Guide: how to create a timeline (with tips and an example)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

Creating a timeline is a useful way to plan a project or show how a project has developed over time. You can use timelines either for your own planning or as a clear way to show information to work colleagues, customers or other people. Understanding how to create a clear and informative timeline can be especially beneficial at work or when applying for jobs. In this article, we explain how to create a timeline with tips and an example.

How to create a timeline

Knowing how to create a timeline means you can convey lots of important information visually concisely that people can understand. There are various ways that you can create an attractive timeline that's simple to understand. You can use specialist computer software or a more basic programme like Microsoft Word.

Alternatively, you can create a simple version using a pen and paper for your own reference. Specialist software for creating timelines offers a choice of templates to use, making it easier to design your own timeline. To communicate the information at a meeting or event, you can use a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard and marker pens for extra visibility. Whichever method you use, there are some basic steps to follow to create a timeline successfully:

1. Decide on your purpose

Decide what you want your timeline to show and give it an appropriate title at the top of the page. Clearly indicate what the timeline is about with the title. Deciding on your purpose can help to make your timeline clear and concise.

2. Draw a line across the page

Draw a straight line horizontally or vertically and think about placement so that you have enough space to add information around the line. If you're making a timeline by hand, using a ruler can be helpful to make your timeline look tidy. This visual component can help make the process easy for you and anyone else reviewing this timeline.

3. Specify the time period

Decide the period that the timeline covers and add the intervals. For example, you may add the months of the year, at equal spaces along the length of the timeline. Decide which interval of time is most appropriate for the project. This could be years if applying for a job, or it could be months, weeks or days for short-term projects.

4. Mark out important dates

Decide which dates and events to include and draw lines going off the timeline to show events at specific dates. Also include a brief explanation of the event or milestone, such as a goal achievement or new job. This can help you keep track of the goals you set when thinking of new ones to set.

5. Customise the timeline

Finally, show your creativity. You can do this in any way you choose, for example by adding images and using different colours or shapes to group certain events together. You can also add company logos and branding or use company colours if appropriate.

What is a timeline?

A timeline is a type of diagram that shows events or milestones in chronological order along a line. Timelines can cover any period but usually show events over a short period of time that relate to a particular project or goal. Timelines can show past events, for example, to show the steps taken to complete a project or build your career successfully.

They can also be useful for future planning or to indicate how you expect a project to unfold, particularly if pitching for a job or project. Timelines usually have minimal detail and provide a broad view of events. You can insert additional information or images into a timeline to make it more detailed if necessary. Timelines are a particularly useful tool for project management.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

The benefits of timelines

There are many benefits to using timelines in your work. They can be useful tools to show someone else important events that have happened over time or to show a predicted course of events in the future. They can also help with tracking progress and goals. A timeline can also visually help you show connected events. For example, this can include where one position ended, and another began, or where the start of one part of a project depended on another part finishing.

When you're working on or pitching for a new project, a timeline can help you, the board and other members of your team to understand what's expected at certain times and show them the best way to complete a project. If a project is complex or running over a long period of time, timelines are a useful way of breaking it down into steps that are easier to understand. A timeline is also a valuable tool for improving time management and making sure that deadlines are clear.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Timeline example

Below is a basic example of the important milestones and events that you could include on a timeline for planning an art exhibition. When presented as a timeline, each point would extend off the horizontal timeline across the page rather than being presented as a list. The information is a brief overview of each event. As the project progresses, you can add images or links to more detailed information. For example, you may include the information about the venue, artists and artwork in the exhibition:

Timeline for planning an art exhibition

15/01/2022 – Secure an appropriate venue

20/01/2022 – Publish calls for artists to participate

20/02/2022 – Review submissions from artists and select participants 01/03/2022 – Deadline for artists to confirm their participation

12/03/2022 – Deadline for artists to send work specifications and personal information

1**4/03/2022 – Artists deliver work to the venue

15/03/2022 – Instal the exhibition

16/03/2022 – Exhibition opens to the public

23/03/2022 – Exhibitions close

24/03/2022 – All artists to collect work from the venue

Related**: How to become a project manager**

The benefits of using software to design a timeline

You can find a wide variety of specialist software and programmes for making a timeline and there are some benefits to using these programmes. A hand-drawn timeline might be suitable if you're only using it for your own reference, but a timeline made using a specialist programme often looks more professional and is more appropriate for sharing with others, especially if you're sharing the timeline with clients. Specialist software for creating a timeline usually offers a number of different templates and designs that you can edit for your project.

This can sometimes mean that it's quicker to create a timeline using software rather than doing it yourself. You can also choose a template that suits your industry, career trajectory or project and is visually appealing but still customised to your requirements. Sometimes unexpected changes or challenges can arise during a project and using digital software means that you can easily make changes to your timeline rather than needing to start again.

Related: Q&A: what is remote work?

Tips for creating a timeline

When you create a timeline, you can keep it simple, but there are a few helpful tips to assist you in making an informative and useful timeline:

  • Be clear about what you want to show on the timeline. Think about this and make a decision before you start making the timeline.

  • Be specific about the time period you use. Make sure this covers all the events to include, whether it's a timeline for an entire project or just part of the project.

  • Use zig zags or broken lines to show gaps. This is useful if there are breaks with little activity at certain points.

  • Use images to illustrate events. This makes the timeline more visually interesting and can also help to make it more memorable.

  • Be sparing with visuals and colours. Using a lot of visuals or colours can be overwhelming or distracting, so make sure the result is clear and easy to understand.

  • Highlight only the most important events and information. Include the main milestones on your timeline and keep descriptions brief and clear.

  • Plan your timeline before you begin. This is especially important if you're using a pen and paper, meaning it's more difficult or time-consuming to make changes later on.

  • Give the timeline a clear title. This clarifies what it's about and makes it easier for others to understand.

  • Get feedback before presenting. If you plan to present the timeline at a meeting or event, ask a colleague or manager for feedback to make sure the timeline is effective and includes all the necessary information.

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