Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: Enter Task Durations

The following in an excerpt from chapter 4 of Microsoft® Project Do’s and Don’ts by Sam Huffman. Part of the MPUG Essentials Training. Download full version of chapter 4.

Once the outline is entered in Microsoft® Project, you are ready to estimate and enter task durations. This is accomplished by typing the estimated duration in minutes, hours, days, weeks or months into the Duration field:

  • 1m = 1 minute;
  • 1h = 1 hour;
  • 1d = 1 day;
  • 1w = 1 week; and
  • 1mo = 1 month

In Project, duration is a measure of working time, not sequential or calendar time. This means a week is five days. If a task is started on a Friday, it is concluded on the following Thursday since weekends are not working time by default. The default duration is set for days.

Figure 4.1: The Duration column is a field. It indicates the span of working time for a task. On a summary task it is the span of working time from the start of the earliest sub-task to the finish of the latest.

Milestones are zero duration tasks that point out a date in the schedule. No resources are assigned to this type of task in Project. In the schedule, they have the appearance of a diamond, not a bar. One use of a milestone is to denote the end of a phase. Another example is to denote a time in the schedule when a report is due.

Figure 4.2: Milestones have no duration.

Before assigning durations to tasks, you need to understand the relationship of all the task schedule variables and how they inter-relate.


Do This: At this point, carefully consider changing your scheduling mode to Automatically Schedule. Let Project figure out the finish dates dynamically.


Don’t Do This: Don’t enter a start or finish date for a task in the early stages of creating the project file. Project understands this to be a manual override to calculations and will constrain the task. This hinders dynamic scheduling.


Want more? Download a free preview of Chapter 4: Enter Task Durations or buy the book.

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Written by Sam Huffman
Sam Huffman first gained insight into Microsoft Project while working as a member of the MS Project development and support team. He has maintained his depth of knowledge of MS Project with each release and is a leading authority in the use and features of MS Project, Project Server and Project Online. Since the early 1990's Sam has honed his instruction skills by delivering training programs to thousands every year. Sam is a frequent content contributor to the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG) and speaks to groups often about MS Project, Enterprise Project Management and the discipline of Project Management. He was awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional from 2010-2017. Check out his blog on MS Project. The softcover version of my newest book Microsoft® Project Do’s and Don’ts is now available for purchase! It is portable, brief and to the point so you can find help when you need it. Through tips, best practices and examples it will help you jumpstart your project!
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