A step-by-step guide to creating PowerPoint timelines

10 min read — by Akash Choudhary

Visuals help people process information. Timelines are an effective visual for enabling people to process project information such as key dates, activities, owners, and progress. This guide will show you how to create different types of timelines in PowerPoint. It also offers pointers on how to get the most out of timeline charts.

Key facts

  • PowerPoint offers simple milestone timeline functionality.
  • A third-party tool is necessary to create more complex project timelines such as a Gantt chart.
  • With a tool like think-cell, you can create project timelines in a matter of minutes.

How to create a simple milestone timeline in PowerPoint

Basic timeline in PowerPoint depicting 5 milestones.

You can create a basic event timeline, milestone timeline, or process timeline within the software. Follow these steps to create a timeline in PowerPoint.

Insert a timeline in PowerPoint

List of process illustrations in PowerPoint.
  1. Navigate to the Insert menu.
  2. Select ‘Smart Art’ under the ‘Illustrations’ group.
  3. Click on the ‘Process’ option, which will open a window with several graphics.
  4. Look for the option called ‘Basic Timeline’ or ‘Circle Accent Timeline’. Select your preferred style. Once selected, it will auto-populate on the side.

Add text and information to your PowerPoint timeline

You can add valuable information to your timeline such as key dates, milestones, initiatives, and deliverables. You can use information hierarchy to ensure information is delivered clearly.

  • Text can be added directly into the text boxes appearing at [Text]
  • In addition to text editing, new milestones can be added through the Text Pane window on the left-hand side your timeline chart.
  • Full text editing functionality can be accessed through the Create Graphic command group within the SmartArt Design ribbon.
Create Graphic command group for PowerPoint timeline text editing.

Add Shape: Adds milestones to your PowerPoint timeline chart.

Add Bullet: Adds a sub-bullet to your selected text.

Text Pane: Gives you access to your Text Pane window to the left of your chart.

Promote/Demote: Shifts text hierarchy (i.e., milestone, bullet, or sub-bullet).

Move Up/Down: Shifts the order in which information is shown.

Right to Left: Flips to direction of your timeline – from left to right or right to left.

Style and format your PowerPoint timeline

With your information inserted, it’s time to customize your timeline. For example, you may want to change your chart style, colors, font, or shapes within your timeline.

Styling and formatting can be applied to the entire chart or to an individual chart element. Select what you want to change (e.g., the entire chart, a text box, or a shape) and use the SmartArt Design and Format ribbons to make your desired edits. Alternatively, select your chart or element and right-click to quickly access editing, styling, and formatting commands.

How to create a project timeline in PowerPoint

think-cell Gantt chart depicting project activities, their timelines, project milestones, activities’ status, and comments.

Project timelines, also known as Gantt charts, calendar timelines, or project trackers, differ to simple milestone timelines in that they allow for a more detailed visualization of a project and its plan – activities, milestones, key dates, owners, and relevant comments. A project timeline or Gantt chart also allows you to then track and communicate progress against a plan.

PowerPoint doesn’t provide good native functionality to create Gantt charts. think-cell is the number one PowerPoint add-in, used for creating detailed Gantt charts in PowerPoint in minutes alongside a range of other available chart types and features. Here’s a quick guide to creating a project timeline in PowerPoint using think-cell:

Insert a Gantt chart in PowerPoint

If you don’t have access to think-cell, download a 30-day trial of our software.

If you need help installing our software, you can read our simple installation guide. Once you have access to think-cell within PowerPoint, you can insert a Gantt chart in PowerPoint as follows:

Navigation to Gantt/Timeline chart under think-cell Elements.
  1. Navigate to the Insert menu.
  2. Select ‘Elements’ under the ‘think-cell’ command group.
  3. Select ‘Gantt/Timeline’ and position your chart on your slide.

Format and add information to your Gantt chart

Editing think-cell charts is easy and quick. As a rule of thumb, right click to add, remove, or adjust features on your chart, left click to style and format chart elements. For example:

1. Adjust the visible date range by right-clicking (or double-clicking) on the timescale at the top of your chart to access the chart ‘Calendar’ and adjust start and end dates.

2. Add or delete activities by right-clicking on the activity column section of an activity row and selecting ‘Delete’ or ‘Insert Row’.

