The 3 Essential States of Every Task

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This article is part of The Power of Work series on If you like this one, I would like to suggest you the full series, which you can find for free on the link above. But now let’s enjoy the 3 essential states of every task.

You might have encountered the stop, start, continue model as a feedback tool at work already. If not, it works pretty simply in a way that one or many people, usually subordinates, gather with a third party to discuss what behavior their manager should stop, start, and continue. Based on this, the third party can assess the manager and discuss in return on what they can improve.

The development of this model is usually attributed to psychology professor Phil Daniels and it works pretty well, and is used by many organizations around the globe as a simple, yet effective way to gather and provide performance feedback.

What struck me since I first heard of this model, is that in all its simplicity, it can be used for literally anything and is as such a good model to describe everything in the world we live. Just think about it: everything in existence starts, continues and stops. Earth for instance was once started – when the hot ball gradually become colder and entered the gravitation around the sun. For the last couple of million years, and at this very moment it continues and at some point in the far future it will stop to exist. But this model can also be applied to your life, which once started, currently continues and will at some point stop. 

Your work meant to make your dreams a reality started at some point in your life, after that, it continues and will at one point stop (maybe because you have reached them, maybe because you have new dreams, or maybe because you die without ever reaching your dreams). So the dream that we want to achieve also consists of these three steps. 

Considering that our dreams are part of this cycle and combining this with the phenomenon of small steps, we can come to the conclusion that usually reaching our dreams is a task that can in itself be further split in several sub-tasks.

This means that if you want to lose weight, you will have to go through a lot of start, continue, stops. You will start your workout, continue through with it, and stop it. You will start cooking healthy, continue eating healthy, and stop with the cooking process. And then you’ll start to eat what you cooked, continue to eat what you cooked and stop to eat what you cooked.  

This is very much the same way for everything else. Everything consists of sub-tasks. For example, a year is a task that starts, continues and stops. It consists of several sub-tasks (i.e. months and days) that start, continue, and stop. On the more scientific side: the earth circles around the sun in a year. It once started with that circle, since then it continues, and one day it will stop.

So whether you want to lose weight, get rich, get promoted, or literally anything else in your life, you need to define the overall start-continue-stop cycle and the sub-tasks attached to this. I can already hear you thinking that this concept is overly simple and doesn’t really lead to anything because it’s so obvious as has no inherent value. But mind you, start, continue and stop are an exact description of any task.

But more importantly: three potential ways to fail at any task. So bear with me while I explain a little further.


Define These 3 Steps For Every Task

For each task you set out to do, you can distinguish with the start of the task, the continuation of the task and the stop of the task. If you are weak at any one of these three actions, your task is likely not going to be achieved successfully. The abilities vary from task to task. So you might at one task be a good starter but bad in continuing, at a different task, however, you might be weak at starting but would be great at continuing and stopping (if you only started).

Take the example of a classical burned-out manager. They are usually very good at starting and continuing their tasks. But they can’t stop them. They drag their work into their private lives and never stop “continuing”. This eventually leads to their burn out. If they were strong in start, continuing and stopping, they would still achieve their outcome, but wouldn’t burn out. 

Take the procrastinator on the other hand. These types have problems starting a given task. But often it is just the starting bit that’s bad, and if they get themselves to start it, the continue and stop part come automatically.

To make it more tangible, let me explain that I have this agreement with my girlfriend about cleaning a part of the house each week. I always dreaded doing it. That was, until I realized that once I had started, I easily got in the flow and even went above and beyond of what is required.

Our agreement is to vacuum and wash the floors. But once I have started, I also make it homely and comfy, sometimes I even light candles. So for this task I just need to overcome the starting hurdle. I know where my weak-point is: starting it. Continue and stop come automatically.

With that in mind, I can now say to myself: “Alright, let’s just get it started, let’s just get the vacuum cleaner out” – and the rest will do itself. The same goes for me when I am about to write something. Once I start, I am in the flow and the rest comes automatically. But I often find myself doing ridiculous things just to avoid it. With that in mind, I know that I just have to convince myself to start and won’t have any problems continuing for the next hours. My fingers will do the work automatically. And this is where the magic with this concept lies.

But let’s just take another example. The classical “loser”. I know it’s a bad word to label a human, but society calls them that. So, blame society, not me. Losers start things (i.e. their degree, business, workout, diet) and are just not able to get through with them (i.e. continue). So they skip a great deal of “continue” and go directly to stop. In other words: they quit.

