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Timelines are an incredibly useful tool to complete successful projects. Oftentimes, we forget how useful they are when it comes to our day-to-day life. Using them to accomplish all types of goals prevents overwhelm as you push through to success. As an example, in this season of festive meals and dinner parties, I use timelines to plan holiday meals. But, remember that even if you hate cooking, you can follow this metaphor to learn more about how timelines can be put to work in your business.

The Proposal

dinner for 6Scope

All good projects start with a clear scope. What are you trying to accomplish? In our holiday meal metaphor, we are trying to accomplish a festive, fancy 4-course meal with hors d’oeuvres and food choices that everyone can enjoy. We want to serve the main course at 7:30pm on Saturday night. We will have 6 attendees. The table will include fancy china, crystal, and real silverware. See the picture to the left to see what we have in mind.


In this case, we are looking high end. So we want to establish a budget of $600 for the meal to include all the food and the wine. Making sure that you have this in mind before you start allows you to make choices as you define the menu and make wine choices so you don’t break the bank.


We have some personal tasks that need to be worked into our timelines on the day of the party. With pets, you risk them being anxious around guests. They need to be exercised or given their own private space. The cat tracks litter down the hallway all day. So, those things need to be addressed throughout the day. Your house is also where your kitchen is, so you have to take into account keeping it tidy and clean. And you want the house to smell good when the guests arrive. Both of those can be risks to a well-presented and comfortable space.

You also need to make sure that you are ready when your guests arrive. You’ve showered. Your clothes are free from grease splatter and flour. And, you are dressed appropriately. The risk of not being ready prevents you from having a good time.

Finally, in this case, we want to make sure we don’t serve anyone something they are allergic to or don’t eat. So, checking with the guests in advance will prevent disaster there.


Generally, you can establish rough timelines initially. I usually add these items as tasks in my personal to-do list or block out time on my calendar. In business, these timeline steps could be considered milestones. Those steps/timelines look something like this:

  • Guest invitations – 1 month in advance
  • Menu Planning – 2 weeks in advance
  • Create Timelines for Cooking (prep & day of) – 10 days in advance
  • Wine Shopping – 1 week in advance
  • Grocery Shopping – 1-2 days in advance of cooking prep

The Sale

Obviously, your guests need to accept your invitation in order for your dinner party to move to where timelines matter. So, that’s your sale! Once they’ve agreed and you’ve set the date, you’re ready to get down to the details.

The Project

So, they’re coming and everyone is excited! Now it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty of planning your project with detailed timelines. Here’s how I do it:

Start by asking your guests if they have any food allergies (or major dislikes). Then, create your menu. (In our metaphor, this step is like building the creative brief or writing tech specs. It defines what you are creating in detail). Here’s our menu:

Cheese & Crackers with Jacqueline Leonne Rose Sparkling
Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon with Muirwood Chardonnay
Cream of Stilton Soup with Meomi Pinot Noir
Standing Rib Roast, Zucchini Carpaccio, and Cauliflower Au Gratin with Gordon Estate Cabernet
Cheesecake with Chocolate Shavings

Once the menu is established, it is time to break down the project plan. I’m a fan of a spreadsheet for these types of timelines. (But, if you’re taking our metaphor to the business level, think or another project management tool). Just like you would with any project, you have to break it down to prevent overwhelm. So, start with each part. Look at the recipe for each item and start breaking it down into steps: what can you do in advance, what do you need to outsource (for example, I don’t butcher my own meat), and what is a last-minute step.

Dinner TimelinesStart to build your timelines for each of the recipes. As you do, you’ll note that you can chop the onions for the soup and the cauliflower at the same time for efficiency, and other such items. You’ll see my timeline to the right with my tasks timed out by the day and time. The recipes themselves become the subtasks. Note how I’ve incorporated the house prep into it as one of those additional parts as well. I am also one who always forgets the garnish, so I have to add the details like topping the cheesecake with chocolate. Otherwise, I’ll get back to the kitchen after dessert to find a pile of chocolate sitting there. All of that philosophy applies to your business projects as well.

Don’t Forget the Close-Out

Like any project, dinner timelines don’t end with dessert. There is clean up. Don’t forget to allow time for handwashing the silver and the crystal glasses. You will need to launder the table cloth and napkins. Plus, you will likely need to run several loads of dishes, potentially throughout the evening and into the next day. I tend to save the scrubbing of the pots for last, but you might prefer to get that nasty job out of the way early. In essence, the cleanup can become its own timeline. With business projects, think of those steps as what you do to close the project out, do post-mortem meetings, and store any notes and files for future reference.

Without timelines, a dinner party like this could end up with the cheesecake not being set in time, with the roast not completely done (or worse, overcooked!), or the cauliflower being ready too early. Ever get out that recipe to make for dinner only to see midway down the instructions that you have to marinate it overnight? Building timelines makes you think through all of that in detail in advance. And that allows your project – or dinner party – to come off flawlessly.

Here’s to a spectacularly planned holiday dinner! Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes for a successful 2020.

Reader Interactions


  1. This is a wonderful list and analogy. I make a very similar one (with family assignments), but have never included cleanup tasks. Genius! Now I won’t have pots and pans sitting around afterwards.

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