74: When Less Is More: Identifying Meaning & Purpose in Everyday Life

by Coach Jill Farmer and Coach Gabriella Dennery MD | Podcast, Work Life Balance

“Giving ourselves a daily little roadmap is extremely effective.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In today’s episode Coaches Gabriella and Jill explain how less can actually be more. Then they give us actionable tools that we can put into practice today that will help us to truly be more productive. We learn about great resources such as James Clear and his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, the Ivy Lee Method and Jill Farmer’s book, There’s Not Enough Time:…And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. If you are feeling stressed and pressurized, this is the episode for you. Tune in to get some relief today! 

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 Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Enjoy the full transcript below:

Jill: Giving ourselves a daily little roadmap is extremely effective. 

Hello, and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, one of the lead coaches at DocWorking and I am joined by one of the other lead coaches, Gabriella Dennery, MD. Today, we’re talking about why less is more. Yes, we know that can be sort of a trite overused statement. Then, we will want to give you just a couple of little tips and new ways of thinking about this, that might help open the pressure valve a little bit for you, so you don’t feel quite so pressurized, and heavy, and overwhelmed on those days or times when you do. So, Gabriella, what comes to mind for you when we say less is more? What are you finding works for you in your life in regard to this?

Gabriella: Well, I discovered a little trick recently because instead of having things on little separate pieces of paper, what I have is notebooks. I’ll have my to do list for one thing over here, and my to do list in this other notebook over there, and I have accumulated all these notebooks, and it’s like, “This is not working.” Then, I switch to another method where, “Okay, let me just put everything in one notebook and see what it pans out.” Which means that I can’t get to everything and that also was a source of incredible frustration. I got set up with this whole system. I was starting to look online as to what else is working here because something has to give.

I follow this habits guru by the name of James Clear. I love his work. He’s the author of Atomic Habits, the psychology behind habit forming. He talks about the Ivy Lee Method, which was employed by a consultant who was consulting for industrialists about 100 years ago. He said, “I’m going to improve your productivity, and all the productivity of all your executives, and this is what you do.” He went to every executive and he said, “The day before, you write at the top of the list, tomorrow’s list, and you put the date, and you list six things, and no more than six in rank order. What’s priority one? What’s the top of the list? Then, you keep going. But no more than six.” So, literally, it takes not even half a page. One item per line. Write a few notes at the bottom if you want, fabulous. But that’s it. The next day you tackle that list. Usually, you start with number one, if at all possible, because that tends to be the chunkiest one. What I’ve found over the last, I think I’ve used it for about a week and a half now, it’s absolutely fabulous. Oh, I love it. Because I’m planning my day the day before. It’s something that you talk about a lot, Jill. It’s very, very important. That way I can be intentional with my day. 

Number two, it helps with decision fatigue, because it is right in front of me. I don’t have to second guess when I get up in the morning, “Okay, so what’s on my plate today?” That’s already been determined.

Number three, I find that I don’t necessarily get to all six and that’s okay. If I get to three, I’m a happy camper. It could be that three of them, or two of them, or whatever is left over gets transferred to the next day. But that was my fourth observation. What gets transferred to the next day not necessarily gets to number one. It may stay at number three or four and other things take priority, which means does this need to be on my list at all. It also helps me weed out the stuff that is unnecessary or that I think I have to take care of, but I don’t necessarily or it can wait a little longer, that it’s not that super priority one or two, that it’s lower down on the list. 

These are kind of the four things that I find using this method. It’s simple. It’s only six things. It happens the night before. You write it down, you plan your day. The next day, you do the same thing. Let’s say, I’ve done the list for Tuesday on Monday. On Tuesday, I do the list for Wednesday, and keep going on that way throughout the week. Recreation time gets on that list too. I make sure of that because it can’t just all be work related. Family time, household time gets on the list too. At the same time, I get a really incredible plan for the whole week, plan for each day, and I find that I am less stressed, I sleep better, I’m relieved, I know what’s coming, I’m intentional, and I don’t have to second, third, or fourth guess what I’m doing. I forget less stuff too, which is phenomenal. What would you say about a quick tip to really hone in the fact that less is truly more? Because through this method, I’m getting a ton more than I did before.

