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No one said planning a wedding would be easy. But that doesn't mean it has to take over every free minute. Follow our advice to minimize the stress, keep your inner bridezilla at bay, and still have time for your fiance, your friends, your family—and yourself.
A wedding us a huge project, but it doesn't have to consume your life. "If I ruled the universe, every bride would spend a lot more time enjoying being in love than obsessing about having the 'perfect' party," says Karen Bussen, a New York City planner. The secret to maintaining balance? Prioritize, manage your time wisely, and make sure "having fun" is at the top of your to-do list.
Add, don't subtract. Instead of beginning the planning process with a complete vision of your dream celebration, start with what's absolutely essential—a license, an officiant, a venue&mdashand build from there, says Stever Robbins, a Boston executive coach. This strategy will help you stay focused and stop you from getting caught up in elaborate, time-intensive details that you may have to cut out later.
Prioritize. Sit down with your fiance and come up with individual lists of your top five priorities for the big day. Swap them, compare, and discuss any items that don't overlap. Then hammer out your five must-haves as a couple. "Think of the final list as a decision-making guide—you should put most of your time and money where your priorities are," says Bussen, author of Simple Stunning Wedding Organizer.
"It's okay to break rules. It's okay to not please everybody," says event planner Shawn Rabideau, who famously planned Bethenny Frankel's New York wedding in four weeks. Some of his favorite time-savers: nixing a sit-down rehearsal dinner in favor of a cocktail party, skipping the Sunday brunch, and eliminating the bridal party. "Finding a bridesmaids' dress that pleases everyone can be a huge headache," he says.
Create a wedding-only e-mail account. "With a separate account, you can log on when you have time to devote to the celebration, instead of getting distracted at work whenever a wedding-related e-mail message pops up on your screen," says Bussen. "And when the wedding's over, you'll be able to walk away from all the spam."
Budget first, shop later. Don't start your to-dos until you know how much you can spend, says Rabideau: "It's a waste of time for you and your vendors." To arrive at an overall figure, add up your contributions and those of your families, keeping in mind that most couples spend about 10 percent more than their original budget.
Perfect the art of the list. Map out the months leading up to "I do," then work backward, breaking up each project into small, actionable chunks. "Do simple division: If you have to get two hundred invitations done in ten days, you need to get twenty done per day," says Robbins.
Avoid the temptation to multitask. You may feel busier when you're doing multiple things at once, but you'll actually get less done. "All the research says we're less productive when we split our attention," says Robbins. "You'll also feel a sense of accomplishment if you complete one job before moving on to the next."
Keep your wedding out of the workplace. Limit Web-surfing to your lunch hour, so you can go home on time. And try not to spend a lot of time blathering on about your celebration. Higher-ups will wonder if you're spending more time on invitations than on your job, and some of your colleagues may start avoiding you entirely.
If you can, hire a wedding coordinator. Not only will she take much of the work off your shoulders, but she'll be able to use her relationships with vendors to secure discounts. In some cases, the savings may even cover her fee. "If you can't afford a long-term planner, get one for the last four to six weeks," says Bussen.
Or consider a destination wedding. Marrying far from home reduces your ability to obsess over tiny details, gives you permission to shrink your guest list, and—if you're marrying at a hotel&mdashmay grant you access to a complimentary on-site planner, who can handle all the logistics while you're tending to life at home.
Use one vendor many ways. Fewer contracts means less wrangling, says Bussen, and vendors often give discounts for scaling up. Hire a single stationer to handle your save-the-dates, invitations, programs, and thank-you notes; choose one caterer for the rehearsal, wedding, and brunch; and pick a band whose musicians can headline the ceremony, cocktail hour, and party.
Book time with friends and family. Scheduling date nights with your fiance, outings with the girls, and time with your parents will give you a break from the wedding and make you more efficient. "Knowing you have a place to be at six o'clock will help you get more done faster," Robbins says.
Bring your besties on vendor visits. To get additional face time with your friends, ask interested parties to join you on cake tastings, florist visits, shopping trips—anything your groom can't or doesn't want to participate in. One caveat: Too many opinions can be distracting, so be selective about whom you invite.
Store your stuff in the cloud. Thanks to free planning tools like the ones on Google (google.com/weddings), designated VIPs like your parents can access your budget, guest list, and seating chart from their phones without having to bug you for updates.
Create a FAQ tab on your website. "It's an easy way to answer routine queries, like where you're registered and how to get to the ceremony," says Bussen.
Take care of yourself. You may feel as if you don't have time for a hot-yoga class, but that just means you need it all the more, says Bussen. Exercise and healthy eating help you stay focused, while reducing stress and irritability.
But don't go overboard. "Many brides fixate on losing a lot of weight or making other extreme self-improvements," says Bussen. While moderate exercise can boost well-being, drastic calorie-cutting and hard-core workouts can drain energy—and potentially lead to extra alterations come dress-fitting time.
Give wedding talk a break. There's nothing less sexy than a seating-chart discussion, so appoint certain times (after 9 p.m., say) and places (like your bedroom) as planning-free zones.
Say no to perfectionism. Spending months hunting down napkins in a specific shade of teal may not be the best use of your time. "Don't get caught up in the small things," says Rabideau. Concentrate on details that will impact your guests' experience and create lasting memories.
Enjoy the process. Don't become such a slave to time management that you miss out on the joy of wedding-planning completely. Allow yourself to linger on the aspects you care about most: Go to a zillion cake tastings if you have a sweet tooth; take weeks to design custom invites if you're a paper snob; salon-hop to your heart's delight in search of The Dress. It's your wedding, so it's your call.