Elizabeth Saunders | Time Management Strategies for Busy Entrepreneurs

Contact Us

Elizabeth Saunders | Time Management Strategies for Busy Entrepreneurs

Many people think that to be successful as an entrepreneur, it is all about grinding away 24/7, working nights, weekends – time off? Work/life balance? – forget about it. 

But, says time management coach Elizabeth Saunders, that’s a recipe for overload and burnout… and will make you less successful in the long run.

Where you invest your time is just as important as where you invest your money, notes Elizabeth. It impacts your productivity, relationships, success, and profitability, not to mention physical and mental health, and more.

Elizabeth recommends starting with the hours you want to work… then molding your business to fit.

We dig deep into that topic, as well as…

  • How to train clients and employees to respect your time
  • 3 strategies for not letting stress and crises get the better of you
  • Creating the perfect to-do list
  • A unique way to keep your energy up throughout the workday
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Rick Hadrava: Hey, you guys, this is Rick Hadrava with another episode of the Over 50 Entrepreneur Podcast. Listen, I’m so glad as always that you took the time to be on this podcast with us, or listening to this podcast I might say. And time, that is a very interesting thing. And today’s guest, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, is a time management coach. And as I prepared for this, I’ve got to admit to you that, you know, I think time as the ultimate commodity. And for years I’ve studied time management in an effort to try to get more done. 

You know, sometimes that was just having more free time for myself. But to help me be more successful, more efficient, whatever time management means to you. And, you know, I’ve looked at a variety of tools and techniques in my pursuit of doing time management better. And I have to be honest with you, as I thought about this, you know, I’ve implemented so many different things and tried so many things. And while I think I’ve done a pretty good job, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it’s still an issue for me. 

And so I think if you’re like me, you’ll get a lot out of our conversation today. Just a little intro, Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time management coach, as I talked about, but she focuses on empowering individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated, helping them to feel more peaceful, confident and more accomplished. Boy, that sounds pretty good. She was named one of the top 30 time management professionals. McGraw Hill published her first book, The Three Secrets to Effective Time Investment. 

Harvard Business Review published her second book, How to Invest Your Time Like Money, and Faith Words published her third book, Divine Time Management. Elizabeth contributes to Harvard Business Review and Fast Company and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox. You know, I’m so honored to bring to the studios today, Elizabeth Grace Saunders. Elizabeth, thanks so much for being with us.

Elizabeth Saunders: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Rick: Well, listen, so time management, kind of an interesting thing. How did you get yourself to this point? What’s been your entrepreneurial journey down this time management road?

Elizabeth’s Path to Time Management

Elizabeth: Absolutely. I’d be happy to share. So I was definitely an accidental entrepreneur. I grew up in a family where my dad worked in the corporate world. And I never really thought I would want to own a business. In fact, I thought that sounds like a horrible idea. But little did I know, that I would become an entrepreneur. And what happened initially is that I was working in magazine journalism, and I had a job that was not a good fit for me at all. And I would come home crying because it was just not going well, which was very unusual. I did very well in all my jobs. So this was an anomaly. 

And I was praying a lot about it. And I felt like God told me that I should apply for new jobs, and then resign on my one year anniversary, regardless of whether I got a new job. And so I applied for a bunch of jobs. I got seven interviews set up in two weeks, did all these interviews, resigned from my job and didn’t get any other job that I interviewed for. And I was like, Oh, that is not how I thought this would go. So I kept looking for jobs. But jobs didn’t so much come to me but a bunch of freelance work from my whole network. So I started doing freelance work while I was waiting to get a job. 

And I was actually at a party in October, I had resigned in August and talking about I wasn’t sure what to do. And this woman, I’d never met her before, she was just at this party, said, Elizabeth, you love what you’re doing. You love who you’re working with. And it’s working. You’re getting contracts at the top national magazines in the country without trying. Maybe you should start a business. And I was like, Huh, okay. And that was Saturday. And on Monday, I decided I was going to be an entrepreneur. So that’s when started my business in October of 2005. 

And I have been a full-time entrepreneur ever since. And how I transitioned from that to time management coaching is when I started out, it was an accident. So I really did not have intention around my hours or my structure or anything. I was just grateful to be able to make a living. And I would work on nights, I would work on the weekend, pretty much I felt guilty whenever I wasn’t working or sleeping or with people. And I was okay with that for a couple of years. But by 2007 I just kind of had enough. I felt like, I don’t care if I seem really successful and working with all these nice, sleep, eat and work, like I just do not feel successful. 

