Getting Focused 05: Productivity Tips from a Starbucks Barrista

Getting Focused 05: Productivity Tips from a Starbucks Barrista

I was sitting outside Starbucks talking to the veteran shift leader, who’d come outside for a quick break. The store had opened short-handed, and things were a bit hectic but under control. Note: the following conversation is paraphrased from my memory.

“We have a good crew today,” she said, “so we’re not having any problems.”

“So what is it that distinguishes a good crew from an average one?” I asked.

She took a drag from her cigarette, thinking it over. “One thing I do is take the 30 seconds to clean up after myself, otherwise things pile up and get in the way. The younger kids don’t do that.”

I thought of all the things I do every day that I don’t really tidy up: entering receipts, putting away my pens and working notes, keeping my desk tidy, etc. I am, however, trying one new thing: putting my shoes away in the same place whenever I take them off. I had been irritated at how long it was taking to find my shoes every morning; the certainty of knowing where my shoes are at any given moment has made my life better. Every tiny bit of certainty helps.

“Another thing is that a lot of the new kids can’t multi-task,” she continued, interrupting my reverie. “I can do 4 or 5 things at the same time.”

“I suck at multi-tasking,” I confessed. “So what is it that you do to keep track of things?”

“Oh, I always know what I’m going to do next,” explained the shift leader. “While I’m doing one thing, I’m thinking ahead to the next thing I’ll do. Newer crew have to stop and think about it, and that slows them down.”

The first thought that came to mind was that it might be easier to think of what’s next when you’re primarily working with your hands. Most of the work I do is actually thinking about how things should work, so thinking about what I need to do next would actually be something of a distraction…at least, on paper.

Maybe the way to fold in that what’s next thought is to express the current task in terms of a tangible benefit, which you know will be used for the next stage. That way, if you’re focused on what you are producing rather than what you are “doing”, you are thinking in a way that’s more process oriented. Assuming that’s good.

Where it might get tough is when you are not just making something from a template, but are actually creating or synthesizing. But then again there are at least two ways to think of creative synthesis:

  1. Collecting from the outside world and seeing what happens when you stick it all together.
  2. Reaching deep inside of you and making something from scratch, shaped by your skills and past experiences.

The first approach can benefit from an acquisition-focused “think ahead” mentality, because the order of collection is part random, part serendipity. The second approach, which requires unbroken concentration and continuity of thought, is probably less adaptable.

“Well, I better go back in.”

“Ok. Thanks for the tips!”