I maintain a web page that tracks tasks for my team. There is a column currently called "not started" that we use for tasks we haven't started yet. We would also like to use that column for tasks we started, but didn't complete, that no one is actively working on for the time being. However, people are reluctant to move it back to that column because the label implies no work has ever been done on that task. A fourth column isn't really an option due to space constraints.

What's a phrase that succinctly captures both meanings?

  • 3
    Not started / on hold?
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 14:42
  • 1
    Work in progress?
    – user66974
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 14:46
  • I can't think of a word or phrase that captures both meanings as they represent different concepts. "Not Being Worked" is the best I can do, but I don't really think it captures the "started but not completed" aspect. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:04
  • @Karl Bielefeldt Is your team supposed to give immediate attention to both new and unfinished tasks?
    – Elian
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:45
  • Just shame them. "not started or started but we kinda forgot about it halfway through."
    – user36720
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:55

14 Answers 14


Pending might fit also as a technical term.

Also, there are words that can be used in its definition:

remaining undecided; awaiting decision or settlement; unfinished: pending business; pending questions; pending litigation.

An example usage from an IBM product description:

Pending tasks are tasks that were not run and are not scheduled to run.

Also, outstanding might fit.

An example usage from SAP Status Management:

This means that, for example, a notification can be put in process, even if it contains outstanding tasks that have not yet been released.

  • Not sure this fits. Pending can mean it was never started. Also the question doesn't ask for something that will start again for sure. Pending would be a better term though for their not started column. Commented May 21, 2014 at 18:01
  • pending does not mean that it will start for sure. it might start or not start.
    – ermanen
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 18:04
  • 1
    I've used pending in this sense before. Sort of the "group of tasks that need someone's attention."
    – dmertl
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 18:53
  • 1
    @RyeɃreḁd: "Pending can mean it was never started" -- which is exactly what the OP asked for.
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 8:52

"Shelved," "On Hold," or "Inactive" would suffice. I like "Shelved," personally.

  • 4
    Only "Inactive" can properly cover "Not started yet". "Shelved" and "On Hold" have a connotation that it was started and then actually stopped. Commented May 21, 2014 at 22:52
  • “Shelved” and “On Hold” don't cover both of the senses the querent needs.
    – bignose
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 4:40
  • To me, "not active" feels a bit better than "inactive".
    – npst
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 8:47

I think this is an information architecture problem as it applies to your workflow process for managing tasks. My suggestion would be to come up with a consistent set of column names that work together. My favorite list of column names is: To Do, Doing, and Done

The concept you're looking for is the "To Do" column. Tasks start off there and the goal is to move them all the way to the right. When you start working on them, you move them to Doing. If you finish, the move to Done. If you need to suspend/shelf them, you move them left back to To Do.

The compromise here is that you can't tell just by looking at what column a tasks is in, whether or not is has already been started. That information should be presented using another modality, such as color, or by appending "started" to the task name - something that would be easy to spot but doesn't complicate things.


"Not completed" implies that the work has not been completed, without necessarily implying that it had actually begun in the first place.

Likewise for "idle".


Orphaned. Nobody's looking after it at the moment. Waiting. Queued. On Hold. Interrupted.

  • also Unfinished
    – P. O.
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:05

I saw someone already mentioned "shelved".

I think "Tabled" or "On the Table" is equally applicable. I would prefer "On the Table" because it means that at any moment, discussion and work on any item on the table may begin or continue, if it was halted previously. I feel like "shelved" means that it is more archived for historical reasons and will likely not be revisited.

"On the Table" jargon is common in legislative politics; when politicians are not ready to vote on a particular bill, they can "table it" or "put it on the table" to be discussed at some unknown date.

There is one caveat here: such a column has a tendency to grow a large list of tasks that will actually never be completed, but no one really wants to completely abandon the projects, so they "die on the table."

  • Just a note to say that this an AmE use of table. When British politicians table a motion, it's actually going to be considered.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 18:21

inactive or dormant don't imply that anything started, so would be good for referring to either.


My vote is on "dormant". It seems to express the level of inactivity you are aiming for well without its negative connotations.

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    – choster
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 0:06

"On-ice", "undead"...

Or to do the Full Monty (Python): "Resting", "stunned", "pining-for-the-fjords".


I would say that those projects and tasks were abandoned. You could just say stopped too.

  • The ones that haven't been started yet aren't "abandoned", are they? Commented May 22, 2014 at 8:48

Perhaps use a non-English word that won't conjure up the wrong idea for people. The Latin word "mora" means "delay." Something like that might be a possibility.


I think you still need the "not started" column because you have tasks with that status. Plus, either something has been started or it hasn't been started, doesn't matter if it was finished, imho. The words have clear meaning.

If you have no room on the page for a fourth column, perhaps "not started" shouldn't be on that type of status page? You may need to reorganize how you are structuring your pages, i.e.: Active Tasks, Upcoming Tasks, Archived Tasks, Other.

But here's my guess:

Active Tasks:

"Started - Currently Unassigned"
(The task has been opened by someone to work on at one time, however, currently no one has been assigned to complete it.)


Upcoming Tasks:

"Not started"


Archived Tasks:






Potentialities might work for you.

Potentiality and potency are translations of the Ancient Greek word dunamis (δύναμις) as it is used by Aristotle as a concept contrasting with actuality....

In his philosophy, Aristotle distinguished two meanings of the word dunamis. According to his understanding of nature there was both a weak sense of potential, meaning simply that something "might chance to happen or not to happen", and a stronger sense, to indicate how something could be done well.

Both unstarted works, and works in progress can fit in there, and there's a bit of a probabilistic spin that should fit in well with a techy environment.


"Inactive" and near-synonyms: "passive", "dormant", "not progressing", "immobile", "at halt".

More specific to the fact that this is task tracking, some of the following might apply: "unassigned", "backlog", "unscheduled", "no priority", "pending", "assessed", "unblocked", "ready (for work)".

Those terms could overlap with jargon you're using elsewhere for different aspects of task tracking, so of course don't create ambiguous terminology.

Furthermore, "unblocked", "ready" and similar might create some confusion if you don't educate people in the jargon, since some people would naturally define that if no time resources are currently allocated to the task, then it is blocked (waiting for someone to take it on...). Possibly they're programming jargon I've picked up from thread schedulers, that won't necessarily make sense to humans in general.

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