Johannes Thönes

Software-Developer, ThoughtWorker, Permanent Journeyman, Ruby Enthusiast, Java and Devils Advocate.

Personal Retrospectives Exercises: Colour the Timeline

Now I want to introduce the ‘colour the timeline’ exercise for you personal retrospective.


A timeline is a chronological overview over the period you are reflecting on. This has been filled with facts before. Now you analyse it deliberate by using colours to describe your feelings.


When you have filled a timeline, now its time to analyse it. On way is to colour code the events, so you can see, when you had which kind of feelings over the timeframe. Use this in the generate insight phase, to get a clearer understanding of the connection of what happened and what you did.


  • In the previous steps, you filled the timeline with events.
  • Choose colour coding for specific feelings you had, e.g.
    • Happy: green, Sad: red, Surprise: yellow
    • Mad: red, Sad: blue, Glad: green
  • Take a step back and look at the patterns over the timeline.
    • Can you see new connections?
    • Can you explain why the red came in?
    • What happened to make it all yellow?
  • As a result, you can
    • Add more colour to the timeline.
    • Connect events with colours.
    • Have multiple colours in one event - potentially of different strength.
    • Write down things you noted.
  • Iterate over this a bit until you feel your done.


I’ve so far always used colours in some form when I did a timeline. It’s fairly easy, because I can easily model my feelings. Also, the colours help me to quickly get an overview over certain periods of time. Was there a red month? Oh, suddenly everything became green? That’s interesting.

I write this down on a ‘open thoughts’ paper, save them for ‘an essay’ or even put then on ‘retrospective questions key point lists’.

The ‘colour the timeline’ exercise belongs to the Generate Insights phase. As such, you want to use the timeline you have, to find out what happened with you and your feelings.

You can, if you want to, colour anything in the timeline. Feelings is just what I always have done so far.


A part from all the other ‘generate insights’ exercises, there are a few tailored to using a timeline.

One is the so called ‘emotional seismograph’, where you draw a seismograph of your feelings under a timeline. I’ve done the exercise a few times, but I think its more useful for team retrospectives as you can see the different seismograph curves.

The ‘mine the timeline for gold’ is rather for thinking and writing insights down in a list. This is especially helpful, I think, if you have a focus of your retrospective.

As always, you personal retrospective has to be tailored to you. Any thoughts? How would you analyse your timeline?

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