Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E®, “a time management coaching company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed, and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident, and accomplished.” It offers group and one-on-one time management consulting.
A frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and television networks, she has published three books: “The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress” (McGraw Hill), “How to Invest Your Time Like Money” (Harvard Business Review) and “Divine Time Management: The Joy of Trusting God’s Loving Plans for You” (FaithWords).
This interview is excerpted from a longer conversation and edited for clarity.
Q. How can you plan and manage your time when circumstances are changing so quickly—as they are now?
A. These are strategies that I recommend to all my coaching clients: Weekly planning and daily planning.
For weekly planning, some people do it on a Friday afternoon, some Sunday evenings, some Monday morning. It’s the chance to get your feet under you and recognize what you have coming up. What meetings do you have? What are some of the key initiatives or projects that you might need to prep for? It’s also an opportunity to recognize any issues if you have conflicting appointments.
Then do daily planning, where you can recalibrate—it can be first thing in the morning, the end of your workday, or before bed.
This gives you an overview of your universe of possibility, to decide what you believe to be most important, based on what you know at this present moment. After that, you can adapt or adjust, as necessary.
If you say to yourself, well, it might just change tomorrow anyway, why even plan, you’re automatically reducing your effectiveness and productivity. Instead, you can say: Okay, I’m going to make my best guess of what I think is important this week or today. If it changes, that’s fine, but I’m at least going to start with a sense of direction.
When something comes up that may be urgent, you can then evaluate that versus what you already have planned and decide if it really is that important. It’s an opportunity to prioritize.
Q. How is time management different during this pandemic?
A. You might want to make your goals a little different now. Traditional goals often are results goals. But action and process goals are more helpful right now.
For example, a goal might be: I’m going to leave the office by a certain time, or do my daily and weekly planning, or every week I’ll reach out to one staff member and let them know I appreciate them. Those are goals you have control over, unlike revenue numbers or COVID regulations.
Routines help dramatically. That gives a sense of focus. It’s so much easier than lying in bed in the morning thinking, I wonder when I’m going to exercise this week?
Time management expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders offers three tips to make the most of your time for yourself:
Put yourself first. Do what’s important to you first—such as exercising, meditating, reading, having some time with your spouse, or similar—before you start your working day. Saunders wakes up early, does Bible reading and prayer, then swims laps—that way, she says, she knows her spiritual and physical health needs and goals are taken care of.
Take at least one break during the day. These breaks could be as simple as having lunch without multitasking, taking a 15-minute walk, having a stretch, or calling a friend or family member for five minutes. “Research has shown that when you take breaks, you end up less drained by the end of the day and are actually more productive,” Saunders says.
Do the paperwork while you’re working, whenever possible. Saunders has seen that when people in health care leave filling out charts or transcribing notes until the end of a shift, they could lose an hour or more of their own time. If you can keep up with it throughout the day, you may be able to reclaim that time.
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