Howard Schultz: Having Your Coffee First

30.01.2019 |

Episode #4 of the course Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires by John Robin


Welcome to Day 4!

There’s a good chance that right now, you’re sipping your morning coffee thanks to today’s person of interest.

Founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz has pushed himself to higher levels of success steadily since the 1980s, despite some difficult setbacks. His wealth was listed at $3.1 billion, according to Forbes in April 2017. What’s more, he resigned as CEO of Starbucks in June 2018, and many suspect he has US presidential ambitions.

And he started as a Xerox salesman in the late 1970s with a bachelor’s degree in business.

Schultz was not driven by an urge to found a coffee company with the over 27,000 stores Starbucks has today (which is not far from the 36,000 of McDonald’s). He was driven to improve how businesses operated. This led him to meet the former owners of Starbucks, then a single store in Pike Market Square in Seattle, to help them improve on their plastic coffee filter usage.

Starting early every day, Schultz begins with a cup of coffee and looks to the immediate opportunity in front of him and how to double down on that in a way consistent with his life vision. With this thinking in mind, he connected that small Seattle coffee shop with café culture in Milan and was sure he could bring that to North America. Testing this idea and seeing results, he raised $3.8 million to buy Starbucks and spread it outside the US.

Howard Schultz always put the first coffee of the day first, in more senses than one.


Prioritizing: The Stones in the Jar

There is a well-known time management analogy. It goes like this:

A teacher asks a student to fill a jar with three types of materials.

There are large rocks made of gold, five of them. The jar will fit them all.

There are silver pebbles, two handfuls. They will fill the jar halfway full.

There is a bucket of bronze sand. There’s more than enough to fill the jar.

The student is asked to fill the jar with all three and that he will get paid for whatever he can get in it.

The student is smart and knows that if nothing else, he must put the large golden rocks in. Then he will put in as many silver pebbles as he can. The best way to do this is to shake the jar and let them settle around the spaces between the rocks. Only once he’s got as much silver in there as possible does he add the sand, shaking the jar so it fills all the spaces around the pebbles.

Yesterday, we learned about Oprah’s driving factor to success, investing in that “important, but not urgent” time. How do we do that?

For Howard Schultz and numerous other successful entrepreneurs, the secret lies in the story of the stones in the jar:

Always put the most important things first.

If you want to write a book, decide how much time you must spend each week to make progress, and put that time in first, above all. Write this on a calendar and keep track. Improvise however you have to, to get it done. This goes above everything. This goes above watching TV. It goes above plans with friends.

Think of your day as the jar and the most important priorities as the rocks. Put those in first, and figure out after you’ve done that how everything else can fit. No doubt, you’ll realize those pebbles and sand aren’t required and most of them can go. But you’ll feel much better because you aren’t throwing out the golden rocks!

Howard Schultz can testify to the truth of this.

Every day, he has been committed to bringing people together in a more sustainable community. It wasn’t about climbing the corporate ladder and making money. His time and priorities were on how to invest time first and foremost in how he could use his work to solve the larger problem at the core of his inner purpose.

And it still drives him today.



What is the number-one priority you want to spend your time on? Start putting this on your calendar each week, and decide how you can spend your time on this and make progress on it every week.

You can learn from the lesson of the stones and list your top priorities in order. Better yet, apply Day 2’s lesson and put down your top five priorities. How can you make sure you focus on these each week, without compromise?

(And don’t forget Day 1’s lesson: Sleep over eight hours/night. This should be priority prime if you want to double or triple your effectiveness!)

Tomorrow, we’ll move past prioritizing, into the heart of what makes for effective goal-setting.


Recommended book

Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz


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