The first step to any plan is thinking about a timeline. You want to know what needs to get done and when, to ensure that you stay on track. From a teacher to an event planner to a project manager, a timeline is an easy-to-digest, visual way to map out your plan.
You can manually create a timeline in Excel, but it can be a long, frustrating experience to make it look the way you want. Many people find it much easier to use a timeline template, a pre-formatted timeline that can be customized to your needs. All you have to do is enter your information and choose your colors, and a timeline is made for you.
How would you like to create your timeline?
Create Your Timeline
This article will show you how to create a timeline in Excel, using a template in the context of planning a business conference. Hosting a successful business conference can take months of planning and it’s the type of project where a timeline is essential. It involves plenty of moving parts and usually has quite a few stakeholders.
In this scenario, an event planner would start by making a list of tasks. These tasks may include managing a budget, scouting and securing a conference site, hosting speakers, hotel arrangements, conference schedule, and more. With all this information, you can either look at a timeline template in Excel or find a more robust solution to first make a Gantt chart and use that to create a timeline. This tutorial will show you how to do both.
Download A Free Excel Timeline Template
The easiest way to make a timeline in Excel is to use a pre-made template. A Microsoft Excel template is especially useful if you don't have a lot of experience making a project timeline. All you need to do is enter your project information and dates into a table and the Excel timeline will automatically reflect the changes.
When you add your own dates to the table, the Gantt chart will automatically adjust, but the spacing will be off. There may be a lot of extra white space at the beginning of your chart, with dates that you did not enter. The solution is to adjust the spacing between the dates display at the top of your chart.
- Click on a date at the top of your Gantt chart. A box should appear around all the dates.
- Right-click and select Format Axis.
- In the pop-up box, on the left, select Scale.
- Adjust the number in the box labeled Minimum. You will have to add numbers incrementally to the box to adjust the spacing and get it to look the way you would like.
How to Make a Timeline in Excel
First, make a task list to figure out what you want the timeline to show. Maybe you want it to show milestones that are currently in a Gantt chart -- if that’s the case, look for an Excel timeline template that only requires inputting milestone data.
Perhaps you want to show how different parts of a particular project appear on a timeline. Then, look for an Excel project timeline template. This will have more fields for you to customize and displays more information on the timeline, like how long it will take for a certain task to get done.
Choose an Excel Timeline Template
Microsoft also offers a few timeline templates in Excel designed to give you a broad overview of your conference planning timeline. The Excel timelines aren’t tied to Gantt chart data, so you’ll be manually inputting your own data in the pre-defined template fields. These aren’t set in stone; you can change names and add fields as needed.
- To find an Excel timeline template from Microsoft, open Microsoft Excel and type “Timeline” in the search box and click Enter. Note: this template was found using the latest version of Excel on Windows 8.
- Double-click on the Excel Project Timeline template to open the spreadsheet.
Add Your Information to the Timeline in Excel
When the template opens, you will see a pre-formatted Excel spreadsheet with information already filled out in the fields. This content is just a placeholder. At the top of the template is a timeline. Scroll down to see the preformatted chart where you can add conference planning details and due dates. One of the benefits of using an Excel project timeline template is that the formatting is already complete, and all you need to do is customize it.
- Click the Project Timeline field (1C) at the top of the spreadsheet and enter your conference name.
- Scroll down in the spreadsheet and enter a start date.
Since you’re planning a conference, you’ll want to choose the planning kick-off date. Note: There’s already a formula that picks the start date as the day you started using the event planning template. If you don’t want to use that date, click the cell, delete the formula and add your date. You’ll notice that the preformatted dates for Start and End will change.
- Enter the first major task to complete. Add tasks to the Activity column by double-clicking on the field that reads Milestone.
- Click the Tab key to navigate to the corresponding Start field and type in the date that you’ll start researching possible conference venues. Click the Tab key again to enter a date in the End field. This should be the date that you’ll want to have picked the venue.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 to complete the remainder of the chart.
Customize the Excel Timeline
Once you have entered all the conference milestones in the chart, you can easily change the look of the timeline. You can change the display of the timeline data and make it more colorful.
If the conference planning timeline extends past a month (and it probably will), you can see more data on the timeline by clicking the arrows in the gray bar next to the Start date box. When you do this, you will scroll through the Excel timeline.
- To change the overall chart presentation, click on the chart and gthen click on the box with a paintbrush icon.
- A pop-up box will appear displaying different timeline chart styles. Mouse over the formats to see it appear on the timeline. If you see one you like, click it. The timeline will be updated to reflect that style.
Change the Color Palette of the Excel Timeline
- Click on the chart.
- Click on the paintbrush icon and click Color at the top of the pop-up box.
- Mouse over the timeline color to see it appear on the timeline. If you see one you like, click it and the timeline will be updated to reflect that style.