Jill: Yeah, of course, this is near and dear to my heart, because I love time and stress management strategies, and have been doing for 10 years, and wrote a book on it. I love the Ivy Lee method, I love Atomic Habits, and it’s one of many pathways to getting a little bit more. But I think from a psychological perspective, I just want to riff off one thing you said. When we get under pressure or stress, we lose the ability to prioritize, and we usually have one of two coping mechanisms. One is to spin out of control in that frenzied motion for the sake of motion where we’re moving and jumping all over the place, but not necessarily making appreciable progress. The other is to procrastinate, hide, go away, and so we don’t move forward. So, giving ourselves a daily little roadmap is extremely effective. 

The one way that I talk about for all of you who are hopefully going to be joining us in our DocWorking THRIVE. In one of the courses that we provide, I give you a whole roadmap for how to do this every week. It’s important as Gabriela says, start this today, doing it on a daily basis, but in DockWorking THRIVE, as part of our STAT course for quick wins to get your life back, I’ll walk you through a system, do it for your week. The reason that this is important is that we tend to vomit up everything that we have to do in order to be a citizen of the world in an unprioritized matter into as Gabriella said, a notebook. For me, it was just pieces of paper strewn all over the place front and back, 50 items on a to-do list. At some point about 10 years ago, I was like, I never seem to get to the stuff that matters, and I’m always overwhelmed, and I’m always busy. So, I learned by studying everything from everybody, every productivity person out there, and with my mind that all of those complicated systems, all I really needed to do was to take that massive list, that long to-do list, or the notebooks, and take a deep breath. Once a week, map out my Monday through Friday, and make those daily lists as Gabriela said, or take that really most important thing, I like to say five things per day, six things per day, and put it on my calendar at the time of day when I know I’m at my best and my brain is working at my best. So, I know that is going to get done if nothing else does, and then move things. It doesn’t get done one day, it moves to the next.

We’re not trying to get you to be less successful or achieve less. We’re trying to get you to recognize that sometimes the coping mechanisms that we’ve all just baked into our bones for living in a highly pressurized society are not helping us to make real progress on the things that matter to us. So, slowing down, less is more, I like to say slow down in order to make more progress, to take just a little bit of time to map out what matters to you in the priority order.

Starting today, with that daily to-do lists is a great way to start. Later on, we’ll show you how to do it in a little bit longer out just a week at a time. Every single person I ever know that has done this map your week method or uses the Ivy Lee Method of daily to-do’s reports back later and says, “Dang, I’m getting a lot more done and I’m getting a lot more of what matters to me” by using the shorter list, the more focused list less. [laughs] Final thoughts, Gabriella?

Gabriella: I think you bring up an excellent point. The combination of the weekly plan with the daily lists, I think, is probably one of the most powerful combinations there is so far that I’ve found in personal experience, and I’m going to suggest it to all my coaching clients. It’s like, “All right, we’re already mapping out the week, but let’s map out your day.” The two of them combined, I think, have incredible benefits. It can start today right now. As you said, it’s actionable right now.

Jill: Okay, everybody. There you go. Now, you have your fun thing that you’re going to go play with. It’s going to help you feel at the end of the day like you’ve got something that matters complete. So, on behalf of Gabriela Dennery, MD, lead coach at, I’m Jill farmer, and thank you for joining us for DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. 

Thanks all of you for tuning in to listen to this edition of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. We have something new and exciting to tell you about. So, I want you to hop over to DocWorking THRIVE is getting ready to launch in a very short time and what that is, is a subscription service for physicians. It includes an excellent self-paced course called STAT, that is all about quick wins for living well. It is group coaching. It is a Facebook group where you have a chance to connect to other physicians and coaches to ask questions about things that are happening in your life. It also includes weekly video tips to come and give you advice on important things in your life. We’re really excited about this. The price is almost too good to be true. It’s so good and I really think it’s going to be a fabulous support network for physicians. So, we hope you’ll hop on over. Check out DocWorking THRIVE today, and until next time, we’ll see you on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

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 You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram. On Instagram, we are @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. If you’re a physician with a story you’d like to tell, please reach out to me at [email protected] to apply to be on the podcast. Thank you again, and we look forward to talking with you on the next episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

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