I’ve moved recently from a two-bedroom apartment to a large open loft and to say that the place is a mess is a bit of an understatement. My partner and I emptied all the cardboard boxes, and we decided the mantra for the house the next couple of weeks is “Make it work.” All that really means is organize but don’t overthink. Designate a cabinet for all the glasses, but for the time being, don’t spend time designating which shelf the Mason jars will sit. There will come a day where we can argue if the champagne glasses need to be on the top shelf or on display somewhere else, but for the time being, tidying is a crucial part of one’s creative process.
My desk for the first two weeks at our new place was our new kitchen table. I set up my computer, my pen tablet, and I had all my papers and pens ready for what my work had in store for me. Not an ideal situation, but it was technically my workspace for the time being, and I made it work by having all my ‘tools’ within reach.
The chefs call it mise en place, which is French for ‘set in place’.
French chefs have this philosophy engraved into their heads at an early stage in their career. Mise en place is all about planning and preparation, making sure all the necessary tools (knives, boards, spoons, bowls, pans) are readily available and all ingredients (spices, flours, sauces etc.) are present so you can begin to work.
“Your work station and it’s state of readiness is an extension of your nervous system.” – Anthony Bourdain
A great philosophy, but what if you’re a clutter bug like me? Well, if you got bugs, call an exterminator, but if you live a cluttered life, this is still a great philosophy. Just because you may live in clutter, doesn’t mean it can’t be organized. At my desk, there is a ridiculous number of pens and hundreds of little white index cards. An eyesore for some, BUT I always know where my two most important tools are located. The spot to the right of my monitor is organized just enough that it will never interfere with progress. It’s why comedians keep notepads: You risk losing the enthusiasm of an idea or joke if you can’t write it down somewhere.
Productivity and creativity are two different things and tend to get mistaken for each other. You can produce A LOT of work and it can be fairly uncreative and have an extremely creative day without getting a fair amount accomplished. There needs to be a fair balance of order and chaos in a workspace because a clean and tidy desk doesn’t mean ideas are going to automatically get produced either. The only function a workspace really needs to be successful at is its capability of handling all the tools you need to get to work. That’s it.
Eventually, I built a desk, and I upgraded from the kitchen table to a corner of the house to put my things. Within time, I’ll make it a beautiful work station with framed pictures and a good chair and, heck, maybe even a plant. All that’s important now is that I have a space to do my work. Much like when we can’t find our favorite pair of pants in the laundry, it’s crucial to know where your work tools are located. The tools that you use to make you better each day.
On this note, I finally found the stapler I’ve been looking for this whole time while I wrote this article. Time to get stapling! Sometimes you can just never find what you’re looking for, so hopefully you discover something else in the process.