Developing Time Management Habits with Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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TBT 68 | Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Flooded with emails? Suffocated with too many meetings? A lot can definitely relate to this constant worry, which is frequently tripped up with swamped work. When everything is necessary, it is undeniably hard to prioritize which one comes first and takes your time. All of this pressure leads to one solution – time management. Founder and CEO of Real Life E® and named as one of the World’s Top 30 Time Management Professionals, Elizabeth Grace Saunders unquestionably got this covered as she breaks down the challenges people face with time management and how to deal with it one at a time. Elizabeth also gives some effective strategies in prioritizing meetings and answering emails.

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Developing Time Management Habits with Elizabeth Grace Saunders

I’m super excited to have Elizabeth Saunders. She is the Founder and CEO of Real Life E, a time coaching company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She was named one of the world’s Top 30 Time Management Professionals. McGraw Hill published her first book, The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review published her second book, How to Invest Your Time Like Money and FaithWords published her third book, Divine Time Management. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox News. Welcome, Elizabeth.
Thank you, I’m delighted to be here.
I wanted to share the story of what happened when we first met. I had messed up something with the schedule and was late to our interview. People see us, “You’re the time management people,” and they’re constantly struggling with their own idea of perfection. I wanted to talk about the fact that we’re not perfect. What do we do when something like that happens? How do we accept it and let it go and not expect perfection from ourselves? When I was late to our call, I owned it and said, “I’m sorry and I apologize for being late.” I also recognize for myself what emotion was coming up. What was the thought on your side? Were you expecting perfection from me? How did you help the situation in terms of we’re not perfect and letting things go?
I had dialed in and it was my first time getting to know you. I meet new people all the time, so I’m used to rolling with things. I’m a time management coach but I don’t expect perfection of people. I totally understand that things happen, meetings run long and it’s all good. For about the first five minutes or so when I was waiting, I was like, “She’s probably wrapping something up.” Once I hit about the five to ten-minute mark, the thoughts that go through my head, particularly when I don’t know someone are, “Are they coming? What’s happening?” I had sent you an email and I forwarded the confirmation of our time and said, “Are we still on? I’m waiting but I don’t know if we need to reschedule.”
You emailed back right away and you were like, “I apologize about the schedule.” The time worked out perfect because I was about to hop off and you’re done. It all worked out in terms of us meeting up. In regard to the lessons learned, you did a great job of owning it saying, “This is what I did. This is what happened.” I tend to be very understanding. The only time it’s hard on me is when people don’t even apologize. They don’t even acknowledge it. One little tip I’ll share that I unpacked with one of my coaching clients in regard to apologies and being able to own what you did. People that have an overdeveloped sense of guilt often struggle to apologize as much as people who have no guilt at all. If you pulverize yourself and think you’re a horrible person if you did something wrong, a lot of times you won’t apologize. That seems admitting that you’re terrible, horrible failure.
That makes it worse. That makes other people think, “You not only stood me up or you’re late but you’re a jerk.” You come across horrible versus someone that is in the center and recognizes that no one’s perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes. It doesn’t make me a horrible person. It doesn’t make me horrible at time management. It’s human. You can own it. You can say, “I’m sorry, mea culpa, my fault,” and let’s move on. As the person receiving that, it’s our responsibility to accept the apology if we’re willing to do that, which is usually good idea and then move on. We don’t need to make them pay for it or keep bringing it up. It is what it is and move on to the next thing. When you’re in situation like that, you’re not a horrible, terrible person. You’re human and it happens to everyone. You can learn from it but it’s good to apologize and then everyone moves on because it’s not worth dwelling on.
It’s interesting the tip that you gave that people who have this oversense of guilt would not apologize because it’s an avoidance. It’s procrastination of ownership. It’s interesting because we’re human. If we don’t check in and be aware and conscious of our reactions and our responses in what’s going on, we can easily self-sabotage ourselves like that. Certainly, nobody does that on purpose.
People that have an overdeveloped sense of guilt often struggle to apologize as much as people who have no guilt at all. Click To Tweet It’s not on purpose. What I noticed when I was unpacking it with one of my coaching clients in regard to procrastination around email. There was an email from someone. It was a professional email that was important to him. He had procrastinated on responding to you because he wasn’t quite sure how to respond. That made him feel worse because he was like, “I wasn’t sure how to respond. It’s been two weeks and I should have responded and they’re following up with me.” He was avoiding it more and we worked together on drafting the email. When he first drafted the email in response to this message he’d been procrastinating on, he didn’t even say he was sorry. He didn’t even voice that he was interested in collaborating and working with this other person.
