How To Start Planning Your Wedding Timeline

How To Start Planning Your Wedding Timeline

July 6, 2020

wedding timeline

How on earth do you start planning your wedding timeline? I am weirdly obsessed with planning wedding timelines. It is definitely the perfectionist in me that loves the order and structure that a timeline creates. But even more than that, I love how a wedding timeline can make a wedding day absolutely incredible. In fact, I think they are THE secret to a stress free wedding day. 

You’re like….what?? A timeline?? Wouldn’t the secret to a stress free wedding day be not having a strict plan and just relaxing and going with the flow? Well, no. In this episode I am going to tell you why I think having a solid timeline equals a stress free wedding day, why you should start planning your timeline as early as possible, and just how you can get started mapping out your wedding day timeline. So let’s hit it!

Wedding Timelines Are the Secret to a Stress Free Wedding Day

I’ll say it again, a timeline is the secret to a stress free wedding day. Now, that’s a bold statement. But I can say it because I LIVED IT. Ladies, I had a totally stress free wedding day. Does that mean everything went according to plan and there were no hiccups? Doubtful, but because my timeline was so solid, I never even knew if anything went wrong. You might be saying…wait, what?! How could you not have known?? 

I didn’t know because I had a timeline. I had a timeline that was communicated to everyone it needed to be (more on this later) and I was not the one worrying about it anymore on my wedding day. I poured a ton of thought and effort into putting together our timeline, and now it’s one of the biggest things I help our bridal clients with in their own wedding planning. I put in time and effort because I know first hand what a difference a well-thought out timeline can make.

I will never forget one of the first weddings I shot. I entered into the getting ready room and greeted the bride. She was absolutely beaming with joy and so happy to be getting married! I was so excited to be there simply because she was so excited! The day started off smoothly, and I began capturing some photos as she was getting her makeup done.

About 15 minutes in, a bridesmaid comes in and asked an important question about the family portraits. Something like, “Where are we meeting for family portraits? What should I tell Uncle Bob about portraits? What time does he need to be here?” Immediately, the mood shifted in the room. The quiet, peaceful and joy-filled room now was contaminated by the weighty feeling of stress. No one else in the room seemed to know the answer. The bride was unsure, she fumbled out a response, and the bridesmaid huffed away to find someone else to ask. 

Then another bridesmaid entered and asked about the mother being present for the bride getting into her dress. The bride was unsure, she wasn’t positive when she would be ready, she wasn’t sure when her mom would be ready, and so on and so forth. Another bridesmaid had the mother of the bride on the phone and they were trying to communicate with both groups simultaneously.  Then came the time to pay the makeup artist, and she couldn’t find the check. Where was it in all of her bags? With each passing minute, the mood was shifting, and the joy was diminishing and the stress was rising.

Now, I do want to tell you that this bride had a beautiful wedding and she is now married to her sweetheart, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think she deserved better than that experience on her wedding day. She deserved to not be asked questions that could have been directed to someone else. She deserved to not have to worry about others actions and their schedules. She deserved to have someone else worry about where the check was and making sure it got in the right hands. She deserved to sit in joy and peace and not be interrupted by anything but giggles and laughter and admiration.

She had stress on her wedding day because her timeline wasn’t set in stone. Her timeline didn’t account for each little part of her day, no matter how trivial it might seem (like delegating someone to pay any vendors or having someone be a go-to person to answer any questions). Her timeline wasn’t clear, and that caused stress. 

Cody and I have seen this scenario play out in many different ways on wedding days that we capture as photographers. Even though we do so much work with our couples to create a timeline that is stress free, there are situations that as photographers are out of our hands. For instance, we can’t contact the family members needed for family portraits and tell them where and when to meet us. Well, we could but that might be a little strange and frankly too much work to tackle for photographers..haha! We can’t tell your bridal party to show up early in order to ensure they will be ready for portraits on time. 

What I’m saying is if you want a stress free wedding day, you’ll need to take the time and effort now to create a timeline that allows for that. 

