mise en place, but for life

Nothing speaks to my Type-A heart quite like mise en place, which is a French culinary term meaning “everything in its place.” Professional chefs practice mise en place by preparing and organizing each ingredient before cooking to ensure success in the kitchen. I have not only applied this philosophy in my own kitchen, but to my life, as well.

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As a child growing up with A.D.D., although heavily medicated, I struggled a lot with simple tasks, like remembering to write down homework assignments, remaining focused while reading The Odyssey (thanks Mrs. Jungeman!), not locking my keys in my car during high school, and misplacing my phone exactly two minutes before having to leave the house (unfortunately, this still happens frequently). In early adulthood, I decided to overcompensate for my lack of organization by becoming highly organized and detail oriented. This did not happen easily or naturally, but I trained myself to operate within systems of organization where supplies are labeled! and daily prioritized to-do lists are written! and my life is mapped out as a visual representation of goals and action items!

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The concept behind life-mapping is that once a thought/goal/dream/task-needing-to-be-done transfers from your head onto paper, you are free to move onto action. As long as thoughts/goals/dreams/tasks-needing-to-be-done remain swirling around your head without a plan, they will slow you down. Having everything down on paper, readily visible, helps create a plan for action. Preparation then action is necessary for success. So are dreams and thoughts and goals. Life-mapping is mise en place for your thoughts.

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There are a ton of young professionals who are trying to do it all: succeed in their career, stay fit, give back to the community, socialize, and work on their side hustle. Life-mapping is an easy, useful tool to manage all aspects of your life that require attention and effort.

Supplies for Life-Mapping:

1-2 hours of uninterrupted time

journal/notebook/scratch paper

2 poster boards




colored markers

colored post-its

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1. In this stage of life-mapping, write as messy and freely as you would like. Grab your journal/notebook/scratch paper and think of your life in terms of broad categories. If you have a side hustle (aka business you are starting, creative endeavor, etc.), I suggest keeping that separate from your other life categories, which we will address later. If you do not have a side hustle, separate your most important life category from the others, which we will address later. Write down all categories which require your attention and action. You can make this as personal as you want. Here are some of the categories I wrote down while journaling: finance, health, culture, community, etc. If you have more than 10 categories, combine some of them in order to end up with 10 categories or less total. Originally, I wrote down 12 categories, so I combined exercise and eating into one category called health. I suggest having an even number of categories, strictly for visual purposes.

2. This step should take the longest amount of time throughout the entire life-mapping process. Now that you have your 10 categories or less, start one-by-one to focus more deeply on each category. Here you will consider each category in terms of goals and action items within certain time frames: Year, Quarter, Month, Week. In your journal/notebook/scratch paper, write the name of the category and underneath it write on a separate line each, Year -, Quarter -, Month -, Week –. Think of goals you would like to achieve in a year related to that particular category and write them on the Year line. Year goals can be very broad or very specific, it is really up to you. Once you have your Year goals written down, next you can focus on what action items need to be taken within each time frame to achieve your goals.

For example, this is what I wrote in my journal for the finance category:


Year – improve credit score, new interest earning savings account, 401k, pay off debts simultaneously, have financial plan for 2018. *these are all goals I would like to accomplish by the end of the year

Quarter – work with financial advisor, utilize new budget, learn more about credit, find inspiration (financial blogs, podcasts, etc.). *action items to take this quarter

Month – make new budget, make new debt payment plan and start paying new $ amount. *action items to take this month

Week – call Marc’s dad (financial advisor), make rough draft budget, make rough draft debt payment plan. *action items to take this week 

3. Once you have written down your goals and action items for each category, you are ready to create your first map. Grab a poster board, ruler, and sharpie and make a grid allowing one section for each category. Personally, it would drive me insane to have an uneven number of categories visually, but do you, Boo! Write the category in sharpie at the top of each grid section. Below each category name, write in pen the yearly goals, then timely action items as bullet points. Use a different colored marker to denote each time frame, coloring over the bullet point.

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4. Repeat steps 1 & 2 for your side hustle -or- the most important life category (MILC) you came up with in step 1.

5. Instead of recreating step 3 for your side hustle -or- MILC, considering side hustles and MILCs require more action than other life categories, this step will teach you how to create a monthly calendar of action items based on your goals.

Grab your second poster board, ruler, and sharpie and draw 7 vertical columns (4 inches wide each) and 5 horizontal columns starting from the bottom (4 inches wide each), which leaves a 2 inch wide horizontal column at the very top where you can write the days of the week, essentially drawing a calendar. Do not number any of the days of the month, as you will use post-it notes for this calendar, making it reusable each month.

6. Decide which color post-its will denote different categories of action items. My side hustle is this blog, so on my calendar I use 4 different colors of post-it notes to differentiate action (ex.: when I cook a food post), write (when I write a post), and publish (when I publish a post). I also have a separate color for holidays because it is advantageous to plan posts around a holiday.

7. Figure out what your end results need to be and when they need to happen (for me, that is publishing blog posts), then write those items down on post-its and place them on your calendar first.

8.  Working backwards (just as you did in your first life map, starting with yearly goals which decide what your action items will be), decide which action items need to occur in order to produce your end results (for me, that is action and write). Write those items down on post-its and place them on your calendar.

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9. From both of your poster boards, you can now plan ahead with your weekly schedule and block out time in your day planner for achieving your tasks – which will help you achieve your goals!

10. This last step is very important. Not everyone understands being driven, focused, and highly motivated to spend a large amount of time following your dreams, so give yourself permission to say no to friends *without feeling guilty* when they want you to hang out, while you are busy being a powergirl/mogul-in-training/badass. And also, remember that life-mapping is but a plan. Things don’t always go according to plan, especially life. So, allow for some flexibility within your plans to not always get everything done on time in this perfect! (almost) life.

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