I was like, “If you want to have any professional relationship last, you can’t blow those off and act like you didn’t do something wrong. You better be very explicit that you want an ongoing relationship because the way you acted, you basically ignored them. They’re going to assume that you don’t want to work together ever.” We worked on re-doing the email and he ended up apologizing, “I’m sorry for my lack of follow through,” explaining why he had had a lack of follow through because of some busy projects at work. Complimenting the person on their follow-up skills and ending up by saying, “I’d love to continue the discussion and I promise to be more responsive.” He did that and he felt good about it and they were very understanding. It was fascinating because his initial gut impulse was to not apologize, to not put himself out there because he felt so horribly bad about how he had avoided that email before.
What I like that I heard you said was he followed it up with a commitment of how he’s going to show up in the future. That’s part of ownership too. Nobody’s perfect. It’s so much easier to accept when somebody also makes that commitment to say, “You can count on me in the future. This was a one-time, it’s not a regular thing.”
When I was starting my first business, I’ve been doing time management coaching for ten years. Prior to that, I was in magazine journalism and I started at a very young age. One of my mottos was, “Do your best. Make it right. Learn for next time.” Do your best to be on time and to deliver on time. Make it right and if you screw up, apologize. Do what you can to make it happen and then learn for next time. You better make a note of like, “I need to work on this earlier. I need to remember this detail or ask this question so that it gets better.” As long as you’re in that place of humility and openness to growth, whether it’s with your time management or tasks, people do appreciate it. We can all learn, support and grow together.
When I unpacked how I deal with that and how I let go of things, I have to recognize what emotion is coming up for me. Sometimes it helps you to make a connection with somebody. I’m embarrassed or I try to acknowledge what that emotion is and say, “That’s fine,” and then like meditation. You can let that then roll off and appreciate that’s what you felt. You can also connect with people because maybe they can remember an experience. It doesn’t have to only be from being late for something. It can be anything, procrastination of an email or anything. It’s acknowledging what emotionally was going on that might have been in the way as well. People are receptive to that too because it connects you emotionally to them.
It allows you to be gracious with others because we all make mistakes. I am grateful, it’s not like I go around trying to be late for things all the time or forget things all the time. It doesn’t happen often but every once in a while, it does. I’m grateful because it keeps you humble and it keeps you from being judgmental of other people, “I have my act together. Why can’t you?” We all need grace. We all need forgiveness to both give it and receive it and it is okay not to be perfect. It’s more fun that way.
We have to love ourselves for our imperfections. I always say that progress is perfect. Going along with what you said, that motto. As long as we are making progress and we are learning and we’re being the best version of ourselves, then that’s perfect. Is there anything else that you want to share around letting go? An important part of time management strategies is letting go of what you can’t get to and of mistakes.
I have had the privilege of starting to write for the New York Times. I’ve had a couple of articles that have already come out and I have an article that will be coming out in the future. It’s on time management regret. One of the reasons I felt very passionate about writing the article was that I see many people that get stuck. They feel so badly about the mistakes they’ve made in the past that they have such a strong approach-avoidance that they don’t move forward. Whether it’s a project that they’ve been meaning to do whether it’s maybe getting their hours more in order at work, setting boundaries or whatever it is. They feel so badly about the past that they don’t take the action they could to move forward. I want to encourage people in regard to their time management. The only way out is through. The only way you’re going to feel better is when you open those emails that freak you out and reply. When you look at that project that you should have done months ago and you haven’t, and you start doing something on it. I know it’s scary. I know it makes you feel bad in the short term but long term, that’s what’s going to lead to the life that you want to live.
The only way out is through. That’s important for people to take away. That’s a great extra tip there on top of that point. Let’s shift to some other challenges that you see most coming up with time management. What do you see is one of the biggest challenges that people face that we can share some tips around?

One of the biggest challenges people face is overwhelmed. That’s overwhelmed in number of different areas. Two key ones are overwhelmed in terms of the number of different commitments that they have, either personally or professionally and then overwhelmed in terms of the amount of inputs. The amount of things coming at them through apps, email or any sort of technology thing. Those are two big areas, the overcommitment, the overwhelming tasks, and the overwhelming input that are huge for people.
Let’s pick them apart first. What about too many commitments?
