When I was a Starbucks Partner, I quickly learned something about the feeling of overwhelm. Imagine being in the middle of a holiday rush with ten drinks queued up and a group of ten people followed by several families, all ordering complex blended drinks and seasonal drinks, with some even requesting half-and-half steamed to 145º added on top of the usual 2% milk. That’s enough to make anyone go crazy. What I was taught, however, was to not see the entire queue of drinks, but instead to focus on – you guessed it – the two drinks in front of me.

Starbucks is a machine of beverage preparation productivity, and the established rhythm supported working on the first half of one drink, finishing the second drink, then starting the next drink, finishing the previous one, and so on. It was an ingenious system and, as someone who thrives in a flow state, I found it incredibly satisfying.

But what about the other queued drinks? Well, that wasn’t my worry. That was our shift manager’s responsibility – they would balance the intake and support with another person making drinks. Ultimately, their job was to manage the workload, and ours was to execute it. It was as simple as that. Just work on the two drinks in front of you and ignore the line of drinks waiting in the queue. This allowed us to focus and churn out drink after drink without any stress. It was nothing short of magical.

When I transitioned to managing a software team, I began noticing parallels between Starbucks’ “two-cup focus” and how I could inspire my team. So, I started writing a weekly note to my team outlining our “two cups” for the week. At the end of the day, what really matters is to focus on these tasks and not on the flood of new work continuously streaming in.

However, as a manager, do we also have our own “two cups”? Absolutely, though they may look different. I’ve found that if I can identify the “two cups” for whatever cadence I need (day, week, quarter, etc.), it helps me focus. If nothing else gets done, what are the two things that absolutely need to get done? Not three, just two.

This system has worked for me, but, of course, your mileage may vary. Cheers