3. Add timeline items such as activity bars or milestones by right-clicking on the timeline section of an activity row and selecting ‘New Bar’ or ‘New Milestone’. Dates for these elements can be adjusted with a simple drag-and-drop or through their respective ‘Calendars’.

4. Add activity owners or commentary by right-clicking on the activity column section of an activity row and selecting ‘Responsible’ or ‘Remark’.

5. Style and format chart elements by left-clicking on a given element for quick access to formatting commands like font, font size, color, and style.

think-cell is a simple, yet powerful tool for charting. The above gives an indication of the simplicity of creating a project timeline with think-cell. For a more detailed overview of how to create a project timeline (Gantt chart) in PowerPoint using think-cell, please refer to our user guide, or watch our Gantt chart tutorial video below:

think-cell: A powerful PowerPoint project timeline maker

There’s a reason why thousands of companies, including nearly all of the world’s top blue-chip companies and 10 out of the top 10 consulting firms, use our PowerPoint add-in: think-cell streamlines presentation creation in all aspects, including building timelines.

  • Create beautiful charts quickly and easily

    think-cell is intuitive and simple to use. You can start creating a Gantt chart and other powerful charts from the get-go without any training.

  • Deliver effective narratives with our enhanced features and functionality

    Our software offers additional functionality that doesn’t exist natively in PowerPoint. Our Gantt chart feature allows you to easily create detailed project plans, functionality which doesn’t exist natively in PowerPoint.

  • Save significant time

    For professionals who rely on PowerPoint to tell their story, think-cell helps you get the job done faster. Our customers experience significant time savings — as high as 70%. That’s less time spent on slide creation, and more time spent on value-add activities.

  • Rest assured you’ll always have the latest software

    We constantly introduce software improvements at no additional cost to our customers. That means you’ll always have access to the latest tools and features.

  • Share your think-cell charts with others and invite them to make changes

    think-cell uses native PowerPoint shapes. Therefore, your colleagues won’t need our software to receive and make edits to your think-cell charts. And should you choose to stop using think-cell, your charts will remain available and changeable as if you had created them in standard PowerPoint.

Let think-cell help you get the most out of your presentation

Trusted by more 1,000,000+ users across 25,000+ companies worldwide, think-cell trims hours off the timeline creation process. Our powerful PowerPoint add-in simplifies and enhances chart creation in PowerPoint. Download a free trial in a matter of minutes and see why so many around the world use us.

Frequently asked questions about PowerPoint timelines

Why create a timeline in PowerPoint?

Timelines are a great way to help your audience visualize a roadmap. They are a powerful way to show milestones, goals, or deadlines in a way that everyone can understand. They offer a strong solution to structuring and time-bounding a process and communicating this structure to your audience.

How do I best show a timeline in PowerPoint?

The type of timeline you should use depends on your needs. If you’re looking to simply show key dates and simple information in sequential order, then a simple milestone timeline will do. If you’re looking to build a detailed project plan, then you should consider a project timeline, also known as a Gantt chart or calendar timeline. think-cell offers best-in-class Gantt chart functionality.

How do I create a timeline in PowerPoint?

PowerPoint offers some simple options for creating a basic timeline within the software. Check out how to create a basic timeline in PowerPoint to learn more. If you’re looking to build out a project timeline, also known as a Gantt chart, then think-cell can help you. Check out how to create a project timeline in PowerPoint using think-cell.

How do I access free timeline templates in PowerPoint?

Outside of creating your own timelines as outlined in this article, you can also access predefined templates in PowerPoint. When you create a new PowerPoint document, you can either commence with a ‘Blank Presentation’ or with a template presentation. Searching for ‘timeline’ amongst these templates will give you a selection of editable timeline templates to use.

How do I create a project timeline in Excel and link it to PowerPoint?

The most basic way of transferring an Excel based project timeline into PowerPoint is by copying the data in Excel and pasting it into a PowerPoint slide, using ‘paste special’ to either paste it as an image or as an editable table. Alternatively, you can use the ‘Object’ command in PowerPoint to paste an editable image of your excel project timeline in PowerPoint.

If you want to connect a think-cell Gantt chart to data in an Excel document, this can be done using think-cell ‘Excel data link’ functionality. Please refer to our user guide to learn how to link your Excel to a think-cell Gantt chart.

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