Lies Physicians Tell Themselves

by Jen Barna MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience

DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast Episode 3

DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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Episode Description

Lead coaches Gabriella Dennery MD and Jill Farmer tackle three lies that physicians tell themselves about time. They take us through the lies and give us the tools we need to bust through and increase our time management prowess! This engaging discussion begins with Jill Farmer:  Breaking the habit of trying to scare ourselves into action takes some slowing down. Instead of saying, “There’s not enough time!” which we know activates that stress response, makes us reactive, and more prone to mistakes, we can slow our role a little bit and ask, “In the available amount of time I have, what is one meaningful thing that I can do? What’s one step I can take that lines up with my values, that my future self will be glad that I have done?”

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: Breaking the habit of trying to berate or scare ourselves into action takes some slowing down, pausing, and saying instead of like, “There’s not enough time,” which we know activates that stress response, makes us reactive, more prone to conflict, more prone to mistakes. If we can slow our role a little bit and say, “In the available time I have, what’s one meaningful thing that I can do? What’s one step I can take that my future self will be glad that I have done that lines up with my values?”

Gabriella: Hi, my name is Gabriella Dennery. I’m one of the lead coaches at I’m here with the other lead coach at DocWorking, Jill Farmer, who is also a speaker, teacher, author. I’m excited to be interviewing her today about time. So, we’re going to delve right into this topic about three things. What are three things, Jill, that physicians tell themselves, three lies that physicians tell themselves about time?

Jill: When I’m working with a very, very busy overwhelmed physician, often not by their own choice, there’s just such pressure to see so many patients per day, regardless of what the discipline is. There’s just so much pressure to see more patients per day, and then not to mention, then you’ve got EMRs, notes, pressure to publish, all the other things depending on if you’re in academic or another setting that go on top of that. So, often physicians come to me and say, “I am so overwhelmed and there is way too much to do, and not enough time to do it.”

The first thing that I’ll say– I’ll say is, okay, well, let’s look at your schedule and let’s map out a plan to figure out how we can get to the stuff that matters to you and that we can prioritize first? The first thing, this is why number one, I hear over and over and over again is, “Oh, I don’t have time to do any planning ahead of time. I just need to get stuff done. I don’t have time to plan what I’m going to do or when I’m going to do it. I just have to get stuff done.”

This was true with a client of mine, I’ll call Mary, not too long ago. We had this exact same conversation and luckily, this isn’t my first rodeo. So, I was like, “Yep, I know, there’s never enough time to plan.” So, I said, “For just three weeks, I want you to put 10 minutes on your calendar, where you look for the next week at what is most meaningful for you to get done in the space available. We’ll put together a list, we use the more detailed technique I use for mapping out a week to get done what matters?” She was like, “Okay, I’ll do it just to prove you wrong.” I was like, “Great.”


And that 10 minutes of mapping out priorities and really thinking instead of just being in hair on fire mode of just like, “Whatever’s in front of me, I just got to get this stuff done, or the biggest looming deadline, or the other way of prioritizing without intention and switching that around a little bit really made a big difference and some big progress.” So, can you as a physician identify with that lie, I don’t even have enough time to map out my week.

Gabriella: I have time to make time to map out my week. I absolutely can relate. It’s the workload and the responsibility at work, and at the same time it’s what goes on at home too. So, you’re adding all of this stuff and just trying to get through the day. That was the situation where I was just, “Okay, let me just get through my day.” If I can get through my day, then it was a good day. If I can get up the next morning to do it again, then “Hey, that’s just life.” So, it really was about switching that mindset to say, “You know what? That’s not life and I can approach it in a different way.” I think having that map of the week sets a very clear direction, which is really, really important and feeling like you’re back in the driver’s seat, like you’re back in control of something.

Jill: Yeah, really good point. Okay, are you ready to hear number two lie?

Gabriella: I’m ready for the number two lie.

Jill: [laughs] The number two lie that physicians tell themselves about time is that, “I need a really long period of time to get stuff done.” I’m always joking because my physician clients will come to me and say, “I just need to have six hours of uninterrupted time and then I can finally get my note, I can get the presentation ready, or I’ll really have time then to finish up all of my reports, or my notes, or my records,” and I’ll say, “Okay. Tell me when’s the last time you had six hours of uninterrupted time.” And they’re like, “When I was in sixth grade.”

So, I said, “Okay, so this jackpot or windfall of more time that’s supposed to come in this ideal chunk of six hours, we have the lived life experience to know that’s not going to happen.” I had a client, we’ll say– we’ll call him Don, who was a surgeon. So, he had a big project that he was trying to tackle and he said, “Well, between procedures, I have 20 minutes. But that’s not enough time to do anything. I can’t even get anything done. So, I just pick up my phone, and read my texts and emails, and then I get stressed out because I don’t really have time to do anything with those texts and emails, and then I read them again later.” I said, “Okay.” So, that doesn’t sound like it’s very productive to just read the same emails over and over again, and then to get stressed out about those emails in that allotted 20 sometimes up to 30 minutes between procedures.

