As children we learn about emotions from experience. A funny puppet on the television will make us happy, while an ice-lolly that has melted and fallen off its stick will make us unhappy. As well as these basic emotions, some children encounter early feelings of frustration while trying to get started on a board game that has a 'throw a six to start' rule, and the six will not come. For throw after throw the unfortunate stay-at-home must wrestle with this new emotion while friends and siblings cruise around the board on their brightly coloured discs. Basically, for this child, the game has started but nothing is happening

When planning in Microsoft Project, if you do not define a start date then the program will, by default, select one for you, and that will be the date that you create and save your new project plan. But if the new plan has been prepared in advance of the project starting, then you could have a period of no activity that is included in the timescale of the project. For example, if you have created the project plan on Thursday in preparation for the project starting the following Monday then, like the child at the board game, the project has 'started' but nothing is happening.

It is important to have an accurate start date for your project plan as, if it was left to Project to schedule it as in the above example, there would be four days of total inactivity that would be included in the timescale of the project. The project officially starts on Monday, when heavy plant moves in to start levelling the ground and removing trees (and protesters). At this point time and resources are being used up, and money is starting to drip from the budget, so this is when the start date should be.

You have all of the phases of the project set out. The tasks and milestones are all in place and now you need to select your start date. To do this, go to Project and select Project Information from the list. Here you will see an option to enter the start date of the project, which, as mentioned, will currently be set to today's date. Enter your chosen date and click OK. You will see that all of the phases, tasks and milestones in your plan are now scheduled from the start date you defined. Taking the above example of creating the plan on the Thursday to start on the Monday, you would see that the days between would not now be included as part of the project timescale.

Of course, it is not uncommon for a project to be beset by snags of one kind or another and sometimes these can cause the start date to be put back. It is a simple matter to reschedule your project by following the steps above and changing the start date to the rearranged one. It is also possible to create a start date even after it has passed, so if for some reason the project plan was not set up until after the project had begun, entering a retrospective start date would not create any problems with the project plan.

If you return to the Project Information dialog box you will see a Schedule From options box. This allows you to choose whether you want to schedule your project from the start date or the finish date. Most projects are scheduled from the start date but sometimes it makes sense to schedule from the finish date. A loose example is the enormous project of the London 2012 Olympics. This is the type of project that simply must be completed by a certain date and so scheduling backwards from the finish date may be an option in planning.

It is worth remembering, however, that although a project may have been scheduled from the finish date, it will still be carried out from start to finish. This may seem obvious but I mention it because after a project has been scheduled from the finish date, you should still switch back to Schedule From Start Date as this will follow the natural progression of the project.

Scheduling the start date of your project is only a very small part of your overall plan and there are still many items that need to be dealt with. For example, if one of the tasks is dependent upon another ending before it can begin, and that initial task takes three days, then the dependent task cannot possibly start on the same date. This and many other details would need to be addressed before the project schedule became a working plan.

Setting the start date is a key part of getting the project up and running, but there is a lot more to it than that. Embark on a training course to get to grips with Project's vast capabilities, and you will see why it is the number one project planning application.