Simple Organizing Hacks To Take Your Time Back

by Coach Jill Farmer and Jen Barna MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Work Life Balance

This episode is all about simple organizing hacks to help you save time!

“…and so I’m finding that there are so many things like that in our lives. And for me, just taking on one small, singular thing at a time is helping me to decrease that overall sense of overwhelm.” -Dr. Jen Barna

In today’s episode, Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer tackles organization with our founder and CEO, Dr. Jen Barna. Dr. Barna is learning from the Coaches at DocWorking just like we hope you are. She was inspired and has made getting out the door easier and stress free by changing one simple thing. Do you ever find yourself in an all or nothing mindset? So do we! But instead of looking at organization as a huge task to conquer, Jill tells us to start with one ridiculously easy step. You may be surprised by how small changes can lead to big gains in time and peace of mind. What is one area in your life where you can take some small steps to save time and decrease stress today? Go to our Facebook or Instagram and share with us! 

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jen:  And so, I’m finding that there are so many things like that in our lives. And for me, just taking on one small singular thing at a time is helping me to decrease that overall sense of overwhelm.


[DocWorking theme]


Jill: Hello, everyone, and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast brought to you by DocWorking Thrive. I’m Jill Farmer, one of the cohosts of the podcast and one of the lead coaches at DocWorking. Today, we are talking about very simple organizational hacks that you can put into place today to make your life a little bit simpler, a little bit more smooth, so that you can get some efficiencies set up, and you don’t have to be somebody who is totally organized or feels like you need to get totally organized in order to put these into action starting today. So, I asked our CEO, Jen Barna, physician to step in as part of this conversation, because part of what inspired this conversation is some discussion we had about some changes that she has made inspired by conversations like this on the podcast that have really helped to make a difference in her life. So, Jen, I’m going to ask you first, tell us the key story and why it turned out to be helpful for you?


Jen: First, it’s great to be here with you, Jill. And you know, this story is really metaphorical but it’s such a simple thing, and has made such a big difference in my life. For years I had accepted that I could never find my keys. It was part of my routine to lose my keys, basically. [giggles] Every time I wanted to go somewhere, I had to find my keys. My husband told my mom, once he accepted the fact that I was going to lose my keys multiple times a day, I was very easy to live with. [laughs] So, once I started to understand the concept that, if you start to notice a pattern of something that is inefficient in your life, and you see that there is a way to fix that one small thing simply by having a process in place, so, you don’t have to rethink it, you don’t have to get that decision fatigue at the end of the day like, “Oh, I have to figure this out over and over and over again.” You figure it out once, you put your time investment in once, and then, it’s figured out from then on, and you don’t have to rethink it every time. So, I extrapolated that to the key problem and I know this sounds ridiculous that it literally took me years to figure this out. But I had a key hook hung by the door, and now, every single time I come in the house, I always put my keys in the same place, and I’ve not lost my keys since, and it’s been months since I had this breakthrough moment. [laughs]


I know that kind of thinking has carried over into other things like, I always cook a huge Thanksgiving dinner. So, I’ve mapped out the day of Thanksgiving, and when certain things have to go into the oven, because it’s the same– basically, the same meal every year, we change a few things up. But that way I don’t have to rethink backwards, okay, when does the turkey need to go in, when do all these different things have to be finished in order to all sit down, all 30 or so of us that typically have the big dinner together at a specific time that we’ve chosen for the day. So, I can just pull that out, extrapolate it to the time we’re going to eat the meal, I don’t have to rethink all of that. I’m finding that there are so many things like that in our lives. For me, just taking on one small singular thing at a time is helping me to decrease that overall sense of overwhelm.


Jill: I love that. Let me just ask you, first of all, what’s been the result? Just of the keys alone, what do you notice, changes, and what’s the ripple effect it has had on just getting out the door? 


Jen: That’s the thing that I’m finding so amazing is that, simply by having that routine simplified every time I leave the house and not having that frustration multiple times a day, potentially, it has improved my whole overall standard of living. [laughs] Even that one simple thing, it’s really amazing.