What we did is we mapped out one specific, achievable goal to do during each of the six breaks. Some of those included taking a bathroom break, getting something to eat [laughs]. But we really were intentional about those short breaks, having an intention or a goal, a task, that he would focus on during each of those, and what he discovered between sessions– in the weeks between the sessions is that, when he had a bit of a plan, it felt really good to him. So, it kept him calmer. He wasn’t so stressed out, and frazzled, and wishing he had a lot more time. He made baby steps, tiny steps, ridiculously easy step progress on the bigger goal. He didn’t get six hours. But it turns out in 20-minute little steps when you add that up over days, it added up to a few hours’ worth of progress on this thing that he had been procrastinating for months.

It’s not that I’m trying to get you to like pack every single second that you’re doing anything so that you’re exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s noticing, “Here’s a natural break. Oh, there’s not enough time for me to actually get anything done in that break? Can I get creative and maybe think about a way I can break something down in small enough steps that I can make some forward movement?” So, what do you think about that step? Is that one that you can relate to or not?

Gabriella: Oh, my goodness, absolutely. I think that I have to learn the hard way that, if I just did one little thing that it would impact my entire day in a very different way. So, it really is about strategizing. When I made the decision, I discovered that, if I reviewed my charts the night before, if I had my staff pull up the list, look at the patient’s chart the night before, get ready for the next day, that changed the energy of the next day, because I pre-ordered everything. Labs, referrals, prescriptions, everything was done ahead of time. Then when the patient came in, all we had to do was talk about what was going on with them at that point in time, which was a tremendous stress reliever, and it gave me my day back. I felt like I was under control.

As you say about tiny steps, that’s what it is. It’s usually one thing. Imagine if you can take care of one thing that has a ripple effect on absolutely everything else. That’s what I love about what you say about tiny steps. It’s perfect. So, what would be number three?

Jill: Yeah, beautiful. The number three lie that the physicians that I’ve worked with like to tell themselves about time is that, “If I just beat myself up, or berate myself, or scare myself a little more about how little time there is, then I’ll really start getting stuff done.” I keep telling– I’ve been telling clients for well over a decade now. My dear physician clients, you cannot hate yourself enough to make yourself get really good at time management.

Gabriella: [laughs]

Jill: It absolutely will not happen. Yeah, you cannot scare yourself by saying, “If I don’t do this, something terrible is going to happen” enough to make yourself more sustainably and efficiently productive for the long haul. In the second, you might be able to trigger the fight or flight response and get one little thing done in an activated stress response where you’ve lost 13 IQ points, because we know that’s what happens when you’re in fight or flight mode.

Gabriella: And memory thinking.

Jill: Right. So, breaking the habit of trying to berate or scare ourselves into action takes some slowing down, pausing, and saying instead of like, “There’s not enough time,” which we know activates that stress response, makes us reactive, more prone to conflict, more prone to mistakes. If we can slow our role a little bit and say, “In the available time I have, what’s one meaningful thing that I can do, what’s one step I can take that my future self will be glad that I have done that lines up with my values?” So, that’s “flipping the script” instead of, “I don’t have enough time.” If we can flip that script to a more neutral thought or thought that’s more likely to serve like, “You know, there is enough time for me to do this one thing.” So, how do you relate to that lie? Is that what you’ve told yourself? [laughs]

Gabriella: Many, many, many times. Every lie that you’ve listed, I have told myself in spades. It’s really– and that beating yourself up is a really, really big part of it. Feeling guilty about not getting everything done, feeling inadequate about not getting everything done. At the same time, is it really about that or is it about having an impact? When I’m listening to the talk, it’s like, “Well, am I going to get something done and hopefully I can get it done and not feel so crazy or can I say that I had an impact today?” I had an impact today. Then maybe I didn’t get to all my list but that’s okay, because I had an impact today and that’s a pretty cool feeling.

Jill: Right. Oh, you’re going to teach us in another podcast, which people have got to tune in for.

Gabriella: [laughs]

Jill: How to get clear on what that impact is. What is your intention and what that impact is, because that’s really how we can name and claim success for ourselves? But not now. Tune into another one of our podcasts for that conversation. So, make sure you stick around for that. Okay, so to summarize, we’re going to stop telling ourselves, physicians, that the lie that you don’t have time to map out your week, because we know that mapping out your week helps you put yourself back in the driver’s seat. We’re going to stop telling ourselves that you need some magical fairy tale windfall of a large chunk of time to get what matters done and instead you’re going to be intentional about taking that ridiculously easy step that moves you in the forward direction.

We’re going to stop trying to beat ourselves up or scare ourselves into taking action and instead look to fuel our productivity and efficiency with something more meaningful. What’s the impact I want to have and how is my future self going to do that? So, I think we did some good lie busting today, Gabriella. How about you?

Gabriella: I agree, I agree absolutely.

Jill: Okay, for a deeper dive on everything we talked about today and so many other issues, please go check out the self-paced course that Gabriella and I put together called Stat: Quick wins that could change your life. Go check out Stat: Quick wins that could change your life on the DocWorking website today. Okay, well make sure you tune in to the next episode. It’s been so great to talk to you guys and we’ll talk to you next time.

Amanda: Hello, and thank you for listening. This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking Podcast. If you enjoyed our podcast, please like and subscribe. We would also love it if you check out our website, which is And you can also find us on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Our Instagram is @docworking1 and that is with the number one. When you check us out on social, please let us know what you would like to hear on the podcast. Your feedback really means a lot to us. And if you’re a physician with a story to tell, please reach out to Jen at [email protected]. Thank you again and we’ll see you next time.

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO of DocWorking, and host of top ranked DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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