Episode 3 – Elizabeth Saunders

Author: Karolina Matyska

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E®, a time coaching and speaking company that partners with individuals on the journey from guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to accomplishing more with peace and confidence. Her first book was published by McGraw Hill, her second by Harvard Business Review, and her theird book by FaithWords. Elizabeth has appeared in Inc Magazine, TIME, Forbes, The Chicago Tribune and on NBC, ABC, and CBS. She is an expert in time management and productivity. Let’s hear more from her in this episode of Productivity Masterminds.



Elizabeth focuses her time management and productivity coaching on three key elements to time management: (1) clarifying action-based priorities, (2) setting realistic expectations and (3) strengthening simple routines.

  1. Clarifying action-based priorities: Make sure you know what your priorities are and set up an order of your priorities. And then you need to translate those abstract priorities into tangible actions you can put on your calendar.
  2. Setting realistic expectations: Learn how long certain activities take and be realistic. If you constantly overestimate how much you can get done every day, you might feel like you’ve failed while the only thing you’ve done “wrong” is that you set wrong expectations.
  3. Strengthening simple habits: Every habit (both good and bad) has the power to compound in impact over time. For example, daily planning or weekly planning or even deciding when you exercise or how you make decisions about what you’re going to eat can help decrease the amount of time you have to spend on things because it’s already predetermined.


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Show notes

Juan: Elizabeth, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Juan: Elizabeth, can you tell us a little bit of a kind of paradigms or structures that you use with your coaching clients that could be useful for our audience?

Elizabeth: Yes. I have written three books and my first book is called “The Three Secrets to Effective Time Investment” and I really in that book broke down what I consider to be the three key elements that I think are really important and so I’ll just outline those briefly here.

The first is around clarifying action based priorities. The second is around setting realistic expectations and the third is around strengthening simple routines.

If you follow those three areas, you’re really going to be in a place of having effective time investment and investing your time in what actually matters to you. Not just getting lots of things done.

Juan: That’s perfect. So, walk us a little bit through how that works. You’re, you’re being intentional about what you spend your time on, your setting up routines for it, strengthening the routines and what was the second one?

Elizabeth: Setting realistic expectations.

Juan: Realistic expectations. Can you walk us through how you do that?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. So, the first is to clarify action based priorities and so I’ll talk you through exactly what that means. To me it’s obviously common sense, but to everyone else they probably haven’t heard of it. So it’s a two-step process. One, you want to be clear on what your priorities are because particularly in the culture we live in with so much technology, if you’re not clear on what want to accomplish, other people are more than happy to spend your time for you. So you want to make sure that you know, like, this is my priority to get done at work today or this is my life priority and that you have set up an order of priorities.

And then what makes them action based and this is really where a lot of people make mistakes, is that you need to translate those abstract priorities into tangible actions you can put in your calendar.

So, I’ll give a few examples. So, a lot of people listening to this podcast are entrepreneurs or people maybe with an entrepreneurial spirit. And in order to do that, you need to think about things like business development or strategy, but that’s very abstract compared to getting your inbox to zero or you know, accomplishing this project. And so, what you have to do is to translate that into an action. So, for example, I spent one hour a week on Wednesdays working on brainstorming ideas or reading articles in my field, or I’m talking with people about what I’m coming up with. And so, by translating that priority into an action in getting it in your calendar, you actually get a lot farther, a lot faster.

Juan: So, a question that I’d like to ask on these recordings is actually figuring out what your structure is to figure out what goes on your calendar and what doesn’t. Do you have a process for understanding of something should even go on your calendar or not when you’re creating those tasks?

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s a great question. A good thing to understand about me is I do time management coaching with people around the world, all different jobs, all different situations. And so, I just want to preface this by saying it depends, so I’m not someone to say everyone has to do it this way, but here are some general principles that I’ve found are really helpful for many of my clients. Um, so number one, if it’s a meeting you committed to, please get that on your calendar. You’d be amazed how many people try to just keep everything in their head, even calendar appointments. And so the more you can get on your calendar with reminders, the better. Secondly, there’s a couple of other categories of activities that I find to be really helpful for most people to have as a placeholder.