And so I started to figure out how to balance out my time to not work at night and work on the weekends and really have more boundaries. And it was really hard at first but I did accomplish it. As in my entrepreneur friends were like, this is amazing. You should totally help other people with these challenges. So they actually came up with the idea and that’s how I started time management coaching which I started in 2009 as a small part of my business and now over the years has grown into the main thing that I do.

Rick: It’s very interesting, and thank you for sharing. You know, what, when I listened to you, what question came to my mind is, are we going about time management all wrong? Because you said something, like you took a look and said, This is what I want, right? From my time management. And then you put, you applied the business to that model, is that correct?

Elizabeth: Correct. So I decided what I wanted in terms of my hours, and then I found a way to make my business work within those hours instead of molding myself to what I thought my business required of me.

Rick: And do you find that people do that the opposite way? Like they look at what their business is doing and then they try to overlay some kind of time management on top? Is that where everybody gets stuck?

Elizabeth: Well I think, I mean, there’s a couple different elements. So I think one is that you have to believe it’s possible. A lot of entrepreneurs just have this false belief that you just can’t be balanced. Oh, I’m an entrepreneur. And I used to feel that way too. I’m an entrepreneur, you don’t understand. You’re never really off, you just have to work. You just have to hustle. You know, you just have to work 24 seven, that’s just how it is. And that’s not true, that’s really not true. But that’s how people think. 

So I think the first thing is like, if you have the false belief that it’s not impossible to be balanced, you’re not going to because you’re not going to make the choices and figure things out to make it happen. And then I think the second thing is people just don’t think they can have what they want. And so even for example, with coaching, I generally work about nine or 9:30 to six o’clock Monday through Friday, and I don’t start coaching calls, typically until about 10. I like, have the beginning of my day for getting organized, answering emails, all of that. 

And that’s just how I structure my business. And a lot of coaches think, Oh, well, I need to work really early hours or I need to work at night or I need to work on the weekends. And they just assume that people won’t find ways to make a normal schedule work and so they don’t even try. And what I found after over 11 years is that absolutely people can find the time to talk to you during the day and you don’t need to drive yourself crazy working weird sort of hours. 

So I think it’s a lot of limiting beliefs around what is possible with your business, what’s possible as an entrepreneur that I think is actually the biggest thing holding people back. And when you realize that you actually have a lot more freedom than you thought to set boundaries and to create a business and life you love, then you’re taking a huge step in the right direction.

Rick: Absolutely. You know, it’s interesting that I find entrepreneurs, business owners, that will sometimes, you know, the, they have so many different fires coming at them that they can’t even take an hour to be a part of something to help their business or, you know, something I love the four quadrants that Stephen Covey put out, right? It’s, you know, as business owners, we have to focus on those things that are maybe not important right now but they’re urgent in what we need to do. But we get so used to the fire drill, right? One after the other. And, I mean, you’ve seen this. Is it a prevalent thing for business owners in your experience?

There’s No Need to Normalize the Fire Drill Lifestyle

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, business owners and then also just employees too where, because there’s no planning, because there’s no foresight, not only do you have fires that are unavoidable, but you create your fires because you didn’t even realize that a huge presentation was coming up till 10 pm the night before. So then all of a sudden you’re working crazy late or up super early or you didn’t call and check on something before the last minute and then there has to be some rush delivery. 

So I do believe a lot of people are living in fire drill mode because they’re not using foresight, they’re not doing the proactive things they could do before to make things happen. Or another reason why that can happen is they’re just not teaching people how to treat them. So if you teach your clients or you teach your employees that’s okay to bring things on you last minute at any time, then that is what they’ll do. Versus if you teach them that they need to give you advance warning, then that’s what they’ll do. So for example, with my coaching clients, typically most people schedule at least a week in advance. 

And so I’ve got my agenda. I know what’s going on. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t sometimes some people that schedule more closely to the time of the call or there aren’t some things that come up, but I’m not the kind of business where my clients can call me any time or they can like schedule day of, and I just move everything around. Like, they need to know I have certain boundaries and that those are respected.

