I used to watch a lot of cooking competitions back in high school and believed that chefs in the wild looked like they did when it was down to the final minute and nothing had been plated yet: sauce splattered on counter and plate alike, spoons flying over heads, yelling, smoke and grease clouding vision. Watching most chefs off-camera however, even during a dinner rush, showed a completely different picture. The yelling was usually done in jest, splatters were wiped off counters immediately, tasting spoons dropped neatly into containers filled with water. Whether it was a small breakfast diner or one of the Michelin-starred, the steady rush of guests was tempered by a hyper-focused kitchen that knew just when to fire the shrimp and when to hold back while the pasta boiled.
One of the most frustrating responses I used to get from corporate leadership when I asked which of the innumerable strategies or tactics we should prioritize first in order to meet deadlines was: “All of them”. I’m sure most people will tell you that prioritization is key to being effective in any endeavor and yet during the breakneck rush towards quarterly targets and seasonal software releases, the one who shouts the loudest oftentimes wins. In other cases, the hottest fire gets put out first in a classic mixing up of important vs. urgent. It seems we transform into special snowflakes (“Industry standards don’t apply to us. We’re different”) when the temperature gets cranked up a few degrees and the end result is us being caught in a never-ending cycle of escalations and being “in the weeds” as they say in kitchen parlance.
It’s tempting to think everything is a priority right now. Bills need paying, children need schooling, partners need loving, all while the uncertainty of jobs, health, and normalcy swirl through the air thick as the smell of burning sauce. While it’s even more tempting to double our efforts or throw more people at the problem, there can definitely be too many cooks in the kitchen and simply throwing more meat into the oven won’t get you more roasts faster. The priority of the day is whatever aligns to the agreed upon mission. If it’s giving your most loyal customers assurance that you’ll be with them through this crisis, work on that. If it’s making sure all appetizers got sent out, it’s OK not to start your mains even if some inhaled their salad and are rushing you for their pasta.
These days my priority is just making sure I remember to eat and if it means ending a Netflix binge, interrupting a productive writing session, or foregoing a workout, so be it. I must eat enough. Nothing else matters.