If there’s certain recurring routines like we had talked about, strengthening simple routines that you really want to see in your life, I highly recommend you get those on your calendar.

So, for example, I’m a huge advocate of weekly planning and daily planning. Have a recurring event, you know, Friday afternoon at 3:00, to do your weekly planning or have a little tickler even for 15 minutes to do your daily planning for leaving work. Or at the beginning of the day. So, for my clients, especially when they’re learning their routines, I want to see those as recurring events in their calendar because A, it helps them remember to do them in B, it reminds them, oh, it’s gonna take time to get those done. And then another category in this goes along with a part of setting realistic expectations is if you have a larger project, so I’m talking maybe something more than one hour, so like one hour or more, I recommend that you try to find a space on your calendar to get that done. Does that mean it will necessarily get done on that exact day, in that exact hour? Maybe, maybe not, but the idea is that if you have this larger project, you look at your calendar, there’s no free space like you’re in back to back meetings or you have all these things going on. It’s not going to get done, you know, or it’s not going to get done until late at night. And so, I recommend for those bigger projects, you find time, you try to get a block in your calendar because otherwise it’s just too easy to not have time in then beat yourself up because you’re not getting it done. Or secondly forget that that’s really important and just revert to answering email or doing other smaller tasks and then gets none of your day and be like, oh no, I never worked on that proposal and be really stressed out.

Juan: You probably find that this happens a lot with top performers and people that get perfection paralysis on something so they know it’s really important and because it’s so important, they want to batch it together and then do it when they have five, six, seven hours to knock out the proposal or the website or whatever the thing is. And so, it ends up not getting done at all because that time has never scheduled in advance. So, you never. You will never magically have the six or seven hours to work on that big project. And funny enough, some of the biggest things actually end up not getting done because we’re just waiting for us to magically … exactly for the perfect time to get it done.

Elizabeth: Exactly, exactly. And it also helps you be realistic if you see, I love to spend six hours, but when I look at my calendar, there’s only three, so I just need to do the best I can in three hours, make it happen and that’s good enough.

Juan: And that’s getting us into the second pillar for how you view time management, which is the setting of realistic expectations. Can you walk us a little bit through that one?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. So in regards to that, I find that a lot of people really struggle with guilt and really struggle with overwhelm because they don’t have any realism around how much can fit in a day. And so, what that’s about is setting yourself up for success. So, if you’re a top performer, you do want to stretch. I’m not saying be lazy or don’t try hard or any of that, but you don’t want to set yourself up to feel like a failure constantly because you told yourself you’d get, you know, 40 hours of work done in eight hours and they were like, why can’t you get it all done? I’m so stressed out. So with this set realistic expectations, what I encourage you to do is either block in your calendar or if you prefer not to do that, when you do your daily to do list, try to do a little estimated time beside each item and then just see how it adds up and if you’re finding that you’ve got eight or 10 hours of work, but you also have four hours of meetings.

You might need to pare down your expectations of what you can accomplish in that day so you can actually feel good about what you get done and/or delegate or renegotiate expectations on that.

Juan: And Elizabeth, you probably find that it’s really important to even define what success looks like before you get into the scheduling and face of things. Right? So, before you even try to put the expected time, it’s actually figuring out what it is that you want to get done. It’s not answering emails for two hours or three hours because they were adjusting everything for the length of time. It’s actually for how many emails you want to knock out or conversation started or prospects that you follow back up with and then you put the expected time for however long you think it’s going to take to get back to 40 people, 50 people, whatever. Right? Otherwise, you’re constantly, like you said, you’re constantly going to be a feeling disappointed and guilty because you’re not getting to this unrealistic thing that you never actually defined what success for that project would look like. Right? And that just adds so much stress for these top performers and professionals that want to. They’re pushing themselves to the limit, but if you’re not defining success and you’re not able to be a good steward of your own time.

