Accepting Moments of Monotony

Behind every exciting or awesome thing you have ever seen, done, or experienced, there was a lot of mindless boredom.

Someone coils and organizes every cable for that rock concert and goes through every switch on the light and sound boards. Before that big hiking adventure, there was a lot of packing, planning, and organizing. In the kitchen, every meal you have ever had- simple or complex- involved someone doing a lot of dull prep work.

This is “paying your dues” on the micro scale. It can be meditative, or it can be mindless. It can be soothing, or it can be drudgery. Either way, if you want that big beautiful pay off, there’s always some bullshit that needs to get done first. If you can “embrace the suck,” you can embrace the bullshit too.

I find myself encouraging my staff (and myself) to put up with a lot of boring stuff in the bakery. “Yes, we do make that filling nearly every day. It’s one of our most popular pies, and fortunately it’s not complicated.” “Yes, there are more pasties to crimp. I know we made a bunch last week, but guess what? They sold- and more are gonna go out the door next week.”

I should mention that none of my staff complain about the amount (or existence) of work, so you can cram those thoughts of “kids these days…” right back down the bilious hole they spawned from. My staff works hard and are eager to learn, but they want to learn new stuff. They want new recipes and to try new things- and I understand that completely. As their manager and chef, part of my job is to build their skills- for both of our benefits. Sadly, for every opportunity to teach them something new, there is a lot of annoying repetition that needs to be taken care of.

I would love to completely rewrite our menu and make it more interesting, challenging, and exciting…but guess what? There’s people who’ve been coming here for years looking for that pie and by God they are going to find it. I’m as heartbroken as they are that no one went for the Peach Jalapeño pie or the “Sweet n’ Smoky Peanut Pie”– but part of this job is aboout taking failures on the chin, making a note, and moving on. It’s not just my playground, it’s a business- and there is work to be done.

I will happily sprinkle in new recipes and new techniques where I can, but there’s work to be done first for them and me.

A wooden mortar and pestle with two spice bowlss on a black slate tabletop.
No matter what you’re doing for a living- sometimes you just need to grind.

Despite my love of writing, I think I mentioned before that I hate office work. At a previous job, I was going through some spreadsheets with the owner next to me. I knew the routine and was blazing through them when the owner said, “Matt, do you enjoy this kind of work?” I shrugged and said, “Honestly, there’s no liking or not liking it. It’s gotta be done, and I’ve gotten good at doing it.” I do prefer working with my hands and getting dirty. I like being on the floor, organizing people, teaching and leading them. I like messing around with recipes, tweaking them, recalculating them, and doing the alchemy that I love with people that enjoy it.

All the same, I need to do the boring stuff. The inventory, the menu planning, the scheduling, and Roll/Cut Day- the one part of production I’ve not yet learned to accept and love except for the opportunity to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Even crimping pastie after pastie has a meditative quality for me now, and doing so with others is an opportunity to chat and joke- the kind of thing I can’t do when my mind is occupied bonding between tasks and recipes.

A portrait of Eric Ripert beside an elegant plate of red sauce. There is a caption that reads “The glamour is artificial. There is no glamour as soon as you walk in the kitchen, close the door, and have your hand in the ass of a chicken.”
I don’t normally have my hand shoved in chickens. Instead imagine me caked in flour in a blank room, surrounded by pie dough and a rolling machine with Aaron Manke talking through speakers.

Sometimes you really do just find yourself clicking through numbers, rolling sheet after sheet of dough, or- as one previous boss said- “peeling potatoes.” The kind of task that tests your passion against boredom and your attention against monotony. I’d be lying if I said you could make lemonade out of lemons and dump a “spoonful of sugar” on it. Things that suck often just suck.

The best thing I can say is that, if the task needs to be done, there’s a reason it needs to be done. I need to do all that annoying inventory and rolling so that we can have the stuff we need for next week and the dough ready for this one.

I’m definitely not a fan of “busy work,” by the way. Anything that’s a waste of time shouldn’t be done by anyone. Seriously. If it’s a waste of time for you to do, it’s a waste of time for someone else to do and a waste of money for you to pay them to do it. Those resources are better spent finding ways around having to do that particular task than rent-seeking advice helping someone run out the clock.

The next time you are faced with a monotonous task, ask yourself first: Is this necessary? If so, how and why? Then keep that in mind as you plug in an audiobook, sing along to the radio, or anything else that’ll keep you from zoning out. Things get done by getting them done- not by moaning about how dull they are.

Stay Classy,

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