When we are in an intense phase of work and our available primary tools are the e‑mail, the to-do-list and the calendar, it can be hard to see the full picture.
Sure, you can have a look both forward and backwards several months in the calendar, but how much information are we really getting from these monthly overviews?
If we want to avoid suddenly discovering that “What? Is that in next week already?!”, we need to be able to get a handle on where we are, what we have been up to recently and what is about to come.
Perhaps you want to quickly check how you have scheduled your progress-meetings in relation to other critical activities in the project you are running. If you have an important deadline in a few weeks, you might want to get a feel for how much work you have left until completion, how many work days you have at your disposal and what needs to happen before the due date.
If you are like me, you also have days when skies are grey and you feel as if absolutely no progress is being made and nothing is being accomplished. On a day like this, being reminded of what steps you have actually taken lately and how much is actually happening, will do you good.
If you want to get an overview – make a timeline.
Making a timeline will make it clear how far you have gotten or how long you have left until deadline. A timeline will put the details in your day-to-day life into perspective. It will expand your seeing from being that of tunnel vision to a more comprehensive seeing. When your judgment is a little off, a timeline will once again give you a sense of proportion, of how things actually stand in relation to one another, both in terms of time as well as extent and magnitude of the tasks ahead.
But, where and how do you construct a timeline? Here are six ideas.
- Purchase drawing-paper on a roll and create a timeline out of this as the paper is gradually rolled out. Mark with a highlighter when and for how long things are going on. You can for instance use the nice Copic markers, and then you can even draw in your company’s profile-colors. This type of timeline will last you a long time. As time goes by, you just roll our more paper and roll up what has passed at the other end of the roll. Whenever you want to see what you have accomplished, you simply roll it all out again and you will literally be able to walk your way though the history of the business.
- Use Timeline, an online service developed at Northwestern University. If you are familiar with creating xml-files, you will be able to construct an elegant, dynamic and scroll:able timeline which can be embedded in your intranet. You will find Timeline here.
- Add anything that is happening in the months to come in a single Excel-spreadsheet. If you type one event per row, it will be easy to construct a Gantt chart out of the information. Allow one set of columns to the right to represent for instance a few weeks to come, and fill the cells with information about what is happening when and for how long so that all planned future events are made explicitly clear to you.
- Use the metaphor of a road. Draw the timeframe you have in mind as a road (or find a nice image depicting one) and draw or make a note where along the road events will occur, like milestones.
- Create an automatically drawn timeline in an Excel-diagram. You can find an instruction of how to do this here.
- Fasten a wire between two screw rings on your office wall. Use clothes pegs or nifty document clips to hang notes on the wire that describe any planned events. Be inspired by Toyota’s project-visualization-method and allow for different colored notes to represent different types of events so that it becomes easier to interpret the whole picture while taking a step back and without having to read every note in detail.
Suddenly you can see the horizon
If you visualize events and plans using a timeline, it will be easier to plan what needs to be done in order to attain the goals you have set.
You also make it easier to do what needs to be done on time, or even in good time, since you now clearly see how much time you have at your disposal.
What is your method?
When have you made use of a timeline in a successful way? Write a comment to let me and other readers know.