4 Time Management Tips I Learned Standing in Line for Michelin-Starred Ramen

From waiting for world-class food to managing your work calendar, here are 4 tips for using your time better.

Written by Ken Ozeki
Published on Oct. 25, 2023
4 Time Management Tips I Learned Standing in Line for Michelin-Starred Ramen
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Over the past decade, I’ve made a handful of end-of-year trips to Tokyo, during which I used most of my weekday afternoons to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants.

Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. Because many of these restaurants offer lunch for less than 5,000 yen ($30 to $40), you’ll find locals and tourists alike lined up outside for hours every day.

Including me. I work in public relations, and my bosses often deploy me to spend 15 to 30 hours a month on as many as seven of the company’s accounts. There aren’t enough hours in the work week to make the maximum ideal resourcing of my billable hours for all of those accounts happen, so I have to plan out every moment of my day to get as much done as I can.

Luckily, this time management skill transfers beyond PR to one of my favorite hobbies, traveling — and eating at Michelin-starred restaurants as I do so.

Here are four time management tips I’ve learned as a PR professional that you can use to strategize your next trip to one of the best restaurants in the world or simply to plan your work week.

4 time management tips

  1. Look for opportunities to set-and-forget tasks.
  2. Share calendars with your team.
  3. Streamline your day by doing tasks ahead of time.
  4. Be respectful of time commitments.

Read more about time managementWhat Is the Pomodoro Technique?


Multitask By Setting and Forgetting

In 2015, Tsuta became the first-ever ramen shop to earn a Michelin star. Although it has lost its star over time, in the months leading up to its initial recognition, it was already a massively popular restaurant. To ease the line during the day, the restaurant came up with a ticketing system. Diners needed to arrive at around 7 a.m. to pick up a reservation ticket for same-day dining.

During my trips to Japan, this was always the first thing I did upon arrival. Thanks to jet lag, I was wide awake in the early hours and would leave at 6 a.m. to snag one of the first tickets. After securing my lunch plans, I could go about the rest of my day until my designated meal time and not have to worry about spending a huge chunk of time standing out on the sidewalk waiting to eat.

From this, I learned to look for opportunities where I can set-and-forget a given task and focus on something else that needs doing. By planning ahead to reserve placement early, I was able to tackle more exciting things, like sightseeing, on my to-do list with peace of mind that one of the best bowls of ramen in the world awaited me in due time.


Share Calendars to Manage Your Time

When Sosakumenkobo Nakiryu became the second ramen restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star in 2017, the global demand changed the shop’s approach to accommodating customers. In the past, waiting in line could be chaotic and confusing because there wasn’t much room to wait outside the restaurant’s front doors. Now that it’s been a few years since it attained its Michelin star status, the venue’s staff has since produced a nice, laminated explainer on how the line to dine works.

Thanks to the restaurant’s guidance, I knew exactly where to be and when so that I could enjoy the ramen when it was my turn. Having a clear visual for how things work readily available to everyone saved time that would have otherwise been wasted in confusion and crowding.

In the same vein of visual clarity, I am adamant about using enterprise configurations such as Outlook and Google Calendar across multiple teams at work — especially its feature that allows you to view others’ calendars alongside your own. This puts me and my team all on the same page, and I’m able to balance my work across up to six teams at a time while having the visibility to get ahead of any overlapping conflicts.


Find Tasks You Can Do Ahead of Time

Depending on the day, all you need to do to enjoy SobaHouse Konjiki Hototogisu’s ramen, awarded a Michelin star in 2019, is line up during normal lunch hours. They put dividers up for a snaking line, but service is fast in the Shinjuku location, with most diners going in and out seamlessly during business hours.

The ramen is easily prepared before streamlined seatings and service in a busy environment. To make my day go as smoothly as this restaurant’s line, I practice teeing up emails and things that may need just a couple tweaks before going out. I also take advantage of the schedule send email option. I often get some of my greatest ideas outside of business hours while I’m exercising or winding down, and being able to whip up an email and schedule it to send the next morning allows me to stay on top of what needs to be done while respecting everyone’s working hours.


Honor Your Time Commitments

Landing Michelin star recognition in 2022 after opening its doors in 2018, Chukasoba Ginza Hachigou has drawn a lot of demand from locals. And with tourists finally returning to Japan post-Covid lockdown, you can only imagine how much busier it’ll become. I arrived around 8:45 a.m. and was approximately 20th in line on a Tuesday.

Enjoying this meal was a solid morning time commitment. There were people who came by at 11 a.m. and were turned away. Staff were strict in ensuring that whole parties arrived together for the wait. If you didn’t, you had to give up your spot in line and wait with your complete party toward the back of the line.

Because I work with a lot of external parties where engagements sometimes require early commitment, this experience gives me a concrete reminder not to brush those commitments off. For things to flow smoothly and fairly, everyone on a team needs to be prepared and where they need to be at the agreed upon time. This way, you can make sure to honor everyone’s time, including your own.

Read more about innovative diningWhat Is 3D-Printed Food? How Does It Work?


Look for Lessons in the Unexpected

I try to be as efficient with time as I can be. In the case of my experience at Tsuta, and even more at Ginza Hachigou, limited seating and Michelin hype accentuated supply versus demand. Due to the limited number of seats, how many people are staffed to accommodate these seatings, and how long it takes each diner to enjoy their meal, some pretty strict protocols were put in place when demand reached higher than staff bandwidth.

When it comes to limited time, my bosses allocate the hours I can spend on an account during a given month and put things in place to make sure the teams I work with aren’t over- or under-exerted to accommodate the needs of the clients we service.

I never imagined that standing in line, one of the biggest time consumers ever invented, would actually help me manage my time better. But it has, and whether you’re in Tokyo looking for an exceptional bowl of ramen or at work with too much to do and too little time, my lessons can help you, too.

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