by Siti Suhaily Md Idris

It’s not unusual to be overwhelmed at work. There will be times when you may find yourself swamped. Panic sets in and you know you’re going to have to put in extra long hours. You put in those hours, but somehow still find yourself lagging behind.

How can this be possible? What are you doing wrong?

The good news is, there is nothing wrong with you.

Research has found that an employee’s output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours — so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 20 hours.

So, clearly, working super hard is not the answer. It’s more of a case of working smart.

Instead of putting more hours at work, it may be more useful to first focus on what really matters by writing down a list of the work you need to get done for the day.

Simple enough? Well, creating an efficient to-do list requires good practice. Here are some useful tips to get you started.

Pick a medium
To-do lists come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s all about what works for the individual. Some research suggests writing information by hand helps us remember it better, but if you last picked up a pen in 1995, fear not: There’s a huge range of digital apps that help create personal to-do lists. Here are a few examples: Trello, Evernote and Wunderlist.

Kiss (Keep it short and simple)
There’s nothing more intimidating than a mile-long to-do list. And, realistically, it’s impossible to get that much stuff done in 24 hours anyway. Keep your to-do list lean and mean by only focusing on 3 to 5 most important, urgent and challenging tasks for the day. Focus on one task at a time before moving on to the less critical tasks.

Meet the MITs.
That’s “most important tasks.” Start the list with at least two items that must be done today,  instead of finishing a project report due tomorrow. Even if the rest of the list stays untouched, the ones that need to be done are done within a specific timeline.

Start easy
Tackle the low- hanging fruit first.  Even before those MITs (see above), stick a few simple items on the list. “Confirm with supplier,” “Set meeting,” and “Call client” are all good examples. Even crossing off the smallest of things helps us start the day feeling super-productive.

Time it
Now that you’ve made the list (and checked it twice), go back and put a time estimate next to every item. It might even help to turn the to-do list into a kind of schedule with specific times and places. For example: Present deck 10 – 12 p.m. at OOP, Team briefing 3 – 4 p.m. at HQ.

Get into this practice and with the right implementation, you’ll find yourself more organised and time efficient.