Rick: You know, that’s another good point because I think business owners who are directly connected with their customers or clients feel a need to be accessible 24 seven as a value add, but that might be wrong, right? Like having those guardrails might actually make you more valuable with a discipline.

Elizabeth: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, it does depend on the business. There’s certain sorts of businesses where like, they truly are 24 seven businesses. So if we’re talking about like, hospitals, international shipping, there, I mean, I’m not invalidating that there are definitely certain businesses where at least maybe not you, but someone needs to be available around the clock. But most businesses, that’s just not true. It’s fine for you to get back on the next business day, it’s fine for you to get back to them in a few hours. 

And I do think that people respect you more when they recognize that you are not always available. And I don’t create, like, artificial boundaries or something or, like be weird about that. But it’s not unusual to not be able to schedule with me for a week, that my schedule is booked up. And people have to wait a week or even more if they’re a new client to pick time. And I have not found that to be a problem. Like sometimes some people are like, Oh, well, someone’s interested, you got to talk to them right now today or else you’re going to lose them and they’re going to lose interest. 

It’s like no, like if they want you badly enough and they want to work with you, they will schedule week out to week out whatever it takes, and we’ll talk to you then. And honestly, that’s how they know you’re good because people that are good are not always available. I really am booked like, and I have people working with me. If I didn’t have any bookings, sure you could schedule this afternoon. But would you really want that kind of coach that their schedule was that empty? You can reach them at any time? Probably not.

Rick: Well, that begs a question. This is great, but I want to go, because, you know, this is the Over 50 Entrepreneur Podcast, and we want to encourage entrepreneurs of all ages. But you know, here you are in a field that you didn’t think anything about. And some friends kind of nod, you know, nudged you to do this. When did you, when were you validated that what you were doing, like, was there a point when you started this business, that you’re like, you know, what, this thing really has some legs to it? You know, because you’ve obviously written three books, you know, so was there a point that you knew that this was something for you?

Sometimes Your Target Audience Isn’t What You Initially Thought

Elizabeth: Well, I mean, there definitely was an interest from the beginning. And I started out when I was first developing my coaching program working with like, other entrepreneur friends or family as coaching clients, and just getting my system figured out because I was developing the full field of time management coaching, and not really anyone else was doing much of it at that time. So just people’s interest and enthusiasm for working with me was a good first step. 

I think in terms of it having legs, it took, I would say it took like probably about a year and a half to two years before I was getting, consistently getting more new clients. And that was more, it wasn’t so much that people didn’t need me but there was a few factors. So one is I was completely wrong about my target audience. I thought that my target audience will be women business owners because I was a female entrepreneur there at that time, which was, Oh, that makes me feel old to say, but 15 years ago. 

I guess 2009 is a little less than that. 11 years ago, but 15 years ago is when I started my business, there weren’t as many female entrepreneurs. And so that was a unique thing about me. And so anyway, me and my friends were like, Oh, my gosh, yes, you’re definitely gonna have female business owners will be your target audience. I was completely wrong. Even with a website that had the back color of pink and all over the place was saying like women business owners, I still had men reaching out to me, like, would you be willing to work with me too? 

Like, yeah, sure. And I was finding that I was attracting a lot of people that were actually employees of businesses. So make a long story short, I was totally wrong about that. So the first year and a half was, wasn’t so much that I didn’t think people were interested, but figuring out who was interested and would pay. And it turns out they were primarily employees of companies, not entrepreneurs and that my clientele was about half men and half women. So that was a learning experience. And then what I really needed to do was figure out how to reach my audience. 

And then to also figure out my sales process. So what packages I was offering and how I was selling things in a way that was effective. So I really feel like it took about a year and a half, two years before that was clicking along and I was really getting more coaching clients. And during that time, my income was still primarily from the journalism work that I had been doing before and marketing work with my first company. That was really supporting my business development exploration of my coaching business. 

Rick: Excellent. Well, I love it because you’re teaching, I think, valuable pieces of information and you’ve got a program, but you’re an entrepreneur, you know, and you said reluctantly, but there you are 15 years later, right? And so let’s share some thoughts. We’re in some pretty unusual times. And, you know, stress, I think changes, even if you’re the most disciplined person, and time management is right in there. 

