How to use Windows Timeline

Timeline is Microsoft's new Windows 10 productivity feature. Here's how it works

Windows Timeline

In the last two major Windows 10 revisions, Creators Update and Fall Creators Update, Microsoft focused on the needs of creative professionals. In its next major, as-yet-unnamed, update, Microsoft appears to be aimed at meeting the more general productivity needs of its users. One new productivity feature, available in the latest Windows 10 Insider builds, is Timeline, a way to pick up on previous tasks days or even weeks later.

Timeline resides where the Task View was once located, which in the shipping version of Windows 10 is where you’ll find currently running tasks along with access to multiple desktops. With Timeline, you still manage your current tasks and desktops as before, but now you can also access previous tasks up to 30 days later — including those on other PCs that have received the Timeline feature. Eventually, you’ll also be able to access tasks from your connected smartphones as well.

In this guide, we show you how to use Windows 10 Timeline as it exists in the latest Windows Insider build (currently build 17083). Once you’ve installed the latest build, then Timeline will be available and after a short delay it will start populating with activities.

Step 1: Install the latest version of Windows 10 Insider

You can skip ahead to Step 2 if you already have it, but If you’re not already a Windows 10 Insider you’ll want to head over to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program and hit the “Get started” button. Follow the instructions to add your PC to the Fast ring, and then reboot. After a delay that can last up to 24 hours, hitting the “Check for updates” button in the Windows Update page in the Settings app will kick off the installation of the latest Insider build.

how to use windows timeline 10 insider setup
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

If you’re already a Windows Insider on the Fast Ring, then you simply need to head to Windows Update and you should see the latest build. As a reminder, only the PCs that are running the latest Insider builds will see the Timeline feature, which will remain true until the next Windows 10 update is released, likely in March 2018.

You can find out more about the Windows Insider program here. There are some caveats to joining the program, of course, including the potential for some pretty serious bugs that can render a PC unbootable and the ever-present risk of data loss that comes with any beta testing software versions. Note that the Insider program has a few different levels that you can access, including the Slow and Fast rings, which provide later or earlier access to builds, respectively. If you’re particularly anxious to see the latest features, you can even “Skip Ahead” to versions that include features that won’t show up until after the next major public release of Windows 10.

Step 2: Make sure Timeline is turned on

There’s very little that you need to do in order to use Timeline, and in fact it’s turned on by default. You do need to tell Windows 10 to include a machine’s activities on Timeline, however, and that’s easy enough. Just open the Settings app and navigate to Privacy > Activity history.

how to use windows timeline 10 privacy options
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

Once there, you can toggle on and off the “Show activities from these accounts” option for each of your Microsoft accounts that are configured on that PC, and check or uncheck whether to include tasks on the local timeline and to sync them with other PCs via the cloud.

Note that you can click on the “Manage my activity info for all accounts in the cloud” link to open Microsoft privacy web page. There, you can manage all kinds of privacy information, including which tasks should be store in the cloud.

Step 3: Use Timeline

Using Timeline is a simple matter of clicking on the new Timeline icon next to the bar. There, you’ll see your current activities in large snapshots across the top rows and then your previous activities in smaller snapshots below.

how to use windows timeline 10 full screen
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

You can scroll up and down to move through your Timeline or drag the selector on the right hand side, and you can click on “See all” to open up the view and see all of a day’s activities by the hour. You can click on “See only top activities” to condense the view.

how to use windows timeline 10 expanded view
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

If you have another PC that’s sending its activity to the Timeline cloud, then you’ll see its activities listed as well. You can tell it’s a difference system by the name that’s displayed on each activity snapshot.

how to use windows timeline 10 remote machine
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

For now, only specific apps — primarily Microsoft first-party apps — support the timeline. Eventually, developers will be able to build in support for their apps simply by building in “high quality activity cards,” and the feature will become increasingly useful as time goes on. One example is that Google can build in support and you’ll be able to see your Chrome browsing history, whereas now it’s limited to Microsoft’s Edge browser.

To access an activity, just click on its snapshot. You can also access additional commands for current activities, such as snap and move to another desktop, by right-clicking on the activity snapshot and selecting from the pop-up menu.

how to use windows timeline 10 task options
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

You can also manage earlier activities and those from other PCs by right-clicking and selecting from the pop-up menu. Options include opening the activity, removing it, and clearing all activities from that timeline.

how to use windows timeline 10 item controls
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock
Digital Trends/Mark Coppock

Microsoft will be adding more features into Timeline. For example, eventually the Timeline will support the new Sets feature that groups activities that you’re working on simultaneously, and that that has rolled out to a select group of Windows Insiders. And, as mentioned early, Android and iOS smartphones will also be brought along via Cortana, and you’ll be able to access your PC timeline on your smartphones as well.

For now, though, Timeline provides you with an easy way to access a month’s worth of activities, as well as to pick up where you left off on other Windows Insider PCs. You’ll need to be signed up for the latest Insider builds in order to access Timeline, but that’s a small price to pay for being ahead of the productivity game.