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This resource aims to clarify the tasks that make up the process of producing an essay, to enable you to gain an overview of the whole process, plan your time and approach, and accomplish the various tasks efficiently. Breaking a task down is a good way to understand it and manage your time, particularly if the task is a large and complex one that may appear off-putting. This resource uses the common time management tool of SMART goals to achieve this.

SMART time management is a simple strategy that can be a useful way to view time management. Effective time management is a key part of successful university study, but another way of viewing it is task management. Time itself cannot be 'managed' (although you can plan how to use it). The tasks you complete within that time can however be managed. This is partly due to self-discipline, but this might be made easier if the tasks you set yourself are expressed in a clear and approachable way.

Specific: If the task set is vague, then it is difficult to get on with or complete, as it is not clear exactly what is expected.

Measurable: If the task set is open-ended, it is not clear when it is finished, and thus it may be difficult to move on. The task should be expressed in such a way that it has a natural point at which you can say that it is finished.

Achievable: This point may seem obvious, but if the task has not been defined in a Specific, Measurable and Timebound way, it will be hard to judge if it is do-able, particularly when under pressure.

Relevant: Another obvious point, but it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between tasks which are genuinely contributing to the progress of an essay, and those which seem relevant, but are in fact a distraction or displacement activity.

Timebound: It is worth estimating how long a task will take. The more clearly a task is defined, the more concrete it is, and the easier it is to judge how long it will take and plan your time accordingly. If a task has no clearly defined natural end point, then it might be helpful to set a time limit on it.


Vague task: "I'll spend this afternoon reading."

SMART task: " I'll spend an hour from 11- 12, reading this chapter in this book on my reading list, looking for information I can use to support these points in my essay."