When you’re under stress, it’s awfully easy to get out of your habits. How do you, what advice would you have for our listeners, you know, who maybe they’re successful with their time management, but struggling a little bit? Or they’re like me in, I’m kind of in the middle, you know? I’ve got some things in place, but sometimes I am easily distracted, we’ll say. What would you say to our audience?

Managing Your Time Under Stress

Elizabeth: Yeah, so I’ve got a few things. I mean, one is, especially with all this happened in the past few months, and we’re recording this in the summer of 2020, it has been remarkably stressful. And I would even say traumatizing. I think that’s a fair assessment of the situation on very many levels. And I would say, to varying degrees, we’re all suffering from trauma and some sort of like PTSD. So first of all, just like, be compassionate with yourself. 

This is really hard and it’s getting better, but it’s still uncertain. And there’s still a lot of like vulnerability and anxiety around what’s been going on. And that does impact our brain and our ability to focus. And it’s just at a biological level, our brains are wired to help us survive. And so if there are things we believe in our atmosphere are unsafe, then naturally, you will be more distracted because it’s our bodies and our minds ways of being like I need to be scanning the surroundings to make sure that I’m safe. 

So don’t be mad at yourself that you feel that way or that it’s been harder because the stress is. Number two, I would say, really do things to reduce your stress. So limit how much news you’re watching. When things started getting crazy in March, April, like I’m usually not much of a news person and not much of a social media person, and my consumption of those went up a lot simply because things were changing so rapidly and so confusing and it was like a very turbulent time. 

And I realized I needed to reduce input from those areas because they were just making me crazy with things that I had no control over and couldn’t do anything about. And I needed to focus in more on the things that reduce stress like exercise or being like being outside or connecting with people or whatever that looks like. So, number one, have self-compassion, number two you do those things that reduce stress and take out those things that create stress. 

Number three, you are going to have to be a lot more disciplined about giving your brain directions about how to handle things. So what I mean by that is, for example, like, let’s say morning routines. I’m someone that had a very established morning routine, like down to the minute in terms of when I get up, when I do my Bible study, when I start getting ready, when I go to the Y, like when I am in my car to go to the Y, when I swim, all that good stuff. Well, that got completely blown up. And because of various continuous changes over the last three months, like, I kept having to do and redo my morning routine. 

Right now it’s stabilized, but it will probably change again soon as more and more things are opening. So before because it was so established, I could just know exactly what to do with my morning routine. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to have it written down. It was automatic. When I was going through all these changes, I needed to be a lot more intentional. So the night before, I would write down, When are you getting up? When are you doing this? 

When are you doing that? When are you moving on to the next thing and just like literally wrote down each step of what I was going to be doing to start my day, because it was not ingrained and it had all changed. And then the same thing is true throughout your day. I was already doing this, even pre all this Corona crazy. But write down your daily plan, be super clear what you’re focused on, what you want to accomplish. 

And give yourself something positive that you can take action on. And when you find yourself feeling distracted or having trouble focusing, you can do a few things. I mean, it could be time to take a break, like, go take a walk, get a glass of water, do what you need to do. It could be that you’re better off doing Pomodoro which basically means 25 minutes of focus work and then five minutes of taking a break. And then back to 25 minutes of focus work, five minutes of taking a break. 

And then a third thing that can be helpful is actually fine in terms of focusing is actually music. So it depends what kind of work I’m doing. But in some cases, I just find having the right music in the background, for me, I attach my computer sound to a Bluetooth speaker and actually have it positioned behind me. I find that music coming from my computer towards my face is very distracting, but behind me is better. And just like I find that that helps with focus and there are tools like, there’s a tool called Focus At Will, that also is specifically around music and sound, and getting you to focus better.

Rick: That’s excellent. It’s funny you say that because I like listening to the blues in my office when I’m working. So I’m curious what, is there a special kind of music that you like, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, I love worship music. So I have a whole bunch of Christian artists that I really enjoy. So I usually listen to that all day long. Yeah, sometimes there’s some country in there, sometimes some pop. Depends on my mood. It’s like being in the summer, there may be like more pop music now, you know? It’s just like, you gotta love that stuff. But yeah, I try to go for positive energy. And it depends on my mood. Sometimes I like things like with more like upbeat, like, powerful sort of thing. And sometimes I need a little more chill. But in the afternoon, when you’re tired, definitely the upbeat stuff keeps you going. 

