(Disclosure: this post was created in collaboration with Paperless Post; all opinions are my own.)

Take the stress out of party planning (and save more time for the main event) with these six tips to keep you organized and on time, from the first invite to the final thank-you note.

I don’t know why, but there’s just something about the holiday season that suddenly makes me want to entertain. Maybe it’s the Pinterest-worthy decor ideas I find online, or the drool-worthy themed menus in my favorite magazines. Whatever it is, I’ve suddenly got the urge to celebrate, and I know I’m not the only one, which means it’s time to start planning! After all, it’s nearly October! (I know, I can’t believe how fast this year has flown by, either!)

As much as we all love browsing ideas online and Pinning our perfect parties, if you’ve ever played hostess IRL, then you know a perfect party takes more than a great slow-cooker cider recipe and some hand-painted pumpkins. It takes planning! From managing your invite list to post-party thank you notes, a little organization goes a long way to ensuring your fete goes off without a hitch. Here are six tips to take the stress out of party planning and let you enjoy the event itself.

Streamline your invites with an online service.

I’m old-school: I’m all about the personalized note, rather than an impersonal email. (And please, don’t even get me started on Facebook invites.) Personalized invitation cards not only add charm to your party, they help make the event stand out. However, if you’re like me, you probably don’t want to waste time and energy purchasing, writing, and mailing invitations–not to mention the expense and eco footprint of all those paper cards!

Online services like Paperless Post make it easy to customize beautiful invitations that arrive in your guests’ email, and feature a handy online tracking system for RSVPs and reminders. You get all the beauty of old-fashioned invitations in a digital format that saves you time and money, and is kinder to Mother Earth—a triple win!

Write it all out.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper girl or love your phone apps, write down the details as you plan so they aren’t forgotten, and use checklists or automatic reminders to stay organized. Make a shopping list so you aren’t dashing to the store at the last minute, mark any deadlines for services like catering, and note any important info that needs to be considered while planning (like a guest’s food allergies). Nothing ruins party planning like the stress of forgotten details!

Make it easy for guests to plan accordingly.

Should they bring a plus-one? Kids? A dish to share? Will you be hosting dinner at a set time or are you serving drinks and hors d’oeuvres throughout the duration? It’s surprising how many hostesses plan elaborate parties but neglect to inform their guests of these important details! Your guests need to do some party planning of their own, so if there’s anything they need to know before RSVPing, make sure it’s included in the invitation.

Decide ahead of time what to do with children.

Some parents feel the worst hostesses are those who forbid children from attending. As someone who’s juggled kids at parties, I respectfully disagree: that title is reserved for those who don’t have a plan for their pint-sized guests! The parents just end up juggling bored, unhappy kids instead of enjoying the party. You need to decide ahead of time if you’re hosting an adults-only affair, and if not, you need to have a plan for any kiddos who may arrive.

Depending on how you plan your event, kids might be mingling with the adults or might spend some time to themselves at the edge of the party. Some kids are shy or would just be more entertained away from the adults. You don’t have to plan an entire line-up of separate activities; you could simply keep a box of kid-friendly games, coloring books, and the like on hand for smaller guests. If you have the space, you can set up kids in a corner or spare bedroom where they can entertain themselves away from the chaos of the main event. Also keep your menu in mind: a few kid-friendly options and mocktails will ensure no one gets hangry halfway through!

Schedule, but have a Plan B.

Nothing is more awkward (for guests and hostesses alike!) than a party with no clear start or end time. When you print the event time on your invitations, make sure it’s clear if there’s a schedule of events, or if you’re hosting an open-house style party where guests can come and go. When it’s time to wind down for the night, you can turn music down and lights up as a subtle signal that the party is at its end.

And remember, have a Plan B in case something doesn’t go as planned. Whether dinner comes out of the oven burnt or weather ruins an outdoor event, delays and “oops” come up, but grace, humor, and an alternative can save the day.

Follow up with your guests to let them know you had a blast!

Anyone who’s thrown a party and then sat down to write thank you notes for guests knows this can feel like a bigger chore than the party planning itself! Make it easy on yourself: when you create and send those digital invites, pick out some pretty matching thank you cards to send after the event.

Do you have any tips to make party planning less stressful? How do you keep everything organized? Any apps you love for planning on the go? Leave a comment and let me know!

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