them, we can enjoy more frequent, sustained periods of flow.

We have the power to bestow our abilities onto the things around us. By being conscious of our tools, habits, and spaces, and actively conditioning them to help us behave the way we want to behave, maybe we can more efficiently tap into the thousands of hours of creative genius embedded in our everyday objects. Maybe we’ll be able to maximize the capabilities that new technologies afford us without being overwhelmed by the distractions. And, just maybe, we’ll remember what it feels like to be utterly engrossed in our daily work.

I love the idea of sitting in a different place or even facing a different way at your desk depending on whether you’re doing work or taking a mental break with some kind of distraction like Twitter. I have been doing most of my writing recently on my iPad, which makes switching to other apps just enough of a hassle to keep me on task. It’s a better uni-tasker than my Mac, and I’ve been building a writing habit around the iPad that I never did with a desktop computer.

Sharpen your “habit fields” and condition yourself to respond to your physical surroundings. Set up your work space for optimal focus when you’re working. Then the tools can better fulfill their purpose and allow you to cook up something awesome.