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01 Mar

Six ways to get perspective on time

Datum: 2013-03-01 15:16

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. 

Instant overview

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. 

Do this

But, where and how do you con­struct a time­line? Here are six ideas. 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. Cre­ate an auto­mat­i­cal­ly drawn time­line in an Excel-dia­gram. You can find an instruc­tion of how to do this here
  7. 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.