Determine the Event Planning Timeline

By now you should have objectives, a task list and an estimated budget determined  for each task and aligned to overall goals. It may seem strange to determine a date at stage 4, especially if you’re planning a birthday party or anniversary and the date is predetermined. Well, you can probably miss figuring out the best date in this case and focus on the planning timeline. So we’ll start with your planning timeline first, as this is relevant no matter what your event. If you’re planning for corporate events, however, I would definitely recommend reading to the end.

Event planning timeline

First and foremost, you need to be realistic with your timeline. If your date is predetermined, you will need to schedule activities within the time you have available. If you do not have a date confirmed at this stage, there is some more flexibility available. Really, give yourself enough time to complete the tasks you have identified to a high standard. On the other hand, do not give yourself so much time that you do not take the planning seriously and your guests forget about the event altogether. You’re balancing on a fine line between too much and not enough time, which is why scheduling is critical to ensure the event gets the attention it deserves.

Remember to include all pre-event activities, timings for the day (which can be developed as you work through the plan), and do not forget to account for post-event activities.

Some of the best advice I have received when organising the planning timeline is to never guess how much you need. If you’re planning an intimate event, chances are you don’t need to go into the dark depths of time calculations, but if you are having something constructed or need to understand how long a task will take to give it your full attention, there is a formula you can follow. This will require you to gather the most reliable information. The better your estimates, the more you can rely on your final plan.

Estimating time calculation

This may seem laborious, but once you have done this simple activity, you will be better equipped to execute on your plan. I’ve included easy equation that you can transfer into your spreadsheets to make the process quicker and easier to calculate.

Create a new tab in the same spreadsheet as your task list – name this tab: Time Calculations. Put each of the main tasks into Column A. In subsequent columns you will need to input all your Optimistic Times, Probable Times and Pessimistic Time (considering any risks and delays to your schedule). You can list it in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years – but make sure it’s the same time scale for all tasks to ensure the equation results are accurate.

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The following is a formula, that will help you understand your best estimate time for each task and activity. It can easily be transferred into Column E of your Excel spreadsheet by copying and pasting into Cell E2, which will auto-populate the Best Estimated Time.

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Excel Sum for Cell E2

=Sum(B2+4(C2)+D2)/6

Provided you have used the same time scale for each task, you will now have your Best Estimated time for the whole event planning process. Add it all Calculated Times together and see how many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years you will need to have a fully realised event.

If you find your best estimate is going to take longer than the time you have available to achieve the desired result, this is where  you will need to reassess if you need all tasks and elements, or whether you need additional staffing to make the event successful. Calculating time is so important to balance your availability and to make sure you have the support needed. We don’t want to find you pulling your hair out because there wasn’t enough time or help! You now have a solid understanding of where to focus time and resources as you move through the plan execution.

Creating a Schedule

Now you have the estimated times for each activity, I would encourage you to start scheduling in a calendar or visual chart to track your progress. Charts are always my favourite method, as I can see the goals set and when they are achieved. Calendars are equally helpful as reminders to complete activities, and for larger events you may wish to use both! Whatever keeps your mind and planning organised is whats important.

If you have a number of team members supporting your event, it would also be good to understand their availability and the time they need to spend on each activity. This is where you will need another tab on your workbook – Name the tab: Scheduling.

You will need to include Task details, Calculated Time and People Required. Having an understanding of your teams working hours or support availability before scheduling Start Times and Start Dates is important when constructing the schedule element. Have this information to hand and easily accessible for reference while working through the list – and make sure you have their agreement for all times before finalising the schedule. If they have annual leave or family events you were not aware of, it’s best to confirm with them and readjust as needed before your expectations are not met. Remember expectations are not the same as an agreement, and unless you have an agreement with your support, chances are you may face disappointment when tasks are not completed as expected.

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You are now in a really good position to understand the activities everyone will be allocated to. This will help with managing your risks, team follow ups and guarantee you have a better chance of avoiding hiccups. More details on how this will be useful is available in our Team Management step.

If you like a visual representation of each goal and time scale, you can transfer this information into a Network Diagram and Gantt Chart. This takes more time to complete, but it’s a great communication tool when you want something to hang on your office wall, refrigerator at home or to send out to the team to show the great progress made!

Determining the date and time

As previously mentioned, determining a date is probably most likely to happen at this stage if you are planning a corporate or charity event, and maybe even a wedding. Provided you do not have pressures to deliver the event by a certain date, your event timeline can really help you understand when is best for you – considering other demands with your work and personal life.

Schedule a date that is accessible for most to attend. There are a number of reasons your dream guest list may not be able to join you. School summer holidays will be challenging for friends and family with children. Religious and seasonal holidays will likely mean friends and family are with their nearest and dearest. Finally, consider your guests working schedules. It may be best to deliver the event on a weekend or public holiday weekend. Allowing your guests the time to travel to and from your event will see an increase in registrations / RSVP’s / however you’re gathering responses. The more convenient it is to your guests, the more likely they are to attend. Equally, if you do need to make it a social event on a weekday, have a compelling reason why they should book time off work or organise childcare. It’s your event, but make sure the people you want there can be there.

What I like to do when understanding best dates is colour code a spreadsheet. I’m a bit of an Excel junky in my work, but having a visual representation of risk dates and best dates really helps to pick the best time for all. For example, if there is a religious or seasonal holiday, it is likely to be a higher risk of mass availability than if your second cousin five times removed is taking a family vacation for a week during that time. I like to use the following colour coding for different risk levels:

  • Red – School holidays, religious and seasonal events
  • Purple – Weekdays (if this is a factor)
  • Yellow – Public Holidays
  • Black – Events you have agreed to attend

Colour coding also gives you a great visual of when you will be able to dedicate time to planning your event.

To best avoid organising an event where everyone is likely to be unavailable, do some ‘market research’ amongst your friends, family and / or colleagues. State that you were thinking of having the event on a certain day, and if you find you receive a lot of hesitance, reassess. You can usually get away with a date change if you have not already formally invited guests, but if you do choose the change the date make sure you continue market research until you have one you feel confident will draw in the crowds. There’s no harm in advising ‘a lot of people I mentioned it to said there were conflicts’, if asked. If you find there is a lot of excitement and positive response to your proposed date, move through the next steps build out the event.

Are there any tough lessons you’ve had to learn when scheduling dates with customers, colleagues, family and friends? I’d love to hear how you overcame any obstacles, and if this advice will help avoid any future instances.

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