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8 day-of timeline tips to keep your wedding day stress-free | helpful hints series

One of the most crucial elements to making sure your wedding day goes off without a hitch is your day-of timeline. This is the (literally) minute-by-minute schedule breakdown from waking up all the way through reception cleanup.  It's the MASTER PLAN that keeps EVERYONE, from you, to your mom, to your wedding party, to your caterer and photographer, all on the same page.

And the more everyone is on the same page, the less stressed YOU will be on your wedding day!

I provide my couples with this sample day-of photography timeline at consultations. But a good master timeline includes way more than those elements!  There are tons of great timeline templates out there (here's mine, a spreadsheet), and you should find one that works for you. But regardless, a template is only a starting point.

With that in mind, here are 8 small day-of timeline tips to make your wedding day less stressful!

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1. Start early, and talk to your vendors

Start working on your timeline at least 8 weeks beforehand! Particularly if you're not working with a planner or day-of coordinator, as it gets closer to your wedding day, my couples tell me again and again that things can really start to sneak up on you! 

Honestly, as soon as you've signed contracts with the vendors your timeline impacts most (hair and makeup artists, photographer, venues, catering, and band or DJ), there's no reason you can't start your timeline. The sooner you start it, the sooner it's (mostly) done, and the less you have to worry! 

If you're doing it yourself, I suggest starting with your ceremony start time, and mapping things out both backward (to what time you need to be dressed and ready to go, all the way back to when to wake up) and forward (to the reception and beyond).

Ask your photographer, makeup artist, caterer, and other vendors how much time they need to set up, etc. I give my couples a day-of photography timeline guide the first time we meet!

Sometimes you'll need to balance competing interests (what time you want to wake up vs. all of your bridesmaids getting updos vs. having time to do a first look), so it's good to have plenty of time to go back and forth on this!

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2. Break down details, and don't forget end times

The more detail you can incorporate into your timeline, the less room for misunderstanding there will be between you, your vendor team, and your wedding party. 

In your timeline, incorporate end times as well as start times, and break down big categories like "getting ready" into more detailed points, like "finish hair and makeup," "bridesmaids be dressed and ready to leave," and "bride put on dress". 

A wedding day is a complex dance. Broad categories like "getting ready" can mean very different things to different people! If something is important to you, like the bridesmaids being dressed for photos of the bride putting on her dress, the very best way to make sure it happens as you imagined is to put it in the timeline.

3. Remember lunch

To many people, lunch doesn't seem like a wedding activity, and so it doesn't make it on to the timeline! This gets back to #2 -- if you want something to happen, think about it ahead of time and put it on the calendar. And trust me, you want lunch to happen. Who's responsible for picking it up, who's paying for it, where is it coming from?

Planning it out ahead of time means you won't be scrambling on the wedding day to grab something to eat -- instead, you'll be relaxed and well-fed. And trust me, it's a long hungry day if you don't eat until dinner!

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4. Include ample travel and buffer time

Travel on a wedding day takes longer than you think. Plan for 1.5x as much time as you think you ought to need! This helps provide a buffer for when the limo transporting the wedding party hits traffic, or when dad has trouble finding parking, or when a groomsman leaves his shoes at the hotel and has to go back and get them (yes, this has happened)!

If you know it should take 20 minutes to get from the hotel to the church, budget 30 minutes in the timeline. This has saved us from headaches at so many weddings over the years!

Virginia vineyard wedding at New Kent Winery

5. Simplify, simplify, simplify your locations (or host the whole wedding in one place!)

One of my favorite ways to simplify the wedding day is to use locations you'll be at anyway for your wedding portraits! Instead of getting ready at the hotel, traveling to the park for group photos, and then to the church for the ceremony, do your group photos at the hotel or the church!  Your photographer should be able to find a good spot at your existing locations for photos. 

If you want to go somewhere special for an iconic view, consider keeping it to just you and your partner, instead of your whole wedding party. Fewer people = less chaos! 

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6. Tell your wedding party + family where to be when, then tell them again

Want to stay on schedule? Make sure that your wedding party knows exactly where to be, and exactly when. Email it to them beforehand, and have printouts on hand the day of the wedding. Deputize the responsible, type-A people to make sure the whole group is where they need to be, on time!

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7. Know your priorities

This is true for all parts of your day, but especially photos. If you're crunched for photo time, prioritize photos you'd see yourself framing in your home. Big family shots? Consider doing reception table visits and having your photographer take a photo with each table. It's one great way to save time on formal group shots!

8. Remember to include WHO and a specific WHERE

The best timelines I've seen don't just incorporate WHAT and WHEN, but also WHO and WHERE. This is especially important early in the day, when things are going on simultaneously, like both wedding parties getting dressed, the caterers setting up, etc. If Aunt Jo is supposed to pick up the flowers, it's good for everyone to know that! Or pack up gifts at the end of the night... or show up for group photos... you get the idea!

More to read in the helpful hints series