Does this sound familiar? Everything around you seems to be collapsing, and you don't know what to do next. You need to make multiple phone calls and answer urgent emails at the same time. Your time is limited, yet the pile of unsolved issues is constantly growing. You stay up later, foregoing sleep, because you’re awake rushing and trying to complete the tasks you didn’t get a chance to work on during the day. You feel like you’re on the edge and you ask yourself - yet again - what on earth you were thinking when you decided to become an event professional.
This experience is not unique. Most of us know how scarce time is when planning an event. Sometimes, timeline-related challenges may happen because of last-minute changes. However, most times, the root of all evil is poor management. Since we tend to be overly optimistic about the time we need to complete certain tasks, it’s so easy to fall behind schedule.
The planning fallacy theory explains why we are so bad at estimating timelines. As science educator Julia Galef explains, we systematically underestimate the amount of time we plan to spend on a given project. We can easily predict the time we need to go from home to work, or figure out the amount of time we need to make dinner. However, as Galef indicates, when it comes to a complex project that requires multiple steps, it’s almost impossible to know exactly how long it will take.
According to author and entrepreneur Kevin Van der Straeten, "In view of the fact that an event is subject to the constraints of time and resources, and also results in a very specific end product, it is not unreasonable to regard its organization as a project."
Considering this, here’s a list of steps you may follow to set up a stress-free timeline for your next event:
Step 1. Design an action roadmap for your event
As with any other team project, planning an event requires coherent management. That’s why it's important to create an extensive document that outlines each step both you and your team must take. To make it more comprehensive and user-friendly, you can categorize this roadmap using different concepts. For example, you can have categories such as program, attendees and speakers, catering, audiovisuals, marketing and promotion, website, etc. By writing down all the tasks your event involves and specifically designating someone to each action, you’ll be able to visualize the amount of work required for a successful planning.
Step 2. Estimate the time you need for every task
Although it can't be precise, since various tasks depend on third parties, indicate an estimate time you think each step will take. For example, how much time do you need to set up the event program? Or in how many days do you think you’ll have the event webpage up and running? Write down the duration of each task and make a detailed plan of how you’ll distribute the work, considering the time you have.
Step 3. Confirm your deadlines with the event suppliers
If you’re working with event suppliers, it's important to confirm the timeline with them. Let's say you're printing an event booklet with the program. You outsourced the design to a freelancer and the printing to a different supplier. As you can understand, the printing may take some time, especially if there are some technical problems with the vectorial archive.
That’s why you should confirm with the freelancer the exact day of the product delivery. Then you can verify with the printing company how much time it needs to print a specific number of booklets. Always confirm with the event suppliers how much time they need to accomplish specific tasks. This will help you avoid unpleasant surprises.
Step 4. Include possible delays
You don't have full control over the workload. You have to depend on other people or event suppliers who can be late in delivering what you need (or in responding quickly to your emails). That's why it’s important to be aware of the delays you may have during the planning process.
Step 5. Validate the timeline with your event team
When designing the event timeline, always ask your employees or team members if they think the entire project is viable. After all, they are the ones who will be responsible for accomplishing the tasks you wrote down in the event management document. Apart from that, they might have a better idea of how long they’ll need to complete a certain action.
Call to action
Systematic and detailed planning is the key to a stress-free timeline. Make sure to set up an efficient planning process, and be sure to consider the time and the delays planning and marketing tasks will take. Apart from that, always be accountable for the evolution of the timeline. If some actions aren’t finished on time, you may want to put in extra effort or invest more resources into its completion.