Book Review: Work Clean

Down into some net rabbit hole, I stumbled upon a review of Work Clean. I chuckled: a productivity book, philosophizing about how cook’s approach to preparation (mise en place) would fix all our problems? Bring it on, I have a long commute.

Actually, I found the book surprisingly good if you stick to the practical side and discard the hyperbole. As an occasional home cook with a big dose of planning and OCD built into me, I got the point.

Here I’ll share some of the key takeaways I got. I recommend you get the book, by the way.

Commit to being honest with time. Plan daily.

If you are anything into GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done), daily planning, weekly reviews and in general a big amount of overhead in your system is probably already a given. But this is probably #1 in my book. If you plan your day (preferably the evening before or at least, before really starting it) you’ll have a better sense of where you stand and how you are doing with your day. Proactive, not reactive.

Immersive focus vs process time

Remember, anything that needs your input or feedback on a project to keep it moving forward is process work.
This is a distinction I had never paid attention to. Process time is work you can “pay in advance”. In a kitchen, this would be starting the oven so it’s hot when you need it, while you chop veggies. Roasting bell peppers: they’ll roast while you prepare something else. Process work was just scrubbing and placing into the oven.

In more mundane, office style work, this would be part of delegating, communicating and unblocking your peers. Start the day unlocking and unblocking the work of others. Communicating, requesting what you need lets you keep the day going.

Always be unblocking

Try to unlock all your projects, goals, missions. The question to ask is what is keeping me from pushing forward? What is the show stopper?

Likewise, try to unblock (specially if you are the blocker) your colleagues. If you work in an Agile environment you’ll be familiar with the standup process, where a daily status meeting is quickly held by members of the team, and is when any blockers (operational, logistic, personal) are raised.

(or you can also take the Always be knolling approach)

Counting mistakes: keeping a mistake log

Kaizen is a fabled Japanese term in the manufacturing/productivity world. It is translated usually as constant improvement. But there is nothing to improve if you don’t know where you are failing.

Keeping a mistake log is the way to continually improve. Find where you failed (no need to be anything life threatening: if you misplace your keys, it’s a failure), log it and strive for improvement. We do this constantly at work: any failure generates a postmortem, and from it we plan to prevent the same mistake from happening again.

Distraction routines

Another interesting approach. What to do when you can’t concentrate or need a break from your current project? In other words, have tasks, projects or goals for when you don’t feel like working more on what you are doing now. Who has not sorted their closet to avoid other work? This is the same, but without avoiding the important work. It’s only a break.


Try to finish everything you start. The more projects you have lying around unfinished, the larger burden you’ll feel. If you can’t finish something, prepare the task for picking it up. Write down the next steps, prepare any tools needed. Schedule a follow up session.

The approach to routines

Routines, for the author are not actions (nor habits) but placeholders for actions. You can have a commute routine: you are sitting, bring so and so devices, can do so and so. You can fill this routine with several different actions.

Having a clear idea of which kind of actions can be fillers for each of your routines is key to optimizing your time (if you want to).


It may not have been a groundbreaking read, but I was surprised by the interesting ideas and the exposition. Focusing on cooks was kind of a fun take for a productivity book, and what made me pick what I would have otherwise skipped. Pick it up, you may get some interesting idea.
Written by Ruben Berenguel