Elizabeth: Right, exactly.

Juan: I’m moving onto the third pillar that helps you do time management. We have clarified action based priorities. We have setting realistic expectations and then finally walk us through the routines.

Elizabeth: Yeah, so strengthening simple routines is basically about how to make your life easier and it’s funny because most of my clients are spontaneous people, so their natural desire is to go with the flow, like they don’t want routines, you know, they want to just like see what happens. They want to be reactive and they tend to be super smart and super talented so they can actually get away with this for a long time, but what anyone finds when you hit a certain level in your career, your business, your life, that eventually you get to the point you can’t act like that and not be stressed out. And so the idea of strengthening simple routines is that there are little things we can do, whether it’s daily planning or weekly planning or even deciding when you exercise or how you make decisions about what you’re going to eat.

That can really reduce the number of decisions that you have to make in a day and really decrease the amount of time you have to spend on things because it’s already predetermined.

You’re like, okay, I already know Monday morning this is what I do, or I already know this is when I work out or I already know like this is when I answer email and so instead of having to think, oh, what do I want to do next? Or like, oh, when am I going to exercise or how am I going to know what I’m doing for the day? You just know. And it really, I really think strengthening simple routines is one of the biggest capacity building exercises that people can do.

Juan: What do you do, Elizabeth? When a client comes to you and they say, well, my genius zone is a little bit of this organized chaos. It is just having the creative time that on my face I just get to do and less structure. What do you do there, do you say then just scheduled that creative time?

Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. No, it’s totally fine. The thing about planning and the thing about routines is it allows you to have more of that freedom and creative time because you’re not just constantly stressed out and you’re not like just barely making deadlines. You’re more free to have that creative time.

It’s not that everything needs to be structured, but you just need to figure out what are the key elements you need to have in your life in a day to day, week to week basis to be able to not be stressed about stuff that should not be stressful.

Like you shouldn’t be stressed out because like every night you have no food to eat because you never figured it out either going to the grocery store or like getting grocery delivery.

Juan: That is amazing. So let’s do a bit of wrapping up and show notes for everybody listening right now. These are some of the top principles that help Elizabeth work with top performers all around the world to maximize their time. The three pillars are to clarify action based priorities, setting realistic expectations and strengthening simple routines. To clarify action based principles, she translates everything and every goal into actions, and then she puts those tangible actions on the calendar. To figure out what goes on the calendar, she works through prioritizing meetings and daily and weekly recurring habits. Number two, on the setting realistic expectations, Elizabeth makes sure that clients are not dealing with guilt and stress because of unrealistic expectations by defining what success looks like for every project, and then reverse engineering how long each of those tasks will take and scheduling them in advance so that the clients are not caught off guard.  And then the third pillar is to strengthen simple routines, so not everything needs to get structured, but you shouldn’t be stressed out by things that catch you off guard. So this is just being intentional about things that have to get done on a daily or weekly basis to make sure that clients and top performers are able to maximize their creative time, but that creative time is scheduled in advance and it’s not just crossing your fingers and waiting for the perfect moment to happen.

Elizabeth: Yes, exactly.

Juan: Elizabeth, anything I’m missing out? Does that pretty much sum the three pillars that you use?

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think that’s a great, great summary and what I would say is also not to get into all or nothing thinking, so not being like I have to have the perfect day or the perfect plan or the perfect routine or do my routine every day or I’m a failure and none of it works. Like just let yourself have these support you, have the structure work for you and it’s okay if you get off track one day or you get distracted, just get back on track as quickly as possible and it really can help you be a lot more successful and a lot less stressed.

Juan: There you go. Productivity masterminds. Give yourself some grace when you mess up. It’s okay as long as you keep anchoring yourself to productivity and maximizing your time. Elizabeth, as you continue to grow. Where’s the best place for us to stay in touch with your career and what you’re working on?

Elizabeth: Well, the best one place would be my website, which is reallifee.com.

Juan: Perfect. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing this with us.

Elizabeth: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.