How to Start and Pause Tasks in Project 2013

By Cynthia Snyder Stackpole

When most people start using Project 2013, they initially try to enter a start date for every task in the project. After all, you include dates when you create to-do lists, right? You’re jumping the gun, though, and missing out on one of the great strengths of project management software; the ability to start and pause tasks.

Project 2013 has the capability to schedule tasks according to sometimes-complex combinations of factors, such as dependencies between tasks and task constraints. By allowing Project to determine the start date of a task, you allow it to make adjustments automatically when changes occur.

If you enter a task duration but not a start date for an automatically scheduled task, that task starts by default as soon as possible after the project start date that you specified in the Project 2013 Information dialog box, based on any dependencies you set up between tasks. For manually scheduled tasks, you eventually have to specify a start date to set the beginning schedule for the task.

To establish a task’s start date, you typically look for an aspect of the project that would dictate its timing. For example, if you want construction to begin only after you obtain permits, set a dependency between the Permits task and the Construction task in such a way that construction can begin only after the permit task ends.

Certain tasks, however, must start on a specific date. Examples are holidays, annual meetings, and the first day of the fishing season.

Project 2013 sets the finish date of a task based on when the task starts and on the task duration — along with any calendar that has been set up. If a task must finish on a certain date, however, you can set a finish date and let Project determine the start date.

How to enter the task’s start date

Setting a start date or a finish date for a task applies a kind of constraint on it that can override dependency relationships or other timing factors. A task constraint is the preferred way to force a task to start or end on a certain day.

If you determine, however, that a particular task must begin or end on a set date no matter what, you can enter a specific start or finish date. Setting the start or finish date is simple.

To enter a start or finish date for a task, simply follow these steps:

  1. Double-click a task.

    The Task Information dialog box appears.

  2. Click the General tab, if it’s not already displayed.

  3. Click the drop-down arrow at the end of the Start box or the Finish box.

    A calendar appears.

  4. Click a date to select it, or click the forward- or backward-facing arrow to move to a different month and select a date.

    If the current date is the date you want, take a shortcut and click the Today button on the drop-down calendar.

  5. Click the OK button.

When Project determines timing, a Must Start On constraint overrides the start date that is calculated based on start dates and durations.

How to split tasks

Did you ever start a task — filing your taxes, for example — and find that you simply had to drop everything before you were done and go do something else?

Projects work the same way. Sometimes, tasks start and then have to be placed on hold before they can start again later — for example, if you experience a work shutdown caused by labor negotiations. Or perhaps you can anticipate a delay in the course of a task and you want to structure it that way when you create it.

In this case, you can use a Project feature to split a task so that a second or third portion starts at a later date, with no activity in the interim. You can place as many splits in a task as you like.

Follow these steps to split a task:

  1. On the Task tab of the Ribbon, click the Split Task button in the Schedule group.

    A readout appears and guides you as you set the start date for the continuation of the task.

  2. Move the mouse pointer over the task bar on the Gantt chart, and adjust the pointer’s position until the box displays the date on which you want to start the task split; then drag to the right until the box contains the date on which you want the task to begin again.

  3. Release the mouse button.

    The split task shows up as a short task, a series of dots, and then the rest of the task.


To rejoin a split task, place the mouse cursor over the task bar until the move cursor appears, and then drag the split task bar backward to join with the other portion of the task bar.

Don’t use the split-task approach to place an artificial hold on a task until another task is complete. Suppose that you start testing a product and then have to wait for approval before finalizing the test results. In this case, create a Testing task, a Final Approval milestone, and a Finalize Test Results task — and then create dependency relationships among them.

This way, if a task runs late, your final task shifts along with it instead of being set in stone (as a split task can be).