In regard to too many commitments, it’s important for people to acknowledge how much the world has changed and how much work has changed. There are always some jobs where you had a lot of different things coming at you. Traditionally, especially in the past but not too long ago, a lot more jobs were much clear cut in terms of the hours that you worked, when you worked, where you worked, what you got done, what was expected in a day. With a lot more virtual workers, a lot more knowledgeable workers, a lot more technology, all of those boundaries are decimated if you don’t take time to set those boundaries. The first thing I always recommend clients do in terms of task overwhelm is to start to get a sense of their weekly schedule.
If coaching clients work with me, then I put this together for them. If someone wants to do this on their own in my second book, How To Invest Your Time Like Money, I talked through a process of going through this. What we started out is with a macro level view of what are all those things that you have in your life personally and professionally that you’re trying to fit into a week. Maybe it’s recurring meetings, tasks that you need to do in a week, exercise time with your family, sleep and personal hobbies, whatever it is. What are all those different things and do they even fit? Sometimes when people tell me all the things they want to do, particularly entrepreneurs, and I try to put them in a weekly schedule, they literally don’t fit. It’s like, “I don’t know where you thought this was going but it’s definitely not going in your schedule.”
Do you think people are trying to do too much because they’re trying so hard to find that “balance?” Do you think that’s what’s driving part of that? Why do people take on too many commitments and try to pack too much in?
In my experience, it’s because they’re not aware of the time costs associated with them. Let’s say you have an hour-long meeting. An hour-long meeting is probably more like at least an hour and a half of your time between getting ready for the meeting, maybe walking to the meeting, prep, wrap up. It’s an hour and a half of your time. That’s a chunk of time. Answering email, even if you’re quite efficient it’s common for it to take an hour or two a day. That’s a chunk of your time. Going to exercise, even if I’m swimming in the pool for 30 to 45 minutes, that’s closer to an hour and fifteen or an hour and a half, between getting ready, getting there, all that good stuff.
It is okay not to be perfect. It's more fun that way. Click To Tweet People aren’t aware of the time costs associated with when they do. They’re not looking at the fact that you have a time budget of let’s say eight, nine hours in a day, maybe more. When you have three-hour-long meetings, you’re looking at about four and a half hours of your day. If we have an eight-hour day with about three and a half more hours, then you have an hour or two for email. That leaves you with about one and a half hours. You’ve got one and a half hours left to try to get a project done or to get other tasks done. That’s not that much time. You need to be thinking carefully about what meetings you’re saying yes to and what you’re saying you to. You need to be thinking about how much time you’re willing to spend an email and what can I realistically do in a day with the amount of time that I’ve gone.
I’m a total believer in taking a step back and looking at the big picture like that. That’s the way I approach it for myself and also support others in that. What I hear a lot and maybe you hear this too, for the typical office worker, they’re like, “I don’t have the ability to say no to these meetings.” They feel like they’re always behind the eight ball because they have their goals and everything. They also have to work around all of the demands of the meetings that they’re requested to be at. How do you support people in addressing that topic?
There are a few different answers to that question and part of it depends on what level of the organization that you’re at. I recognize that you do need to be sensitive to that factor. Depending on what the meetings are and where you’re at in terms of the management team, you can sometimes have more or less ability to say no. With that being said, I’ll share a few tips. One is when and where you can block out time for yourself in advance. It’s very common for my coaching clients to block out a couple of chunks of time. Maybe two afternoons a week, where they have the time free for a couple of hours so that they can work on project work. Maybe blocking their schedule so that meetings aren’t scheduled before 9:00 AM. They’ve got the first hour or hour-and-a-half a day to work on their own things. Setting up rules depending on the calendaring system. With some calendaring systems, you can set up rules to not have meetings at certain times a day or even have certain gaps between meetings. It gives you a chance to go to the bathroom. That’s one thing, without you actually saying no, you’re saying no because you’re trying to make your schedule busy or block it to give yourself space. That’s one way.
It’s to take control where you can. It’s so easy to fall into the excuse and the trap of saying, “I don’t have any control over this.” What you’re saying is important is take control of what you can. If you plan it ahead of time, then you have more control than you think.
You’re being proactive so then people are working around your schedule. It’s not that you won’t meet with them but maybe you won’t meet with them now or maybe you won’t even meet with them this week. What you’re doing is you’re controlling the flow of meetings and having the amount of time you’re investing in meetings each week, be the pace that works for you instead of as quickly as possible. That’s one strategy. Another strategy is there are a lot of times, depending on the type of meeting and depending on your position, where you actually can say no where there’s a redundancy like multiple people on your team and it’s not getting any additional value. You can ask for the update notes afterwards. Do a quick update chat with your direct report to see what happens. Sometimes you can have meetings be shorter. Instead of a meeting being 90 minutes long, can it get to 60? Instead of a meeting be in 60 minutes long, 30 or 45 minutes. Just trying to compress things down to the shortest amount possible. Sometimes I schedule meetings as short as fifteen minutes long because that’s all they need. That’s what I’m willing to give.