Take a moment to imagine the opposite scenario: you wake up on your wedding day feeling rested and excited. Soon, you are meeting your best friends and it is time to start getting ready! If you are a bride, you’re getting your hair and makeup done while you sip mimosas. If you’re a groom you are grabbing some breakfast sandwiches with your boys before you start to get ready. You have time to relax and have fun with your wedding party. Nothing feels rushed or hectic. When the time comes to put on your gown and your tux, everyone who needs to be there is ready and present fully in the moment. Later, when it is time to see your future spouse, you aren’t worried about whether or not the centerpieces are out or whether the flowers are ready at the ceremony site. All you are thinking is how excited you are to finally be with the one you love. When it comes time for family portraits, all of your family meets in the same location and is ready to go! I could keep going but i think you get the picture- a beautiful and perfect wedding day is in your reach if you plan out a thoughtful timeline. 

Wedding Timelines Should be Started ASAP

Now that you know how important a thought out timeline is to having a wedding day full of ease and joy, let’s talk about when you should start planning your timeline. 

We suggest starting your timeline once you have your date set. It’s as simple as that! If you have your date, even big decisions like your venue or your photographer can really be minor tweaks to a timeline. When you start your timeline at the beginning of wedding planning, YOU get to be the decision maker. You get to be in control of when you want to get ready, how much time you want to have for a cocktail hour, and so on. When you plan your timeline early, you get to build your timeline off of your needs and wants for your wedding day, rather than working around other people’s needs and wants. 

If you wait too long, you’ll find yourself building your timeline based on others: when your hair and makeup artist likes to arrive, when your venue likes to have the ceremony start, when your caterer likes to serve dinner. If you have already thought about what an ideal wedding day would look like to you, you can seek out vendors who are willing to accommodate your vision! Now, I do want to note that your vendors are the experts in their field. Don’t hesitate to ask them to look over your timeline, or to give you suggestions about what would be best. Give them the details about what you envision and why you are hoping to have the timeline be a certain way, and then trust their expertise if they notice areas that could use a change. 

Know that your timeline will remain fluid literally until the wedding day. There will be changes along the way- big changes and little changes- and that is ok! Your timeline will change as you plan, book vendors, and put together the pieces of your dream. The important thing is to have a plan for how you will start this process and how you will continue to build on it as you keep planning your wedding day!

First Steps to Starting Your Wedding Timeline

At the beginning stages of wedding planning, it can seem so overwhelming. It’s SO hard to know where to start! A wedding timeline can feel really overwhelming, especially if you haven’t nailed down other big details like photographer, florist, caterer, and on! But I promise you, taking these first few steps will help you to communicate with those other vendors in a way that creates a beautiful wedding day timeline that is seamless and stress free. So what are the first steps to planning a wedding day timeline? 

Most people struggle with where to start. I always start by checking the time of sunset and nailing down the ceremony time. In my experience, these have been the easiests steps to begin with because they are the times that are most set in stone. In some cases, generally if you are getting married at a church, your ceremony space will have a set time for your service that cannot be altered. The sunset time is incredibly helpful to know so that you can ensure any photos taken in natural light are taken during the best possible times. 

Start by looking up the time of sunset on your wedding day. Photographers call the hour before sunset “golden hour.” It is one of the most beautiful times for photography, so if I were you I would write the time of sunset down and subtract an hour and block out that time for sunset portraits with you and your partner.

Next, block out your ceremony time. If you aren’t sure when to schedule your ceremony or if you have not yet booked your ceremony venue, don’t fear! This is actually a great time for you to consider what would be the most ideal ceremony time for you and your partner. In order to get a clearer idea about what would be the perfect ceremony time for you and your own needs, think about these questions: 

First: are you going to be doing a first look? Cody and I have talked about first looks multiple times, and we even have an entire episode about how choosing whether or not to do a first look should be one of the first things you decide as a couple. Check out Episode #4 in order to hear us guide you through your decision making! If you haven’t decided yet, simply start to create two timelines: one in which you and your partner have a first look and one where you do not. 

In the timeline with the first look, you will be able to have your ceremony later in the day, because many of your portraits will have already been taken earlier in the day! Since you have both seen each other at the first look, you can have all of your wedding party and family portraits done before the ceremony! 

In the timeline without a first look, you’ll want to plan for an earlier ceremony time. You will need to leave enough time for the full wedding party portraits, family portraits, and husband and wife portraits after the ceremony. This is why it is super important to know when the sun is setting on your wedding day. If you don’t, you may not end up leaving yourself adequate time for portraits in good light! 

The second thing you need to consider in order to decide what ceremony time would be best for your ceremony is your venue spaces. Is there a change in venue between the ceremony and the reception? You will want to consider any travel time between ceremony and reception venue and how that will affect the time that guests will arrive at the reception and when dinner will be served. In the case that there is going to be a change of location, you might want to first decide what time you would like dinner to be served and then work backwards to find your perfect ceremony time. 

