Use a ‘Thermometer Chart’ to Track Your Work Goals

For productivity, there are plenty of visual aids you can call in for an extra boost, from hand-colored clocks to vision boards. If you’re looking for a new one to try, a thermometer chart might be just what you need to visualize your goals and track your progress.

A thermometer chart is what it sounds like: It’s a graphic that shows your progress in the form of a thermometer that fills up until you reach a certain temperature, which represents your goal. If you have a goal of getting $10,000 in sales for the month, for instance, your thermometer will show dollar amounts where the temperatures would be on a real, old-school thermometer. You keep filling it in until you hit (or surpass) your goal, giving you a visual idea of where you’re at.

Make a thermometer chart digitally

If you want to do this digitally and share it with your colleagues by email, it’s not hard to do, according to Trump Excel. In Excel, make two columns. The left one will be target dates, so if you’re making a goal for a month from now, divvy it up into four weeks, with the date of each Monday in that column. In the right column, put your target for each week. If the goal is $10,000 in sales in a month, each one of the dates should correspond with a multiple of $2,500. Skip a row and make two more rows: Achieved % and Target %, where Target % will always equal 100% and your achieved percent will be updated weekly to represent how far you’ve come to reaching it.

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Click the Insert tab, then the button for “Insert Column or Bar chart.” You want a 2D Clustered Column and once you’ve got that, click the Design tab, then Switch Row/Column. Right-click your second column, tap Format Data Series, and from the pane that opens up, select Secondary Axis to align the bars in the chart. You’ll have two overlapping, vertical axes that have different values, so right-click the one on the left and select Format Axis; when the corresponding pane pops up, change the maximum bound value to 1 and the minimum bound value to 0. Then, just delete the axis on the right, right-click the remaining column in the chart, and press Format Data Series again. In the pane, set it up so there’s no fill and your border line is solid, in a color matching the bar. From there, clean things up by deleting the chart title, any grid lines or axis markers, and the legend. See how it’s starting to look like a thermometer?

From there, right-click the vertical axis on the left and press Format Axis, then use the pane that produces to set your Major Tick Mark Type as “inside,” using the drop-down menu provided. Select your chart outline, right-click it and click on Format Chart Area before formatting it like before, with no fill, but be sure to get rid of the border line, too. Finally, on the Insert tab, insert a circle shape and fill it with the same color as your bar. Align it on the bottom to make it look like a thermometer.

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Or you could just buy one

That is admittedly complicated. If you love Excel projects, good for you! If you don’t, join the club—and buy one to display in your workspace.

Thermometer charts are so popular that there are plenty of options. Here are a few I like:

  • A 48” by 12” dry-erase option ($19.49), with red and black markers included, so you can scribble in a fill color as you inch toward your goal. This one is big enough that everyone will be able to see it if you hang it somewhere accessible, so it’s great for keeping an entire team on track.
  • A wall-hanging version that comes with a nylon ribbon you pull up to represent the goal increasing ($29.97). At 46” by 12”, this one is big, too, but that pull-through ribbon gives it some extra sophistication.
  • Five paper posters that you can color on with a marker ($15.99). While not reusable like the other options, these are cheaper and can be saved for reference when you want to do the thermometer method again.


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