This timeline template only displays the most basic information. It’s great to share with stakeholders and executives to give them a high-level view of tasks required to put on a conference. However, it doesn’t include things like a budget, nor does it display tasks that are being completed on time or who is responsible for each task. If you want to create a more detailed conference planning timeline, consider creating a Gantt chart in Excel.
There are a lot of details that go into planning a conference. It’s essential to find a place to keep all that information in one place, where multiple stakeholders can access it.
Smartsheet has quite a few event timeline templates that can help you get started. You can view your data as a task list or as a Gantt chart, giving you a quick view of progress made. You can also add attachments, import contact data, assign tasks, automatically schedule update requests, and collaborate wherever you are, on any device. There’s even a template for an Event Registration Web Form that can help streamline the registration process.
Select a Project Planning Template in Smartsheet
- To get started with Smartsheet, login to your account and navigate to the Home tab or sign up for a free 30-day trial.
- Click Create New and choose Browse Templates.
- Type “Event” in the Search Templates box and click the magnifying glass icon. You’ll see a few options, but for this example, click on Event Task List with Gantt & Budget and then click on the blue Use Template button in the upper-right corner.
- Next, name the template, choose where to save it, and click the OK button.
Add Your Information to the Template
A pre-formatted template will open, complete with sections, sub-tasks, sample attachments, progress tracking, and budget formulas. There will also be some sample content for reference.
- To delete the yellow box at the top of the template, click on the box, right-click, and select Delete Row.
- Double-click the purple Welcome Event cell highlight the existing content, and type in your information.
- Double-click the yellow Decorations text, highlight the existing content, and type in your information. This title should be one of the main categories for planning your conference (“Select Venue,” “Recruit Sponsors,” “Registration,” etc).
- Click on a blank cell in the Phase column, under the cell that says Bring beverages, and type in another category. Highlight the entire row, from the Done column through the Started column, click the background color tool and click yellow. Repeat for as many category rows needed.
- Click on the cell under the new category created (in this example, it’s “Event Marketing”) and add a sub-sub-task, such as “Social Media.” Next, click the Indent button in the toolbar to turn the new categories you just created into sub-tasks. Repeat for all new categories.
- Add the total amount budgeted for each category to the corresponding yellow cell in Total Budget column. Click on the purple Total Budget cell at the top of the sheet, click the f(x) button in the toolbar and click Sum. Next, hold down Shift and click on the cells with the total budget numbers for each category to update the total budget calculation.
Enter start and due dates for each task in the Due and Started columns. When a part of the project is completed, double-click on the date cell and click the letter strikethrough button on the left-hand toolbar (the button with the “S” with a line through it).
- For each row, under the Progress column, click the cell and choose a shaded circle that matches the progress in the drop-down menu. This will let you easily view how much of a specific task has been accomplished.
- Under the Assigned To column, click a cell and select the assignee from the pop-up menu. You can even add contacts who don’t work for the company.
When you assign tasks to people in Smartsheet, their contact information is automatically linked.
- To view the data you just entered as a Gantt chart, click on the Gantt View button in the toolbar.
You can customize the appearance of your Gantt chart with just a couple clicks. To change the colors of the task bars:
- Right-click on a task bar and select Color Settings.
- A color palette will appear, letting you change the color of the bar.
- If you want to apply the same color to multiple task bars, click the task bars while holding down the Shift button. This will select all the bars. Then, release the Shift button, right-click on any of the selected bars, and click Color Settings.
Turn a Smartsheet Template into a Project Timeline
You’ve already inputted all your information in Smartsheet and with just a couple clicks, you can create a beautiful timeline to highlight your event planning progress.
Smartsheet is integrated with Office Timeline, a graphical add-on tool for PowerPoint, which allows you to create a professional, attractive visual representation of your project plan.
If you don’t have Office Timeline installed in your PowerPoint app, simply download it for a free trial, install, and restart PowerPoint.
- Open PowerPoint and create a new slide.
- Click on the Office Timeline Free tab (Note: if you purchased Office Timeline, it will say Office Timeline) and select the drop-down arrow under the New button in the ribbon bar. Highlight Import Data and then click Import from Smartsheet.
- Follow the prompts to login to your Smartsheet account. Click on the box next to the Smartsheet project you want to import and click the green circle with a checkmark in it.
Once your project timeline is created, you can customize it even further. You can choose which events you want displayed in the timeline, color-code tasks assigned to specific stakeholders, and add your branding and colors to the layout.
Choosing a Timeline Template
From planning a business conference to managing a project at work, there are a lot of moving parts you need to manage. A timeline template, such as the Event Task List template, can help you organize these details and bring all the steps into view in a beautiful, visual presentation.
When picking a template, choose one that has the functionality you need. Templates are just a starting point, and you can customize them as much or as little as you want. Smartsheet offers a 30-day free trial and Office Timeline has a 15-day free trial, so you can see first-hand if either is right for you. A template is supposed to make things easier, so if it requires too much customization, move on to the next option.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out our Project Management Resource Hub for the latest tips, templates, best practices, and more.