Mise en place (Part 2)

In my last blog post, I talked about how my wife, a teacher, is able to pack so much into her day. How she’s able to reach students in 4-7 disparate lessons per day and do so in the the time she has. The biggest enabler is Mise en place. In this segment, I want to talk about how we can adopt that mindset for our work — knowledge work, that is by itself sometimes unknowable.

First off, let’s look at how our days are structured:

1. Get into work (8:00-8:10)
2. Check Email, respond to any issues (8:10:8:30)
3. Open up IDE, text editor, pull code (8:30-8:35)
4. Get distracted, open up browser (8:35-9am)
5. Look at work items in JIRA or TFS (9:00am-9:15am)
6. Find right files, and start working (9:15-9:20am).

Your day probably looks more or less about this; but let’s be realistic. More often than we care to admit, we waste a full hour and a half at work before we do what we are judged on — what software features and outcomes we can deliver. What would this look like if we practiced Mise en place — everything in its place?

First off, we’d probably spend the previous day’s final 15-30 minutes getting ready for work the next day. It’s not often we’re productive in the final 15-30 minutes away; and so this is a good time to prepare for the next day.

One important outcome when preparing for the next day is ensuring that you feel as productive as soon as possible. Email releases the endorphins when you’re able to respond, but is it the most productive use of your time? Probably not. (unless you’re a manager type). If you know you’ll be working on a new feature tomorrow, go ahead and create the branch today. It doesn’t matter what branching methodology your team uses, creating branches in git is free and helps segment your work. (And if you’re not yet using git, use your source control’s analogue, if it has one). Typically you’re not going to be assigned new work overnight, and so you can already pick tomorrow’s first work item today. Go ahead and move it into in-progress before you leave, and assign it to yourself. Get your workstation set up so that when you come in, you’re able to start working on it immediately.

Do you need some research to be able to start on that work? Go ahead and pull it up. Look over the work item, and make sure you can get started with it. That’s what’s important — ensuring your next 4 hours or so are covered and that you won’t have to pause work to get something to be able to be productive.

That’s all we’re going to focus on for right now — ensuring that your next day’s work is able to be started as soon as you walk into the office. Only worry about the first few hours for now, later, we’ll talk about strategies for increasing your productivity window.

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