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How to make a timeline in Excel

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A timeline is a type of chart which visually shows a series of events in chronological order over a linear timescale. The power of a timeline is that it’s a visual representation, which makes it easy to understand critical milestones in a project and the progress of a project schedule. Timelines are particularly powerful for project scheduling or project management when paired with a Gantt chart, as shown at the end of this tutorial.

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Options for making an Excel timeline

Microsoft Excel has a Scatter chart that can be formatted to create a timeline. If you need to create and update a timeline for recurring communications with clients and executives, it would be simpler and faster to create a PowerPoint timeline.

On this page you can see both ways to create a timeline using these popular Microsoft Office tools. We will give you step-by-step instructions for making a timeline in Excel by formatting a Scatter chart. We will also show you how to instantly create an executive timeline in PowerPoint by pasting your project data from Excel.

Which tutorial would you like to see?

How to create an Excel timeline in 7 steps

1. List your key events or dates in an Excel table.

  1. List out the key events, important decision points or critical deliverables of your project. These will be called Milestones and they will be used to create a timeline.

  2. Create a table out of these Milestones and next to each milestone add the due date of that particular milestone.

  3. To create a timeline in Excel, you will also need to add another column to your table that includes some plotting numbers. Add the new column next to your milestone description column and list out a repetitive sequence of numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, 10, 15, 20 etc. Excel will use these plotting points to vary the height of each milestone when plotting them on your timeline template.

    For this demonstration we’ll format the table in the image below into a Scatter chart and then into an Excel timeline. Then we’ll use it again to make a timeline in PowerPoint.

2. Make a timeline in Excel by setting it up as a Scatter chart.

  1. From the timeline worksheet in Excel, click on any blank cell.

  2. Then from the Excel ribbon, select the Insert tab and navigate to the Charts section of the ribbon.

  3. In the Charts section of the ribbon drop down the Scatter or Bubble Chart menu.

  4. Select Scatter which will insert a blank white chart space onto your Excel worksheet.

    Insert Scatter chart to make Excel timeline

3. Add Milestone data to your timeline.

  1. Right-click the blank white chart and click Select Data to bring up Excel's Select Data Source window.

    Selecting timeline data in Excel

  2. On the left side of Excel's Data Source window, you will see a table named Legend Entries (Series). Click on the Add button to bring up the Edit Series window. Here you add the dates that will make your timeline.

    Select data source - edit series

  3. We will enter the dates into the field named Series X values . Click in the Series X values window on the arrow button Add data from Excel to make a timeline – the Series X box . Then select your range by clicking the first date of your timeline (ours is 2/10) and dragging down to the last date (ours is 11/15).

    Following the same path, we will enter the plotting numbers series into the field named Series Y values. Click in the Series Y value window and remove the value Add data from Excel to make a timeline – the Series Y box that Excel places in the field by default. Then select your range by clicking on the first plotting number of your timeline (ours is 1) and then dragging down to the last plotting number of your timeline (ours is 4).

    Edit series dialog to define data series for timeline chart in Excel

  4. Click OK and then click OK again to create a scatter chart.

4. Turn your Scatter chart into a timeline.

  1. Click on your chart to bring up a set of controls which will be presented to the upper right of your timeline's chart. Click on the Plus button (+) to open the Chart Elements menu.

    Plus button in Scatter chart for Excel

  2. In the timeline's Chart Elements control box, uncheck Gridlines and Chart Title.

    Chart Elements for Excel Timeline

  3. Staying in the Charts Elements control box, hover your mouse over the word Axes (but don't uncheck it) to get an expansion arrow just to the right. Click on the expansion arrow to get additional axis options for your chart. Here you should uncheck Primary Vertical but leave Primary Horizontal checked.

    Uncheck Primary Vertical axe in Excel

  4. Staying in the Charts Elements control box just a little longer, add Data Labels and Error Bars.

Your timeline chart should now look something like this:

Checking Data Labels and Error Bars in timeline chart for Excel

5. Format chart to look like a timeline.

  1. To make a timeline in Excel, we will need to format the Scatter chart by adding connectors from your milestone points. Right-click on any one of the dates at the bottom of your timeline and select Format Axis to bring up Excel's Format Axis menu.

    Select Format Axis to format timeline in Excel

  2. Drop down the arrow next to the title Axis Options and select Series 1 X Error Bars.

    Axis Options settings on timeline chart for Excel

  3. Under the Error Bar Options menu, click on the paint can icon to reveal the Fill & Line controls. Select No line, which will remove the horizontal lines around each of the plotted milestones on your timeline.

    Selecting the No Line option in Format Error Bar – Excel timeline

  4. In a similar process, we will also adjust your timeline's Y axis. Again, from the timeline, right-click on any one of your timeline's dates at the bottom of the chart and select Format Axis. Drop down the arrow next to the title Axis Options and select Series 1 Y Error Bars.