The Continuation Step Also Consists of These 3 Vital Steps

“I quit college”, “I am going to close my business”, “I have a gym membership, but I am never going, I need to quit it soon”, “I have started this diet, but it’s just too difficult”. Naturally, “continue” is the hardest part to overcome, if you look at the overlying task. But if you have consistently failed at “continuing” your overall task, you might want to bear in mind that normally “continue” consists of a number of sub-tasks which all consist themselves of start, continue and stop.

Let’s just say your goal is to get a college degree. Start is the enrollment in the degree program. Continue is to finish all the required courses successfully and stop is to get the diploma and be happy. If you look at it from this perspective then, sure, continue is lengthy and painful. And if you have given up studying, you might say that you are just bad at the “continue” part now.

However, if we look at all the sub-tasks of the overall goal, we will realize that continue doesn’t seem to be such a hard thing anymore. In order to continue with your overall goal, you need to start with a course, i.e. signing up for it. Then you need to continue taking this course by going to the lectures, learning and doing your assignments or exams. And you need to stop that course by successfully finishing it.

You might still be struggling there. And righteously so, because this is still too general. Let’s break down “taking and finishing a course” and we end up with:

  • Start as going to a lecture,
  • Continue as listening and taking notes, trying to understand the topic and
  • Stop as wrapping the lecture up.

Another thing is learning. Just like going to the lectures,

  • Learning starts as sitting down and taking time to learn,
  • Continue is going through the notes, reading books, learning the things by heart that need to be learned by heart and
  • Stop as putting your learning materials in a folder and cleaning your desk when you are finished.

Well, actually you can divide the learning task to even more individual steps.

  • Starting to read a book,
  • continuing to read a book,
    • Sub-task: starting to take notes,
    • Continuing to take notes,
    • Stopping to take notes.
  • Stopping to read the book.


  • Starting to go through your notes,
  • Continuing to go through your notes,
  • Stopping to go through your notes.

And so on. Consequently, doing the assignment/ exams also starts, continues and stops. 

So the long “continue” of “getting that degree”, in which you might have failed, actually consists of a huge number of sub-tasks and sub-sub-tasks, which all need to be started, continued and stopped. Seeing it in that way, you might come to the understanding that you are actually not struggling with the “continue” part of your overall goal (i.e. getting the degree), but actually you might have troubles with the “start” part of learning, or going to lectures.

Or even further divided, you might be good at going to lectures and getting an understanding of the topic, but you’re just bad at starting to read, or taking notes, and so on. The further down you go in the range of sub-tasks, the more likely it is that you will find out where the problem is. And somewhere in the equation, you will find your weak spot. If you can’t find any weak spot, then you are either successful in your overall goal, or you are betraying yourself. And again, you might say: “I am just overwhelmed by the amount I had to learn”. And you might find that you are good at starting and continuing but bad at stopping. You also need to be able to stop any given task. If you’re done learning, you’re done learning. If you’re done attending a lecture, you are done attending it. So if you learn to get in control of starting, continuing and stopping on the small level, you will be successful on a huge level. 

Just Give it a Try

As mentioned above already, we are all struggling with starting, continuing, or stopping based on whatever task we are doing. So don’t feel too bad if you found yourself in one of the above mentioned examples. With the knowledge that every task can be divided into the three conditions of start, continue and stop, you can now analyze in which of the three actions you generally lack ability.

And you can also observe your behavior on the single tasks you are doing and take measures to prevent it. By cutting them down to a micro level and being aware that you will also stop them, you will get more control over them. Let’s say you’re studying medicine and your task is to learn name and function of each of the human bones.

So you start the task, and continue to create sub-tasks, e.g. five bones per day. You won’t have to learn all the human bones at once. You will just have to start learning five of them each day, continuing to do so until you know them, and then stop learning them for the day. And after roughly forty days, you are finished with the range of sub-tasks, so you can stop the task of learning the name and function of the human bones.

If you want you can go through your own life and your own goals and consider your tasks in this way. Think about where you struggled the most. If you wanted to lose weight and constantly failed. Where were your problems? Starting to work-out? Continuing to eat healthy? If you wanted to start your own business, where are your problems? Starting to take care of taxes? Continuing to get visitors to your website

Stopping to work in the evenings and on weekends and therefore being at the edge of being burned-out without ever achieving much? Or if you wanted to climb the career ladder, what has been in your way until now? Starting to take action and show that you are a worthy candidate? Or continuing to do your job to your best abilities and not just above average? Or stopping your breaks on time, stopping casual conversations at work or stopping to behave in a private manner at work?

I admit that this principle is simple. But most of the things in life are simple. They are not always easy, but surely always simple. If you put this system to use, you will get a better understanding about what keeps you from doing your work and where you need to focus your energy (i.e. starting, continuing, or stopping) in order to being able to complete any given task.