Are you tired of hearing me talk about Google’s new Smart Canvas features yet? Well, I like the sound of my own voice (or in this case, the sound of my fingers clicking and clacking on my keyboard), so I’m going to keep gushing about how great they are. Today, I’m going to show you how to use the new ‘Timeline’ view in Google Sheets to create a Gantt chart. In the past, you’d have to insert a chart and create a very specific setup to get a Gantt, but with Smart Canvas, Google just added a dedicated “Timeline” view that allows you to keep a separate Sheet tab for this very thing.
To get started, you’ll need a Sheet with some data. In particular, no matter what it is you’re trying to plot out, be it a set of project tasks, a marketing campaign, schedules for employees, cross-team collaborations, or any future plans, you’re going to need a column with a start date, and a column with an end date. Additionally, you’ll want a column featuring a title for that task, person’s name, etc., a details column giving further insights into that title, and if you plan on setting a duration in addition to or instead of an end date, a ‘Duration’ column.
Next, highlight the columns and rows you want to turn into a timeline and click “Insert” at the top of the screen and choose the “Timeline” option (obviously). You may not see anything right away, and that’s because this new Smart Canvas method does not rely on a drop-in overlay chart. Instead, look at the bottom of your sheet. There, you’ll see a new “Timeline 1” tab. You can, of course, rename this if you’d like, but go ahead and click on it to view your shiny, new timeline first!
Okay, this is where it gets fun – On the right side panel (or if you click the “Settings” option at the top of this sheet (see screenshot), you can change any of the conditions upon which the data you selected will be displayed. You have the data range, naturally, but also a setting for the Start date, End date or duration, and Card title. Optionally, there are settings for the Card color, the Card details, and the Card group.
Cards, by the way, are these colorful rectangles you see in the screenshot below. Each one represents the item you’re tracking in the timeline. For example, let’s say that I’m tracking game mechanics for my indie game. For each game mechanic (Column D, which I’ve attributed to “Card title”), I get a card that I can manipulate.
Because I’ve attributed a dropdown for the completion status of the game mechanic’s development in the main tab of my Google Sheet and have color-coded them, each of my Timeline cards have a color as well. This is because that color is being pulled in under “Card color” from that Column C and painting it with that data.
Next, the “Card details”, which I’m pulling from Column G in my main table are appearing to the right of each card’s title in non-bold text to give a better description of that card. Lastly, and this is my favorite part, the “Card Group” can be attributed to the aforementioned “Column C” with the completion dropdown status smart chip. This allows me to separate my timeline into the features that are “Planned”, the ones that are “Started” and the ones that are “Finished”. You may just want to see all of these in one timeline grouping, especially if you’ve color-coded each card like I have, but it’s a nice extra step you can take if you want to declutter your mind and see what needs to be worked on.
A few last tips – First and foremost, you must remember that you can’t drag and drop the cards in Timeline view. Sadly, you’ll need to visit the source of data and adjust the cells to change where the cards start and end. I hope that in the future, Google changes this to allow for drag and drop, while simultaneously altering the cells based on your actions in the timeline.
If you notice the gray or blue bar at the top of your Timeline view, this shows additional options for viewing your timeline data. You can click “Today” to return to the current day in a very Google Calendar-esque way, drop down the “Weeks” setting to morph stretch or shrink your data horizontally based on days, weeks, months, quarters, a year, and even multi-year, view it as “Comfortable” of “Condensed” (Gmail folks will remember this setting), or change your zoom level.
Google already has some Docs Editor support documentation up for this awesome, new tool, and if you need help, you can either comment below or check out the Community tab at the link above.While I’m using Timeline to manage my game projects, I’m truly interested in hearing how you’ll make use of it. Will you stick with the Insert Chart feature, or will you tackle this innovation and integrate it into your organization once you see it show up?
For now, Timeline is available to Google Workspace users with Essentials, Business Standard, Business Plus, Enterprise Essentials, Enterprise Starter, Enterprise Standard, Enterprise Plus, Education Fundamentals, Education Standard, Education Plus, Business Starter, and Frontline. While I’m sure it’s not as robust as other Gantt chart solutions, Google’s Smart Canvas Timeline is, in my opinion, a welcome addition! Now, if I could just change the dates from months and years to a fictional representation of time, I could use it to plot my novel timeline without having to seek a third-party solution!