Completing tasks

Having looked at the bigger picture and established a weekly routine, the next step is to break down individual tasks and work out what you can realistically complete in a given study block.

Give some of the suggestions on these pages a try and see if they help. Getting started early is a great idea. Remember if you get stuck or need more help, you can make an appointment with a learning adviser.


How do you work out what are the most important tasks to complete at any one given time? It is very easy to be fooled by tasks that feel important and urgent. Stephen Covey (2004) in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, outlines ways to identify the tasks that will yield the greatest results in the longer term. Many of the things that feel very important and urgent - like emails, messages and phone calls - often are not. Additionally many tasks become crises (and therefore urgent) precisely because we didn't prioritiste them and get them done first (think back to that statement "I work best under pressure").

Thinking about your tasks in terms of the bigger picture that you established with your semester planner can help you prioritise. What do you need to be working in this week in order to complete all the assessment tasks? Which ones are the most important or have the highest value?

Once you have prioritised, you might want to consider these tips from Brian Tracy (2004):

  • Try writing your to-do list the night before and then get everything ready that you will need. That way when you sit down the next day you are ready to get started straight away - no excuses!
  • Highlight the important tasks that you have identified - work out an order of importance.
  • It is tempting to put off the harder, bigger tasks but if they are important, shouldn't you get them done first? Don't be tempted to do all the easy tasks first as that way you may never get to most important one.

Task lists

It's useful to have master lists for bigger tasks - particularly when you first start university study and you are still learning what is required and how much time it takes for you to complete certain tasks. From your master lists, you will be able to compile a list for the particular day or study block. 

Think about a typical university essay. Here's a possible break down of the separate tasks needed to complete the essay:

  1. Preparation - understand the task
  2. Background research - identify key debates
  3. Closer research - decide on argument
  4. Structure and plan
  5. First draft
  6. Edit 
  7. Submit to Turnitin - make adjustments if needed
  8. Final submission

Now work out how long you might need for each task and whether you need to seek further resources (check with your tutor, talk to a Librarian, make an appointment to see a Learning Adviser). These task oriented lists then help you work out what you need to put on your daily/study block to-do list. So on a given day, your to-do list will be made up of a number of items that you have prioritised from your task lists. 

It's useful to use these type of lists early as you are establishing your routine but it doesn't have to be rigid and you may find as you develop habits you may not need to rely on lists as much.


There are many time management tools freely available that you might find helpful, however remember that nothing beats a piece of paper and a pencil! Here are some of the tools that students have used and recommended.

  • Microsoft to do is a simple to do list application that links to Outlook that you can access on multiple devices
  • Evernote is a list application but includes lots of other tools such as notetaking. Has a free and a paid version
  • Google Keep works like post-it notes that you can colour code. Simple, free and effective.
  • Trello is a more serious project management tool that allows you to share lists with others and allocate tasks across a group
  • Smartsheet is an IPhone app Project Management tool with features to manage projects beginning to end.
  • PomoDoneApp is a way to track your workflow using Pomodoro technique, and integrates with your current task management service.
  • is a simple Pomodoro website, which allows you to track your completed tasks and it doesn't spam you with emails.
  • WorkFlowy is advertised as a simple way to stay organized. Organize thousands of notes, ideas and projects, and focus in on one at a time.

As for Accountability:

  • The Rescue Time app allows you to see exactly where your time goes, block your worst distractions, and get reports and tools to improve your productivity.
  • Freedom is an app and website blocker, advertised as a way to reclaim focus and produc­tivity, and do what matters most.


  • Covey, S. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York. Free Press.
  • Tracy, B. (2004). Eat That Frog. London. Hodder and Stoughton.

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