So you've booked your resort package...picked your hotel, ticket and dining options as well as planned your transportation, now you have to sort out a schedule. Disney is not a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of place (not that any place is so for an OCD).
Parks are open at different times on different days, there is the Extra Magic Hours to consider, if it's during a party night the Magic Kingdom closes at 7 (Mickey's Not So Scary or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas), during the Food and Wine Festival there are special events on specific days. Then there are events in the parks every day, parades, stage shows, and fireworks that happen at specific times. You need to know these things before booking your dining reservations.
The window between when you have to fix your schedule and book your 180 plus 10 dining ressies is very small...the park schedule is released only days before your dining window comes up. This is why the scheduling time is the most stressful part of trip planning. You can use the previous years schedule as a guide until the new hours are released, but you can't count on it. And even when you plan the perfect schedule, booking your dining plans can completely screw you.
There are plenty of online sources that provide menus of the Disney restaurants, so by the time scheduling comes around, you should have a good handle on where you want to eat. Disney is not the kind of place you decide that day where you want to eat, or you will definitely be eating counter service and NOT in a restaurant, they book up months in advance. I don't get it when people say "I won't know what I want to eat until that day, so how can I book 180 + 10 days ahead of schedule?". I don't think of it that way, I think of it as, "Yea! We get to eat at Le Cellier on Tuesday!". It's not like your day to day life where you can get into your local Red Lobster after a 30 minute wait. You have to think of it as you're planning to eat at the most exclusive restaurant that you've waited months to get into.
Thankfully, Disney no longer allows you to book more than one reservation for a particular time slot, they make you cancel one before you book another (and if you somehow manage to sneak under the radar, they will catch it and cancel both). They used to have a very lax system when it came to ressies. People would book two or three ressies for the same time under that same ole pretense, "I don't know where I want to eat that far in advance" with the added moniker of "so I book several places so I have options". Thing about that is, double or triple booking prevents someone else from getting in since there is a limited amount of ressies for any given time. To say this is unfair and rude is an understatement and I'm so glad it's done!
You've done your research, so you know what is going on in every park on every day of your trip, you've picked out your restaurants, and you've bought your party tickets. Your personal schedule WILL fall into place. I usually end up with three or four workable schedules and the outcome of the dining ressies determines which one becomes "the one".
But you still have to keep an eye out on everything, park schedules change, EMH change, and you have to be ready to adapt. Certain dining ressies can be adjusted, but plan carefully and make sure there is an opening before you cancel your current ressie or you might loose both.
Next is just to wait it out till time arrives! There are a couple of pre-trip things that have to be taken care of, but I'll safe that for part 7, the final chapter in this series!