Notes of things that went well (that might help). You can see what we did and steal anything that does float your boat.
A few things about our situation:
- We were planning a wedding thousands of miles away from either family, so finding ways to keep our families included and in-the-know was key.
- We were open to hiring a wedding planner but ended up with a phenomenal coordinator at our venue who took care of a lot of variables. I think event planners are a great help to many, but this all represents planning a wedding without a professional planner.
- My husband and I both had little idea what was involved in planning a wedding. We learned a lot through this process.
Step 1: Starting Off: One Binder to Rule Them All
We did this from the start and it was a huge help. Every time we got something wedding related, it went into the binder. If we made a decision (booked a caterer, for example) we could take the other caterer info out of the binder. It was really convenient and in the end, it’s where we kept the marriage license and a few other things that needed to come up with us to the wedding.
Plus, binders are awesome.
We put engagement cards we received in the front and back sleeves in case we needed a reminder about the reason behind the work :-)
Step 2: Starting Off: Finding the Right Guides (and Avoiding the Rest)
Be careful with where to go for advice on planning. (I realize that's a funny thing to post here.) On some sites, there's a sense that you’re constantly behind and that there’s a secret group of brides with weddings the same day as you who are somehow ‘ahead’ of you and that it matters. Weddingwire.com offers the same tools with much less stress. Here are the tools we used:
- Wedding website. Nice templates, easy-to-use plug-ins, and a lot of the leg work is done for you.
- Checklist. We didn’t follow this to a T and we did delete a lot of things that weren’t relevant to us, but it was handy to have a comprehensive list of things that needed to be done and broken down into the month you should do them. If you don’t check them off, they roll into the next month and you keep doing your thing.
- Budget. This was good because we had no idea what our overall budget should be or how we should expect to break down those costs. We didn’t agree with all of their estimations (apparently I value pampering quite a bit less than the average bride and plywood a good deal more…) but it was helpful.
- Recommendations. Some of the vendors we found were through weddingwire and the recommendations there are usually better thought out than yelp tends to be.
Step 3: Starting Off: Managing Your Own to Do List
We used a tool that no longer exists called do.com. Other tools out there today, like Asana, offer similar functionality.
Here's a breakdown of how we used this tool:
It’s a simple, lightweight to-do list that lets you change ownership over tasks, comment on them, share links, track deadlines, and it works on desktop and mobile so we could write things out at home and then have them on our phones to check off while we were out. The bigger learning for us here was that my husband really wanted to help but didn’t know what there was to do and what he could help with. When we started, I put the braindump of tasks for the next 30 or so days into do.com and my husband would pick up tasks as he could do them (hotel blocks, wedding website, etc.). By the end, he was managing our do.com checklist and adding tasks. This was a good way to communicate for us and helped him feel empowered in the process instead of me constantly asking, ‘Hey – did you do that thing?’ Regardless of what tool or method you use, there comes a point when there are just so many details to manage that you want to have a central place to track things so that when you have the fleeting thought, you put it there and let your head relax. We would use weddingwire as a way to make sure we were on top of tasks and do.com was the source of truth.
(Since the tool no longer exists, I took a screenshot of one of the old emails. In this case, we decided that we wanted to look into ground transportation but only after we figured out what hotels we were going to use for room blocks.)
Step 4: To Ease You In: Google Docs (To Keep Familes in the Loop)
We started a google word doc to share photos with our parents on venues, caterers, and other vendors so we could include our thoughts and links to their website all in one place. We had a separate google spreadsheet for our guest list. This was massively helpful. It gave our parents a chance to tell us who we forgot to invite and also we just shared the link with each of them when it was time to add mailing addresses for the invitations. We also included a few columns to estimate how likely they were to attend (just for headcount/budget purposes) and then a separate column when we did hear from them if they were coming or not. When the RSVP deadline came along, we just poked our parents and told them who we hadn’t heard from who was supposed to come and they followed up.
We’ve made a separate copy for just us to track Thank Yous, so we can use the same spreadsheet but our parents don’t need to see.
Step 5: The Home Stretch: Implementation Plan
Thanks to my husband, we did a lot of organizational work within the last month. The truth here is that we weren’t sure where people’s emotions would be for the days leading up to the wedding and certainly on the day itself, so we wanted to leave the emotional parts unplanned and plan the heck out of the logistics so no one would be stressed about the details.
A few things that worked really well:
‘Implementation plan’. My husband started keeping a list of all the things we needed to keep track of and time on a spreadsheet. In the corresponding matching square, the action that was to happen to that object at that time was listed. For instance, one of them was ‘wedding rings’ and my husband listed when they would be given to my brother, when my brother would give them to the pastor (that was during the ceremony) and then that they were done. This was really helpful since we had to manage most things ourselves and had alcohol coming in from various places, guest book, photos, wooden things, etc. and we didn’t want to worry. It also helped us see who was free at various times to know who we could ask to pitch in.
Step 6: The Home Stretch: Family Photo List
We cranked through our family photos in record time, mostly because we had a list of all the photos we wanted and who was in each photo. My new sister-in-law was the lead wrangler and she just needed to know what to do and then could look to see who was missing. We optimized to get the little kids done first and the biggest family shots out of the way at the beginning. By the time we got to just our immediate families, everyone was so happy with how quickly things were going that we could do more impromptu shots of ‘oh, now let’s get just these 3, then those 5’ and so on. But we listed out all the ones we knew we had to get so we didn’t have the moment of forgetting to include certain relatives.
Step 7: Wedded Bliss!
These organizational pieces made things go smoothly for us! We spent our engagement building fun wedding related projects and learning how to tackle a big project together. Hopefully these lessons will serve us well for other undertakings and will help you, too!
Good luck on planning your own event :-)