mise en place

I've noticed a funny little trend in my study habits: I tend to do my best work when I'm seated at a desk, table, or other flat service. Sitting down deliberately, with all the tools I need both close at hand and with some materials spread out for reading, writing, referencing, etc., makes my study sessions a lot more productive.

What I usually want to do is grab my laptop and plop on the couch. It's so nice to curl up surrounded by blankets, and still feel like I'm getting some work done. The problem is that I often get too comfortable and I lose focus. Or, my cat curls up on my arm, making it hard to type. Or -- worse -- both! And, without a place to spread out my materials, I am limited to using just online resources for my studies, which can really constrain what I do. Generally speaking, it's much better if I forgo comfort in favor of focus.

Maybe you can understand why this setup doesn't work?

The whole situation reminds me a little bit of mise en place. As chefs know, in order to do your best work, you've got to be set up appropriately. That means taking time out of your day to do the necessary preparatory work so that you can work more effectively when it's time to start putting all the ingredients together. My sister and her boyfriend are both chefs and swear by this approach, dedicating hours of their week to chopping vegetables, filleting fish, and slicing fruit before a single customer walks into the restaurant.

Indeed, I find myself taking a bit of the same approach to my studies, especially on Friday mornings when my mentor and I speak. Before I get the Skype call from him, I shut the doors to the second bedroom/office (always shutting the cat out, even though she usually figures out how to push a door open and make her way in), put on my headphones, set out several sheets of paper and a pen for note taking on one side of the desk, and notes from our previous conversations on the other. Only then am I really ready to start the Luganda lesson in earnest.

I'm not the first person to think about how the concept of mise en place can apply outside of the kitchen. But it really helps me understand why studying in a designated area, with all my materials where I need them, improves the quality of my studying.

I think this helps explain why studying while on the road can be so difficult for me. Without my usual space and set-up, I'm just not as effective. That's part of the reason why this past week was not my best. I was away on Tuesday and Wednesday for my grandmother's funeral, and though I did make an effort to do a bit of Luganda work, it mostly fell by the wayside, and what work I did do was less intensive that it would have been otherwise.

Additionally, due to technical problems, I didn't have my session with my language mentor this week, which was disappointing. I was hoping that some conversation time would make up for lost progress, but it was not to be.

What work I did do was useful if not particularly notable. Lots of vocabulary practice, and working on grammar via writing out sentences to various prompts. I also continued to try to read articles in Bukedde, which is more possible for articles on some topics than on others.

While understanding the ways that mise en place can be a helpful tool in service of more effective studying, I don't want it to become a barrier to studying when I have less control of my surroundings! That will be my goal this week, when I again find myself facing another funeral - this time, for the husband of a friend. I am going to plan around the time away by scheduling thoughtfully, but by also giving myself work to do on the day I travel that fits with the physical space in which I'll be.

I'll let you know next week how it goes!

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