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Rotate your stock

As a university student, I worked one summer as a line cook in a new-age tempura restaurant. The chef there was a grizzled US Navy veteran who went by Lodi. He spoke with a New Hampshire accent and worked his knife like a man gutting fish on a trawler coming ’round the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

My first day on the job, he showed me the walk-in refrigerator, a cold, damp, vault with shelves from floor to ceiling. He said:

Upper and lower shelves are for produce boxes fresh off the truck.  Shelves from your head to your waist are for food that’s ready-to-cook or ready-to-serve.

Always put a lid on your containers and always rotate your stock. Everything should have an expiration date. Toss out everything that’s expired. Cut off anything that’s spoiled. Sniff or eyeball everything and ask yourself if you’d eat it. If in doubt, toss it out.

Then, bring the good stuff forward to make space behind it. Before the lunch rush and any time you’ve got a minute to spare, cut vegetables and prepare food to fill these empty spaces.

It seems like common sense now, but as a young man, this system made a big impression on me.

I’m still doing it in my work today. I just finished a project where I inspected my team’s entire doc repository, tossed out the obsolete, refreshed the good, and moved it forward.

You can do this, too. For tech docs or blog posts:

  • Inspect your legacy content at regular intervals.
  • Remove what’s obsolete.
  • Refresh what’s good and bring it forward.
  • Fill your customers’ information needs with new content.
  • Take steps to make the process more systematic.

In tech docs, there are ways to make replacing content easier:

  • Keep a release-cycle checklist with a “remove obsolete content” task on it.
  • Write modular documentation.
  • Tag content that’s version-specific so you can search for it.
  • Use link checking software.

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