Once you’ve nailed down the ceremony time, work backwards and forwards from that key moment. There are many factors, but starting with one at a time and working from there will help you to have a thought out timeline! Be sure to check out our show notes from this episode. I’m including an exclusive timeline cheat sheet which will show you exactly how much time to estimate for each section of your wedding day! Look for the link at the bottom of this post!

Don’t Forget to Plan for Buffer Time in Your Wedding Timeline!

One of the biggest tips I have that pertains to wedding timelines is about the magic of buffer time. Buffer time is extra time that you add into your wedding day timeline, simply as a safe measure for any unplanned situations that pop up on your actual wedding day! 

Build in buffer time. I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it stronger: BUILD IN BUFFER TIME. I can’t stress it enough. Things will come up on your wedding day that you didn’t plan. Time will fly by and you will wonder if everything will be ready, if all your photos will be captured, if your ceremony will start on time. Build in 10-15 minutes more than what you really need for each section of your day, and you will ensure that even when something unexpected happens you will still be able to have a peaceful day!

For instance, if the travel time from your getting ready location to your first look location is 5 minutes, allot 15 minutes to get there in your timeline. If your makeup artist estimates it will take 45 minutes to do your makeup, allot an hour. All of this little time will add up as it is spread out across your day, and that is a good thing! Your wedding day involves so many different people and places. Things can go very wrong or moods can turn sour when there isn’t enough time allotted for each portion of the day. You don’t want to be stuck checking the time on your phone every 5 minutes as you are getting the finishing touches of your makeup. You don’t want to have less time for wedding party photos because your groomsmen who couldn’t find his matching socks caused the group to be late. 

The bottom line is this- you can’t plan for all the minor little hiccups that will happen on your wedding day. But you can plan buffer time so that when they do happen, you won’t even realize it! You will still feel at ease and joyful because your timeline has extra buffer time built in for these exact scenarios. 

Create a Backup Plan 

My last tip for beginning your wedding timeline planning is this: begin to create a backup plan. In normal wedding day scenarios, backup plans help you to prepare for how you will respond to a major change in your wedding day. For instance, a rain/poor weather backup plan. 

Regardless of whether you are planning to have your ceremony or reception outside, you likely are hoping to capture some photos outside. Don’t forget to think about what will happen if the weather is less than ideal on your wedding day. 

Now, since you are in the first steps of wedding planning, this doesn’t need to be a huge detailed plan! Simply think of a rough outline of what your day would be like if the weather was poor. For example, Cody and I got married at a barn venue. We knew we wanted to have the ceremony outside and the reception inside the barn. At the beginning of our timeline planning we thought through the backup plan of having our ceremony in the barn. We knew that we would need to allot extra time between the ceremony and the reception, because there would need to be enough time for the space to be flipped. We knew we would need to think about possible covered spaces for portraits or backup locations that were indoors. Finding options for your backup plan will help you to remain calm and organized if anything is to change. If you find yourself in the situation where your backup plan is needed, you will be so glad that you made these hard decisions in advance!

I want to make a note for any brides who are currently planning their wedding in the midst of the corona virus pandemic. We have heard from so many vendors and brides that creating multiple backup plans has helped keep them sane and prepared during this unpredictable time. In this case, your backup plan will likely be centered around how many guests you can invite. So talk about it as a couple and decide- will we still have our celebration if only 10 people can come? What if only 50 people can come? If the answer is yes, start to draft those guests lists and think about how you will inform guests of the change. If the answer is no, decide whether or not you will reschedule your date for the future and plan for how you will split the load of contacting your vendors and guests in order to facilitate that change! 

All in all, things won’t go exactly as planned on your wedding day. Having a backup plan in place will help you to be prepared for any major changes. Having a backup plan will help you to make sure that the focus of the day stays the same as what you originally planned- to get married to the one you love! 

Go Ahead and Start Planning Your Wedding Timeline!

I hope that this episode has given you the tools you need in order to have a stress free wedding day. Timelines are such an important part of a wedding day, and as the bride you play a key role in creating the day you’ve always dreamed of! If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe or follow and follow along! A new episode airs each Monday, helping you plan a stress free wedding day while cultivating a marriage that thrives! Have an awesome week!

Click here to download your Free Wedding Timeline Cheat Sheet!


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