I hated asparagus as a child. It hit all the wrong notes for me: it was grayish-green, it was soggy, and it tasted terrible. These days, it’s one of my favorite vegetables, and I attribute it to the cooking skills I’ve learned over the years. Instead of heating asparagus from a can in a saucepan on the stove – the thought of which still makes me gag – I toss fresh spears in olive oil and sprinkle on some kosher salt before putting them the broiler for a few minutes. If I want to be a little decadent, I add a bit of parmesan. Now, it’s a much better shade of green, it’s crunchy, and it tastes amazing.
While improving my cooking skills has certainly upgraded the vegetables in my life, I’ve also been able to translate those skills into my work life by applying some of the same principles.
Have the Right Ingredients
If you want a recipe to turn out right, you need the right ingredients. Baking soda is NOT the same as baking powder – a lesson I learned with a very sad cake in my early 20’s. In my work life, I’ve found that having the right ingredients can mean a lot of things – the right mix of people on a project, a culture where it’s safe to speak your mind, or even a corporate sponsored pot of coffee to keep things properly caffeinated – but they are essential.
Use the Right Tools
You can absolutely peel a carrot with a paring knife, but that can end badly for your fingers. Safer to stick with a vegetable peeler. For years I took notes in various notebooks and on sticky notes, and inevitably things got lost. My work life improved significantly when I started being consistent about using electronic note-taking and project management tools. When you think about a particular workflow process that’s not working in your daily work life, it’s good to ask: is there a tool for that?
Would that piece of salmon taste better with some spicy chili oil? You won’t know if you don’t try! Sometimes in cooking and in work you need to take a risk and try something new. Being bold doesn’t require big Steve Jobs-esque moves. It can be a simple as making a new product suggestion or trying a new color scheme in your software. And if it turns out badly and you fall on your face? Well, now you know what doesn’t work.
Have you ever had your hands covered in flour and realized that you still need to chop something? You have to stop, wash your hands, get the cutting board…the whole process just got longer and less efficient. For those of us who cook often, prepping ingredients beforehand ensures that everything is ready to go when you start. Mise-en-place literally means “put in place”. It’s a well-known French phrase that refers to having everything set up prior to starting. In my work life, particularly when managing projects, having all my tools and process outlined as much as possible before I start makes for a much more efficient and less stressful project.
That recipe I use for chicken lettuce wraps? It’s a combination of several blog posts I found on Pinterest, suggestions from my husband, and a crazy idea I had one night to add some peanuts for extra crunch. I’ve learned that not being afraid to ask for help, getting comfortable with other people’s ideas, and using multiple resources (online or otherwise) has made my work easier and more importantly, better.