Manually Scheduled vs Automatically Scheduled Tasks

The visual difference between Manually Scheduled versus Automatically Scheduled tasks

A big change to Microsoft Project occurred in the 2010 version with the introduction of manually scheduled tasks. Prior to this, all tasks entered into Project were what we’d now refer to as automatically scheduled tasks.

They look different when used, and they have a completely different application.

Here’s what they look like:

scheduled tasks

The first task is an automatically scheduled task. The first indicator that it’s an auto task is the icon in the Task Mode column, circled below in green. Also, you’ll notice the Gantt bar is blue with straight edges.

Gnat bar

The second and third tasks are manually scheduled. They appear differently in a few ways. Firstly, the icon in the Task Mode column is a tack (circled in red) and secondly, the bars appear differently to auto scheduled tasks.

Task 2 in the image below has only had its duration entered. You’ll notice that the Start and Finish date fields are blank, and the Gantt bar has faded left and right edges.

In Task 3 the Start and Finish dates were entered. Project calculated the duration as 5 days, and put capped ends to the left and right edges of the Gantt bar.

Gnatt bar long

What’s the practical difference between Manually Scheduled and Automatically Scheduled tasks?

You can sum up the difference between manually scheduled and automatically scheduled tasks like this: manually scheduled tasks should be regarded as drawing objects, whereas automatically scheduled tasks are to be used when you’re constructing a schedule that’s going to be used as a self-calculating management tool.

A simpler way to explain it is like this: if you’ve used manually scheduled tasks to create a Project schedule, it’s the same as if you’d created the schedule in Microsoft Excel. You’ll be able to link tasks together, but when you change durations or dates, manually scheduled bars won’t move.

Changing MS Project’s default setting to Auto Scheduled

For reasons that no-one’s really sure about, Project 2010, 2013 and 2016 come shipped with manual scheduling set as the default.

Manual Schedule

We recommend that the first thing Project users should do is to set the default to automatically scheduled. This will mean that all tasks created in a Project file will appear as auto scheduled rather than manual.

Here’s how to do it. I’ve used Project 2013 in the example below.

  • Select File from the main menu
  • Select Options from the menu on the left hand side
  • After the Project Options dialog box appears as shown below, select Schedule from the left hand side (circled in blue).
  • On the Scheduling options for this project drop-down box, select All New Projects and on the New tasks created drop-down box, select Auto scheduled (both circled in green)
  • Select OK to complete the changes

Auto Schedule

When you create your next blank Microsoft Project file, you’ll see confirmation in the bottom left-hand corner of your Project screen that new tasks will be created in Auto scheduled mode.

Auto schedule mode

What if I’ve already created manually scheduled tasks?

In the image below, all tasks have been created as manually scheduled.

If you’ve already created projects where you’ve entered tasks as manually scheduled, they’re easy to change using the steps below.

  • Select the Task tab on the ribbon (circled in blue)
  • Select all tasks by selecting the Task Name column header (circled in green)
  • Select the Auto Schedule icon (circled in red)

task complete

All tasks will now be automatically scheduled.

Watch out for our upcoming blog on how manually scheduled tasks can be used correctly within your projects.


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