Remember back in 2012 when the Mayan calendar cut off and the world was definitely ending?

Spoiler alert: The world didn’t end — but if you ever want to relive that feeling of confusion, frustration and apocalyptic dread, just try deleting your production calendar.

That’s right: A production calendar is such a critical element of your production planning and content creation strategy that you might feel like the world is ending if you don’t have one. Luckily, we’re here to help you pack Armageddon away with a few production calendar templates you can try this year.

Let’s get started!

Understanding Production Calendars and How to Use Them

First things first: What do we mean when we say “production calendar” and why does it matter?

Imagine you’re a filmmaker. If you want your new movie to clean house at the Oscars, your creative teams — scriptwriters, actors, camera crews, costume designers, animal wranglers, directors — need to be a well-oiled machine. No deadline can be overlooked and no scheduling error should be allowed to endure. Luckily, that’s what a production calendar is capable of: It keeps everyone on the same page.

Here are a few key things to know about production calendars:

What’s Included in a Production Calendar?

A production calendar is the centralized hub of your entire content strategy. It should include relevant production schedule information for all stakeholders, like:

  • SEO research: If search engine optimization or SEO is a big part of your content strategy (hint: it should be), your production calendar should reflect that. Save time on keyword research, competitor analysis and other key SEO tasks.
  • Editorial: I’m speaking from experience here — we writers are a dreamy bunch. If you want to keep us focused, organized and efficient, put all of our due dates alongside the other schedule information that’s going to impact them.
  • Video production: Even if you’re not aiming for the Oscars, your video production team needs to choose and secure filming locations, make talent arrangements, organize the travel schedule and more. Guess where all those due dates live? That’s right: in your production schedule.

In truth, we’re talking about more than a calendar, spreadsheet or fancy template — this is your production planning playbook.

Why is a Production Calendar So Important?

When you’re in the weeds of a grand content marketing project, you don’t always have the time or visibility to tell what everyone else is doing. A production calendar lifts the curtain between creative teams, allowing each stakeholder to see:

  • Which steps need to be completed before they can begin work.
  • What they need to do and when.
  • Who’s counting on them to get the job done by the due date.

Who Creates a Production Calendar?

Because a production calendar is essentially a large-scale collaboration between internal stakeholders, almost every team has something to contribute. That means it’s up to you to distribute responsibilities — but this job usually goes to the directors or managers of each creative department.

How Do You Use a Production Calendar Template?

A production calendar template removes the stress of designing a layout, organizing disparate information or trying to figure out how to make that spreadsheet look pretty. Just choose your favorite template, plug due dates into the appropriate boxes and start planning.

5 Production Calendar Templates to Keep Your Projects on Track

Your production calendar is a living document with all kinds of stakeholders. For this reason, it’s key to choose templates that offer total clarity without introducing any unnecessary frustrations.

And here’s the big reveal: You can use more than 1 template to create your full production schedule.

That’s why we’ve included a list of production calendar templates you can mix and match depending on what your creative teams prefer. Let’s take a look:

1. SEO Template

When does keyword research need to be completed? Did the client sign off on the target keyword? Where is the competitor analysis that everyone else in the entire production pipeline is waiting for?

To answer these questions and more, you need an SEO template.

The key to creating an SEO template is to prioritize flexibility. Search engines can be fickle, which means you need to be able to update information on the fly if Google suddenly decides it doesn’t like your target keyword or Bing changes an algorithm that makes your perfectly optimized strategy a total flop.

This type of SEO spreadsheet or template is also a great way to ensure you’re in tune with your target audience. By comparing last year’s template to today’s, you can track changing preferences and let SEO experts provide better content strategy recommendations for the rest of your production teams.

2. Editorial Template

Editorial teams have a lot of work to do. Here are just a few things I’ve put in my team’s content calendar:

  • Topic ideation.
  • Writing.
  • Editing.
  • Proofreading.
  • Rewrites according to client feedback.
  • Keyword optimization.

It’s critical to have a template that provides room for any and all of these steps. Better yet, it should call out:

  • What type of content we’re working on (blog content, white papers, email copy — oh my!).
  • Who’s writing and editing a certain piece.
  • What stage of client approval it’s in.
  • What the due dates are for each task.

Keep in mind that an editorial calendar should be nestled between other parts of your production schedule after you put all the dates and projects together. As a writer, I want to know when the SEO strategists have completed their work so I can get started on mine — and the designers illustrating my content want to know when they can get started, and so on.

3. Social Media Template

A social media production schedule is particularly valuable because it helps you keep track of post cadence — that way, you don’t accidentally ghost your followers.

For this reason, your social media template should be organized around both past and future posts so you can nail the timing, avoid repeating topics and more. You also need to have a good posting frequency to keep your current followers and potential ones interested. The main goal of this production planning spreadsheet is to make your content look organic — even effortless — to viewers, even though it’s carefully organized and optimized behind the scenes.

4. Email Template

An email template is perhaps the most granular of all production schedule elements. Roll up your sleeves, because you’re about to juggle all kinds of details, including:

  • Subject lines.
  • Preview text.
  • Body copy.
  • Email triggers.
  • Email cadence.
  • Personalization.
  • Any associated content strategy or marketing campaign.
  • Links, files or gated assets.

To finalize a cohesive email marketing campaign, you need a spreadsheet that clearly and quickly shares complex information, enabling that juggling act to be a success instead of an embarrassment. In this case, it’s especially important to highlight the key details first — for example, the email topic and the strategy to which it belongs — by putting them at the top of the spreadsheet or assigning colors to signify different levels of importance.

5. Managers’ Template

Remember those novelty X-Ray goggles we all secretly wished were actually functional? Well, that’s essentially what a managers’ production schedule template is — except instead of skeletons, you can see the bones of your content strategy.

When you create a spreadsheet (or other content production calendar) that’s only visible to management, you allow leaders to make notes about employee performance, identify any procedural gaps, provide support when necessary and generally maintain a clear view of what’s happening. Plus, if anyone has to take the day off in the middle of a project, managers can quickly identify the situation is and which coworkers have the bandwidth to take over.

Production Calendar Tips and Best Practices

Now that you know what a production calendar is and what template types are available, it’s time to start planning your own. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Prioritize accessibility: Yes, it’s important for everyone to have digital, and even mobile, access to a production schedule so they can update their team’s assigned template; however, “accessibility” also means making your content easy for all parties to interact with. This isn’t the time for tiny text or any shade or hue a colorblind user may not be able to see — keep your content clean, simple and well-organized.
  • Create better habits: If your production calendar is just a digitized representation of your confusion, it’s not going to help very much. Take this opportunity to review and optimize your content creation process as you put tasks into your spreadsheet or template.
  • Avoid becoming inflexible: Your production calendar isn’t set in stone. It’s a living, breathing document — which means you should be ready to change details, structures and even the underlying template if something’s not working. Remember, the real asset isn’t your spreadsheet, but your staff, the content they create, ideas they come up with and real challenges they face.
Ashlee Sierra is a senior writer and editor from Boise, Idaho. When she’s not buried under her giant dogs, she can be found playing video games, telling ghost stories and having passionate discussions about the Oxford comma.