Rick: Absolutely. Well, hey, so let’s carry this forward a little bit from this standpoint. We’ve got a lot of people working mobilly or, you know, from home, whatever you want to call it. And I think about something that I’ve come across over the years, where it’s more about the outcome than it is the time. 

And I’m just curious, and what I mean by that is, you know, if I come in and I’ve got three things on my list to get done and those are my major things, and I get them done and it’s noon, you know, once in a while, and I hate to admit this to those of you that do business with me, but once in a while, that’ll be my day. I’ll take the afternoon and I will get myself outside to kind of recharge and get my mind straight. So how does that fit in with kind of your views of time management?

Elizabeth: Right. Well, I don’t think that’s wrong or bad. I mean, we want to, two things. I mean, one, we do want to create the incentives for focus. So if we do things like allow ourselves to end early, it’s kind of like a kid where you say like, hey, if you get your room cleaned up, we’ll play with your toys. Like, you get it cleaned within like 10 minutes where it would take them two hours if you’re like, just go clean your room. So I think creating the right incentive is not a problem. 

And I’d rather have people be focused and get the most important things done. And then, you know, go out and enjoy life. That’s way better than like procrastinating and doing the same amount of work and more time. The one thing that I would say is that, like there are, and to be fair, there are definitely some times when I end work a little early. Like, I’m going on a short weekend trip this weekend up north, so I will be leaving the office a little early today. So I’m not saying I never do that. But what I would say is that I generally keep those same hours like I would say I work about 40 hours a week. 

And the reason for that is that a lot of times in our business if we want to get past not just the urgent but the urgent and important, when you have those days where maybe you’re urgent and important you can get done by noon, well then that afternoon is a great opportunity for some most important activities, those business development activities that, you know, yeah, sure, you don’t need to get done today, they could be done different day. But if you never prioritize them and put in that time, you’re not going to really be building your business, you’re just going to be more at that, like, maintain getting them minimum done level.

Rick: A very good point. And that brings up kind of my next question, then Elizabeth is, you know, where’s the optimal? Is it better for me to limit my efforts to three things a day, versus having 15 on a list, right? Because then you become overwhelmed. And you almost defeat yourself when you look at that list and nothing’s done or only a couple things. So what do you find is the optimal for a given day?

Finding Your Optimal Structure

Elizabeth: Yeah. And you know, it really depends on the person and their particular work. So, I mean, if I have a day with coaching calls almost all day, I might just get emailed on and like, a few short tasks because I’m on the phone all day. If you have a day that’s more open, I would say you can have, if you have a very open day absolutely have, you can have free MITs. So like the most important things you want to get done. 

But I would say just because a lot of times my days look like about half meetings and then have open, that more likely than not, I’m looking at maybe like one or two larger items, and then maybe some smaller things around it. So like for example, today, I have quite a few coaching calls. And then, of course, this interview and then there was time to answer emails, do organizing and planning, and then I’ve got one bigger thing for this afternoon and then everything else is little. So it’s really based on what my availability looks like will determine how much I can get done. 

Rick: Good point. Good point. Well, listen, it’s been such a pleasure and there’s no stress like having a time management person like yourself on our podcast trying to keep to the schedule,

Elizabeth: People are always like, I gotta be there on time. I can’t be late. I’m like, I’m not that judgemental.

Rick: Well, we appreciate it. But let’s say there’s somebody that, you know, listens today and they want to learn more about your work, how to reach out to you or, you know, the several books that you have available, what’s the best way for them to kind of check out your work and connect with you?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. So my website is reallifee.com. So I’ll spell that for you. It’s REALLIFE and then another E .com. So E as in Elizabeth at the end. And there you’ll find info on my one on one coaching, group coaching, my free book. You can sign up for my newsletter and lovely little pop up that will pop up when you go there. And yeah, that’s basically the best way to reach me. 

And of course, my books are available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. And I just really love being a resource to people who are wanting to improve their time management and really wanting to get that work-life balance. So how can they not just get things done but also be healthy in the process. 

Rick: Well, you’ve definitely inspired me to kind of get back in the swing of things. So I appreciate you being on our call today. Guys, you can get more information, including Elizabeth’s website information from our show notes. All you have to do is go to www.epicsbiz.com/podcast. That’s epicsbiz.com/podcast. Until next time, we want to wish you the best and remember, we’re only getting started.

Share this post?