    Steps to select option under Format Axis in Excel timeline

  5. Right-clicking on any bar in the chart will open the Format Error Bars menu. From the Vertical Error Bar, set the direction to Minus. Then set the Error Amount to Percentage, and type in 100%. This will create connectors from your timeline's milestones to their respective points on your timeband.

    Settings in Vertical Error Bar - Excel timeline

Your Excel timeline should now look something like the picture below.

Excel Timeline Intermediary version

6. Add titles to your timeline's milestones.

You have built a Scatter chart as an Excel timeline. Now we will format it into a proper timeline.

  1. To finish making your timeline, we will add the milestone descriptions. Staying in the Format Axis menu, again drop down the menu arrow next to the title Axis Options. This time choose select Series 1 Data Labels to bring up the Format Data Labels menu.

    Settings in Series 1 Data Labels in Format Axis - Excel timeline

  2. Click the Label Options icon. Uncheck Y Value, and then put a check next to Value From Cells. This will bring up an Excel data entry window called Data Label Range.

    Selecting data range in Format Data Labels – Excel timeline

  3. In the Select Data Label Range window, you will enter your timeline's milestone descriptions from the timeline table you built in step 1. To do this simply click on the description for the first milestone in your timeline table, (ours is Kick Off), then drag down to the last milestone in your timeline (ours is Sign Off). Click OK.

    Timeline in Excel after selecting data label range

Your Excel timeline template should finally look more like this now:

Final Excel timeline after selecting data label range

7. Styling options for your timeline.

Now you can apply some styling choices to improve the aspect of your timeline.

  1. Coloring your timeline's milestone markers.

    From your timeline, right-click on any of the milestone points (caps) and select Format Data Series to bring up the Series Options menu.

    Bring up the Series Options menu in Excel timeline

    Select the paint can icon for Fill & Line options and, then choose the tab for Marker. You may also need to select Fill to reveal its menu. Then you can choose coloring options for your timeline's milestone markers. In our example, we selected Vary colors by point, which lets Excel pick the milestone colors for our timeline.

    Change Excel timeline colors in Format Data Series

  2. Change the vertical connector's transparency.

    On your timeline, right-click on any of the vertical connectors that connect your milestones with the timeband below. Select Format Error Bars to bring up the Vertical Error Bar menu. Again, select the paint can icon to choose Excel's Line & Fill options. Here you can make formatting adjustments (color, size, style, etc.) to your timeline's connector lines. In our example we set the transparency of the lines to 50%.

    Change Excel timeline connector transparency

  3. Vary the height of each milestone so their descriptions are not overlapping the neighboring milestone.

    Remember the repeated sequence of numbers you added to your timeline table in step 1. Well, those set the height of each milestone on your timeline. By adjusting these numbers, you can play around with different height positions for each milestone. For example, to optimize our timeline, we used the number sequence, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.

    Sequence of milestones positions on the Excel timeline

    Look how the descriptions would overlap if we changed the order (Don’t try this at home! 😊):

    Changed sequence of milestones position on the Excel timeline

  4. Trim off the empty space to the left or right of your Excel timeline by adjusting its minimum and maximum bounds.

    Again right-click on any of the dates below your timeband. Select Format Axis.

    Access Format Axis to trim empty space on the Excel timeline

    Under the heading Bounds, adjusting the Minimum number upward will move your first milestone left on your timeline, closer to the vertical Axis. Likewise, adjusting the Maximum number down will move your last milestone right on your timeline, closer to the right edge of your chart.

    Adjusting Excel timeline bounds

  5. Finished! Our timeline now looks like this:

    Final Excel timeline

    To help you get started quickly, we have included a practical Excel template that you can download for free and learn how to create timelines in Excel.

Excel file icon
Download a pre-built Excel timeline file

FAQs about timelines in Excel

Is there a timeline template in Excel?

Yes, there are several predefined timeline templates in Excel. To explore them, go to File > New, and check the templates preview list. If you cannot find what you need, use the “More templates” option and type “timeline” in the “Search for online templates” box to browse the collection of timeline templates.

If you’re not happy with the limitations that come along with the standard timeline templates in Excel, have a look at the library of professional timeline templates produced with Office Timeline and try our timeline creator.

How do you make a timeline in Word or other office tools?

There are two ways to make timelines in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook: using SmartArt and using Charts. Here’s an overview of the steps required by each option.

A. Using SmartArt. This method is mostly manual, but if you want to create a basic timeline with SmartArt, you should follow these 5 steps:

  1. Go to Insert > SmartArt;
  2. In Choose a SmartArt Graphic box, select Process on the left and then pick a layout that you like and click OK;
  3. In the SmartArt graphic, click [Text]. Fill in the data by typing or pasting your text;
  4. You can add items in the timeline: Right click on a shape, then Add Shape > Add Shape After/Before;
  5. You can move items around by dragging and dropping them as you like.

