Time Management in Hell’s Kitchen

fire_kitchen_hellChris Smith of Born to Eat Enterprises, LLC is a rock star.  He opened his first franchise restaurant at age 22 while still attending college.  Eight years later, he has seven stores, a high-functioning team, a happy wife, and free time on Sundays.

By his own admission, he was not always quite so amazing, though.

The restaurant industry is characterized by crazy hours, unpredictable days, and coordinating the efforts of a lot of people.  Fire-fighting, a figurative term in Corporate America denoting last-minute urgencies, can be quite literal in a workplace that relies on a gas grill.  Equipment will malfunction, people fail to show up for work, shipments may not arrive, or 50 customers can arrive at once when a tour bus stops in front of the building.  This is life in the restaurant fast lane.

I sat down with Chris over coffee one day to discuss how he became the picture of productivity in such a demanding environment.  The six pages of notes I took boil down (pun intended) to three major realizations.


Houston, We Have a Problem.

When Chris started out, he was unorganized, understaffed and working 18-hour days, every day.  He knew that there had to be a better way to work and to live.  Four years into his career, he read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.  For Chris, this was a transformative moment.  The Getting Things Done method (GTD for short) was exactly what he needed.  He took two weeks off work – even though it was an ill-advised time to do so – to reboot and regroup.  He sorted and purged his house, his home office and implemented his new system.

I think that the two-week retreat was a fantastic idea.  Chris invested heavily up-front.  So often, we think “I’m too busy to get organized.”  Chris realized that he would always be too busy for anything unless he got organized.  If a two-week hiatus from work sounds impossible to you, how many years are you willing to suffer to avoid the pain of doing it?

It’s not enough to just acknowledge that you have a problem. You must invest to solve it. tweet this


Put Out the Flaming Infernos First.

Chris needed to prioritize.  One of the first things he did was to place inboxes everywhere he worked:  his home office, his email, and in every store.  These inboxes became a gathering place for things that needed a decision.  He implemented David Allen’s suggestions from the first few chapters in the book and put the rest to the side – for the time being.

I applaud Chris for this strategy.  A key cause of time management system failure is trying to do too much too soon.  Chris’s stepwise approach was an effective way to gain some quick wins in his time management journey and recognize that years of bad habits do not get undone overnight.

A person suffering a broken leg doesn’t need instruction in how to train for a marathon. tweet this


It’s not about the System.

Chris is an evangelist for the GTD approach.  All of his managers are given a copy of the book and encouraged to implement.  However, Chris warns people that “You’ve got to remember that the purpose is productivity, not the system.”

I couldn’t agree more.  The purpose of time and task management is to achieve success.  A to-do list is a means to an endA calendar is the shield with which you defend your balanced life.  While Chris found his productivity soulmate in GTD, you may have different needs.  Use a system that works for you and remember that the point is to live and work according to your goals and values.

The purpose of a time management system is not a pretty planner, but an attractive life. tweet this


Chris began his journey with self-education, and you can too.  Sign up to receive my newsletter and you’ll have a monthly jolt of information and motivation to start or continue your productivity journey.  Click here to join the group.


This article is a part of my #ProductivitySuperheroes series where I profile people who are exceptional at managing their time, tasks, information and/or life in general. If you’d like to nominate yourself or someone you admire, please email getproductive@melissagratias.com.


Crazy Productive eBook Series

Are you ready to prioritize tasks, address time challenges, and master your information?

Buy the Crazy Productive series and you will receive all six books at a discounted price.

Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like what you read?

Get new posts directly in your inbox!

You might also like these posts…

Enjoying these posts? Make sure you dont miss any!

If you enjoy my blog posts and want to make sure you never miss one - sign up for my newsletter! When you do, you'll also get instant access to my FREE webinar on interruptions in the workplace.

Interruptions can kill productivity. With one “Got a minute?” from a coworker or one stray thought swirling in your brain, the flow of your work can be completely disrupted.

The trouble is that few people have concrete strategies to get back on task quickly after an interruption. Some people completely lose focus…for hours! If you have tried reducing interruptions, but they still impact your ability to be effective at work, this free webinar is for you.