7 tips on how to plan a wedding schedule that runs on time and minimizes stress

Planning a wedding day schedule can be the biggest challenge to overcome while planning your big day.  A lot of times, it is hard to even figure out where to begin.  How would you know?  You've never done this before!  You probably have dozens of questions you keep asking yourself.  What order should I do things in?  How long will this or that take?  I take on a lot of the wedding day schedule planning because as the photographer, unlike most people who have only experienced weddings as a guest, I play a major role in making day-of timeline decisions and I have felt the direct impact of those decisions right along with the bride and groom.  I have witnessed planning decisions that turned out beautifully and other choices that resulted in unwanted rushing around leading to tense-looking brides and grooms.  Most brides can't help but feel stressed if they see things needing to be pushed back on the schedule that they worked so hard to make.  Here are my top 7 tips to create a schedule that actually runs on time:



1. Plan events/tasks in 30-minute increments  

I can pretty much tell in a glance which timelines will not run according to the schedule.  It's tempting to plan in 5-15 min increments (for example: "cake cutting at 7:10pm") in order to jam pack as much as you can in an allotted time, but this type of planning fails to factor in transitions, miscommunications, hiccups, etc.  Everything seems to take longer than you'd expect on your wedding day.  Planning in larger chunks of time gives you some cushion which will reduce stress on the Big Day.


2. Get your hair and makeup done on-site  

You will save time and transportation by getting your hair and makeup done at the same getting-ready location where you will be putting on your dress.  Any opportunity to eliminate travel on your wedding day will reduce your stress. 


3. Make sure you build in time to eat and relax

These downtimes are important to break up the go-go-go nature of a wedding and can often lead to special moments.  On multiple occasions, I've seen the most touching conversations happen when bridesmaids decide on a whim to take turns saying something nice about the bride during a resting period.


4. If you aren’t hiring a 2nd shooter and you want shots of the guys getting ready, have both the guys and ladies get ready in separate areas at the same location   

It is difficult for a single photographer to capture getting ready shots of both the ladies and the guys if the photographer has to drive between two locations.  Try to stagger when the guys get dressed with the ladies.  For example, have the ladies eat a pre-ceremony meal while the guys get dressed and vice versa.  Then the photographer will be able to efficiently move from one group to the other without missing moments that would be nice to capture on camera because, let's be honest, no one wants photos of them eating.


5. If you are not planning a first look, consider lengthening your cocktail "hour" to 2 hours

This will allow you to get all the photos you need, and you might even be able to mingle with your guests and enjoy the end of your cocktail hour if photos happen to finish early.  (Have someone save you hors d'oeuvres just in case you miss cocktail hour, and you can enjoy them during down time). Having a longer cocktail hour will also allow your photographer to get some great shots of your empty reception venue before anyone touches the beautiful details you planned.


6. Plan for flexible time immediately after your ceremony

You may not think you want a receiving line right now as you plan your wedding, but you might feel very different as a newly wed couple.  If you are the type of person who loves getting hugs from people who are excited for you, definitely don’t skip it!  If you don’t have a specific plan, just be prepared for a receiving line to naturally happen.  You might plan a special exit instead, and that can be a fun alternative.  If your officiant is not going to be with you for the rest of the day, be ready to sign your marriage license with witnesses around this time as well.  These are a few things that you might not have considered that could delay your schedule if you didn't budget this post-ceremony flexible time into your timeline.


7. Consider doing your cake cutting immediately after you make your grand entrance into dinner, right before you take your seats

This flows surprisingly well and takes another thing off your list that you won't have to be be interrupted for later.


Wedding planning can be stressful, so I hope these quick tips are helpful at whatever stage in the process you are at.  Keep in mind that even if you do a great job at preparing, there are probably going to be a couple things that don't go according to plan, and it isn't your fault!  Just remember to tell yourself that no one is probably going to notice besides you.  


If you would like a little more help to kickstart your wedding day schedule planning, here is a free Wedding Timeline Guide that I made to help couples like you!  It includes sample timelines that you are free to use as models as well as a blank schedule that you can use for your schedule.  I hope this makes wedding planning a little easier for you!

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