After you create the timeline, you can add or move dates, and you can style your timeline further, apply different styles or change layouts and colors.

See more detailed instructions on using SmartArt to make timelines in our tutorial on how to make a timeline in Word.

B. Using Charts. You have various options: Column Charts, Bar Charts or Scatter Charts. In all the Office programs, this method will work with Excel data tables, so, you’ll need to group your data in Excel. Please note you’ll need some formatting to get a usable timeline. There are three basic steps for using Charts:

  1. Go to Insert > Chart > Insert Column or Bar Chart > 2-D Bar/3-D Bar;
  2. Select Stacked Bar (not 100% Stacked Bar);
  3. Format and style the newly created bar chart until you get the timeline that you like.

If you need more detailed instructions check out our series or tutorials on how to make timelines with your usual office tools.

Where can I create a timeline?

You can create timelines online or using offline tools. In both cases, you can choose between automated and manual work.

1. Let’s start with the most efficient way to make a timeline: using automation. This method is time saving and offers the best results, especially with more complex projects.

  1. Offline tools: Office Timeline Add-in with its professional and free timeline maker versions. Office Timeline is a PowerPoint add-in that helps you quickly make and manage professional timelines and Gantt charts. It allows using templates, making timelines from scratch and importing data from Excel, Microsoft Project, Smartsheet or Wrike.

  2. Online, with Office Timeline Online – premium and free versions. Office Timeline Online is an easy-to-use timeline creator that helps you with professional PowerPoint timeline creation in minutes, but also with slides updating and online sharing.

2. There are also manual ways to make a timeline from scratch, or from templates:

  1. Offline, you can make timelines in any Office application, by using templates or designing your timeline using shapes and objects.

  2. Online, you can make timelines in Google Docs editor.

However, these methods are not specialized for timeline creation, so they require more time and detailed instructions, and creative solutions to make timelines from graphics. In the end, you may find that the result might not be worth all the time and effort.

What is the best program to make a timeline?

There are several options of good timeline creators – online and offline, depending on your needs. We have found several options of automated tools, specialized in timeline creation, that meet the basic criteria for a good timeline creator: professional looking timelines, complex features, ease of use and good price-quality ratio. Our top three timeline creators are: Office Timeline – with its web-based app and the desktop add-in, Tiki-Toki and Sutori – both web-based.

Visit our blog to see the complete list of 10 best timeline makers that might be worth your while.

Make a great looking timeline from Excel directly in PowerPoint

There is an easier way to put your Excel data into a good-looking timeline. PowerPoint is better suited than Excel for making impressive timelines that clients and executives want to see.

In the tutorial below, we will show you how to quickly paste the Excel table you created above in Step 1 into PowerPoint using Office Timeline, a user-friendly PowerPoint add-in that instantly makes and updates timelines from Excel. To begin, you will need to install Office Timeline, which will add a timeline creator tab to PowerPoint.

1. Open PowerPoint and paste your table into the Office Timeline wizard.

  1. Inside PowerPoint, click on the Office Timeline tab, and then click the New icon.

    Office Timeline tab in PowerPoint

    This will open a gallery where you can choose between various timeline styles, stock templates and even custom templates.

    Choose a timeline template

  2. From the gallery, double-click the style or template you wish to use for your timeline to open its preview window and then select Use Template. (You can find more designs in our timeline templates library.) For this demonstration, we will choose the Software Development timeline template. If you prefer to import and refresh your Excel table, rather than copy-paste, click on the Import button in the preview window.

    Office Timeline Template in PowerPoint

  3. Copy the data from Excel

    We have updated our data a bit, so that we get the timeline, but also a more detailed view of our project: we deleted the Timeline column, as we don’t need it, and added a list of tasks (with start and end dates and duration).

    Format project data in Excel

    Copy the data from your Excel table, but make sure not to include the column headers.

    Copy data from Excel to Office Timeline

  4. Now, simply paste the section into PowerPoint by using the Paste button in the upper-right corner of the Data Entry wizard.

    Paste data from Excel in Office Timeline

    Make edits if necessary (such as changing milestone shapes and colors or adding and removing items) and click the Create button.

    Change color and shape in Office Timeline

2. Instantly, you will have a new timeline slide in PowerPoint.

  1. Depending on the template or style you selected from the gallery, you will have a timeline similar to this:

    Timeline made with Office Timeline from Excel data

  2. You can easily customize the timeline further using Office Timeline. In our example above, we added percent complete, removed the Today’s Date marker, changed milestones, adjusted colors, and added tasks to create a Gantt chart.

PowerPoint file icon
Download PowerPoint timeline template file

How to make a PowerPoint timeline from Excel in under 60 seconds:

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You can also use Office Timeline’s online timeline maker to easily build timelines and other similar visuals that you can instantly update and share with executives and teams.

See our free timeline template collection