July 19, 2018

One of the most challenging roles of my career was on the Strategic MerchandisingTeam. For three years, I led a group of folks responsible for developing retail outlet point of sale and racks that enabled irresistible shopper experiences. The responsibilities included:

The role was very complicated, high pressure and thankless at times. Chaos was the norm. Every day, I was pulling my hair out; multiple fire drills or problems occurred daily. The tyranny of the urgent ruled the team. Everything was a priority.

Because of the job stress, I began not sleeping and always worried about what challenge was around the next corner. The work was controlling me, I was burning out, and dropping balls. What’s worse is that I wasn’t leading my team well.

One day, I was sitting in a meeting, and someone presented a priorities 2 x 2 grid. I’d seen the concept before but never used it. The presenter showed how the grid helped segment initiatives and prioritized them based on levels of urgency and importance:

The light bulb went off in my head. I realized that I needed to go back to a very fundamental practice that I’d ignored – prioritization. Then, I blocked out some white space on my calendar to think and walk through the priorities grid. I identified areas where I could invest my time, leverage my strengths and make a difference. Once the grid was complete, I shared it with my manager who loved it. We agreed to use the document during our weekly 1:1s as our discussion focal point. We’d align on the priorities and what could fall off the to-do list.

Eventually, I began to gain control of the work and my schedule. I became more productive, less stressed and a better leader. My team noticed the difference and asked what changed. I shared the priorities grid with them, how I used the tool and how it helped me focus on the essential work. I recommended that they implement it as well. The team members were hesitant at first, but they slowly adopted the priorities grid. They began seeing the difference prioritization made in their work and how it impacted their well-being.

I’ve since moved into another role. Recently, I ran into one of my former Strategic Merchandising Team members. She smiled and asked me if I remembered the priorities grid. I nodded “yes,” and she told me that she still uses it today – a very gratifying moment for me.

If you struggle with a complex environment, need help establishing priorities and staying focused on the work that matters most, here are a few helpful thoughts and tips:

If you’re faced with a complex work environment where the tyranny of the urgent is managing you, I recommend you take time to think, determine the work that matters by working through a priorities grid and invest your time where you can make the most significant difference. If you do, you’ll become a more effective leader.

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