Tutorials: Time Units & Scales

TimeStory lets you view your documents at different time scales, varying units (days, weeks, months, and years), as well as how wide each unit should be. This tutorial walks through these choices with examples, and describes some ways you may wish to use them while viewing and editing your documents.

This tutorial uses a simple document, extracted and anonymized from a real project timeline. The details aren’t important, but the scenario is a team which has twelve weeks to assess and report on a system architecture. You can download this sample document here.

Note that these screenshots were all taken on a Mac which is configured for the English language and US regional settings. If those are not your settings, TimeStory will use your system preferences to determine the appropriate date format on your computer, and the language for weekday names, month names, abbreviations, and so on. (Note, however, that the language of TimeStory itself, on buttons, menus, and so forth, is always US English for now.)

Starting in the Weeks view

Since this project is managed weekly, we started by choosing “Weeks” as the time unit. The vertical grid lines are arranged on week boundaries, and as we place, resize, and rearrange events, dates will automatically “snap” to those gridlines when you get close to them, simplifying positioning.

We also created a set of “week number” events across the top, so the project can be viewed in terms of relative weeks (Week 2, Week 5, etc.). Those are not automatic; they’re just regular events. We created them by using New Span Event, then Duplicate Event over and over, editing the title and placing it each time.

What if the entire project were to need to be pushed out a week? Simply do a “Select All” (⌘A), then press the Command (⌘) and Cursor Right (►) keys. If you don’t hold the Command key, or if you were in the Days view, the Cursor Right key would shift everything by one day.

Note that the first day of each week in the above screenshot is Sunday, but this is configurable; you can open the Document Inspector and set it to any weekday. (When you first create a document, it takes its first weekday setting from your Mac’s system preferences.)

Switching to Days view, and adjusting the time scale

To more easily and precisely use drag-and-drop editing, or to get a focused, zoomed-in view of your timeline, you may want to switch to the Days view. Just click on “Units” in the toolbar and choose Days.

You may notice that, at the current time scale, TimeStory needs to skip some days in the labels across the top. Those skipped days are still selectable, however. Although May 1 is followed by May 5 in the index, you can still place or drag an event onto May 2, 3, or 4.

To make this more comfortable for editing, let’s expand the time scale. Pressing the right-side button in the “Scale” section of the toolbar three times yields this:

As more space becomes available, TimeStory fills in more days in the index, and switches to a less compressed day format, if applicable to your language (here, it switched from “M, T, W, …” to “Mon, Tue, Wed, …”).

If you have a trackpad, such as on a MacBook or an external Magic Trackpad, you can also use a two-finger pinch gesture to adjust the time scale in or out.

Switching to the Months view

You may wish to get a monthly view of this project, perhaps to zoom out and get a bigger picture.

The vertical grid lines are now per month, and TimeStory automatically adjusts their spacing so that it continues to show approximately the same amount of total time across the window.

When dragging events around, they will now snap to month dividers as you get close.

When switching between Months and other units, you may notice a slight visual movement of events to the left or to the right. TimeStory always evenly spaces the display unit. So on the Weeks view, evenly-spaced weeks result in evenly-spaced days, because every week has the same number of days, but on the Months view, this is not true, as a month may contain 28, 29, 30, or 31 days, so the individual day positions may be slightly different.

Viewing by years, decades, or higher

Of course, TimeStory isn’t just for short-term project tracking. If you’re mapping out a set of long-term historical events which span many years, you will want to switch to the Years view.

The below screenshot is based on the Mars exploration timeline included as an example document within TimeStory, adjusted to show the whole timeline.

Note how, when TimeStory can’t fit all the years into the index across the top, it switches to five-year steps. After this, it will switch to decades, twenty-year steps, fifty-year steps, and then centuries; it’s capable of capturing multi-century histories, if you wish.