Challenge the group to get it done in less time. Parkinson’s Law tells us that we’ll take whatever time is allotted. It’s a lot less time.
If you have people working for you and they can handle being at the meetings, consider delegating some meetings. During your one-on-one with them, say, “Here are my thoughts on what I want to discuss. Please bring this to meeting, report back to me on what happened,” and let it go. If you’re not having time to do the strategic work, you’re not providing the most value to the organization.
Let’s talk on the overwhelm of the amount of information that’s out there.

A great book written by one of my friends, I highly recommend it, is Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. With the amount of input coming in, you have got to have super strong filters. It’s absolutely essential that you don’t keep up and don’t care about a lot of stuff. Otherwise, your life will be sucked away by all this information input. I’ll give a few examples from my life. You do not have to do things the way I do but this is what works for me. For example with email, I do respond particularly to business email, that’s very important, but I slow the flow. My general policy is that I respond to email within 24 business hours.
I know that doesn’t work with everyone’s professional work style, but by trying to get through them once a day, I do keep up on email. I also don’t have email perpetually coming in and I don’t get myself into these conversations where I’m on email all day long. Slowing down the flow, even if it’s checking two times or three times a day, maybe four at most is a great strategy. Second strategy is get rid of notifications. There’s so little need for you to have notifications. Occasionally it’s okay, but most people get email notifications and tons of phone notifications. It’s not necessary and totally distracting you and keeping you from what you need to do.
Why are people still leaving their notifications on when they know that it’s a constant distraction?
Not recognizing it’s a huge drain and it’s also an addiction. A lot of people have digital addiction.
It’s a digital addiction, where you want to hear that somebody loves you because it’s ringing.
I recommend turning off as many notifications as possible. On my phone, the only notifications I get are for phone calls and texts. If I need to focus, I will turn my phone on silent and flip it over so I can’t see.
I did that too, airplane mode. I don’t even want them coming in.
Recognize what you need and then the third tip in regard to that is it is okay to be ignorant on lots of things. I know that sounds bad and some people were like, “I don’t know about that.” People survived for thousands of years without all the information on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit and all these things. I do have a Twitter account. I do have a Facebook account. I’m not like a social media hater, but I don’t let these things run my life. I primarily use them to post articles that I’ve written. Occasionally, I’ll scroll something but we’re talking maybe ten minutes a day at most on things like Facebook. I barely do anything with Instagram. I choose to be ignorant. I don’t read Reddit at all. You don’t have to have the same ones as me but decide for yourself what are the ones that are important and that add value. What are the things where I’m wasting my time?
The only way out is through. Click To Tweet In the Digital Minimalism book, Cal talks about going through a digital detox. You take away these non-essential digital mediums and then decide on what replacement activities you enjoy that you want to do and do them. You can get your life back. He has testimonies of people reading eight books in a month. They are rediscovering their love of sewing, starting a blog or starting a business, all because they got off Facebook. I don’t even own a TV. People are like, “What do you do?” I’m like, “I swim, I play soccer, I get together with friends, I read, I do things around my house, I go to church.” I live my life and nothing’s wrong with TV. I’m not dissing it, but I’m just saying that you want to live your life and not give your time away to people that are trying to make money off of your attention.
Great tips for people around overwhelm and thank you so much. I want to know how can people get ahold of you so that they can get more tips and tricks or read your books. Maybe even talk to you about personally working with them around getting their life in order.
My website is and there you’ll find out about my coaching as well as my books. I have three books. If you go on Amazon or wherever books are sold and type in Elizabeth Grace Saunders, my three books will come up. You can find out all kinds of information about time management there.
Thank you, Elizabeth. This has been an awesome session and packed full of practical tips that people can apply right away. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome, my delight.
Thank you all. These tips are for you. I want you to write down what are the two or three things or even the one thing that you can take away from this show that you can implement for yourself and that you can start take action right away to better understand how to let go of things that you’re holding onto. How to combat that overwhelm, either in the amount of data that’s coming towards you, towards adding some filters or getting control over the number of commitments that you have. That’s your task. I’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She was named one of the World’s Top 30 Time Management Professionals.
McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review published her second book How to Invest Your Time Like Money. FaithWords published her third book Divine Time Management. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fast Company and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox.

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