Jill: When we had this conversation, I got really excited about it because as you said, it’s kind of a symbol or a metaphor for something bigger I think. I don’t know if you can relate to this, but a lot of my physician clients have this general sense that life is so busy and overwhelming that they need to “big umbrella” get organized. And it’s just something that nags at them like an inadequacy that they need to take care of, and at the same time, the notion or task of getting organized kills really overwhelming, how to do that. The example you gave us, I think, is such an important reminder that getting organized happens one tiny step at a time really by taking a look at the area where there is you know, just kind of being that anthropologist in your own life, huh? Look at what the funny monkeys do every day, before they leave the house.


Jen: [laughs] 


Jen: Chasing after their keys and their tails. It’s like, “Oh, there’s an area that every single time I keep repeating what’s one ridiculously easy thing I can do to make a change there.” As we were talking about this, it came to mind, I’ve been talking to a physician client not too long ago, and he and his spouse divide up the family duties. He’s in charge of the money stuff and he was saying, it was so embarrassing, because many times he’s supposed to be the money guy, and when there was cash needed to go in on the class gift, or to pay the lawn person, or the babysitter, he never had cash, and then he would forget, or drive to get cash at the ATM, and forget his wallet, all those things that we humans do when we’re distracted, and busy, and overwhelmed. So, we talked about it and I said, “Well, why don’t you set a timer for 15 minutes and download the Venmo app,” which means you can pay somebody on the spot. Most people are accepting it these days including whoever is organizing the class gift or babysitter certainly are. It was such a simple solution. 


But he came back the next session and said, “It’s so funny how that one little thing gave me some peace of mind. It’s taking care of all kinds of other things. But I just forgot when I was kind of in that frenzied mode, how to step back and get curious about why this pattern keeps repeating itself and what’s one tiny little step I can take that can solve this problem, which then begins to have a ripple effect in other areas as well.” I think the other key you said that was so good is, it’s looking at the stuff that repeats itself, so that we can create templates, checklists, solutions, so that they continue to help, then repeats itself over and over as well. What comes to mind for you as you hear that?


Jen: The thing that you’re saying that was so significant to me in this discovery is really, I had accepted that I’m not organized. I wasn’t trying to battle that. I had just accepted that because I’d realized that something has to give, what’s going to give, it’s not going to be work, it’s not going to be time with my family. So, it’s going to be being organized. I had decided that, that’s where I’m going to let it slide. But what this made me realize is that, yes, that whole overwhelming being completely organized, that will probably never happen for me. [laughs] I’m okay with that. But I can pick and choose these small things and chip away at it, and each little one of these makes a huge difference, and that has given me a lot of peace of mind as you say, you’re just having one little thing solved, and so, I don’t have to repeat it. 


Making that time investment, which typically is not surprising in retrospect, but it’s not a huge time investment. You think you don’t have time to do it but if you do this one investment upfront, you solve the problem for the long term. So, you can extrapolate that into all kinds of things in your life that can simplify every day. Of course, meal planning, and grocery planning, all kinds of things that you do in your everyday life, and probably things that you do in your work life as well that you can go to the trouble of making a detailed checklist for, and once you’ve got it, you can tweak it, but you don’t have to redo the whole thing over and over again.


Jill: Yeah, I think that’s just a really good point. So, two keys to pull away from that are one, again, it’s not particularly helpful in that all or nothing thinking thing that we do to say, either I am organized or I’m not. Instead, it’s like, “Hmm, what’s my intention?” I’d like to see some more organization and less waste of time in the things in my life I’m doing every day. So, particularly, for my physician clients with families thinking about this in terms of routines, routines are another way that we can make little tiny changes piggybacking on a habit we already have. So, something that just came up very recently in a coaching session of physician with very young children, and every day they were getting out the door and down the street realizing the backpacks for daycare. So, one of them hadn’t made it downstairs. 


As kids get older, they should be responsible for their own backpacks and they learn it, but the really tiny that can be tough. So, piggybacking on a habit that already happened, which was reading bedtime stories and kissing the kids, good night, we kind of brainstorm, “Hey, why don’t we just grab the backpacks in the kid’s room wherever they are? After bedtime is done, and you go downstairs, and they just go right into the car.” Ten more steps from the kitchen into the garage into the car and it solved the problem. I got a follow up email going so simple, but so much more relaxed in the mornings and running around looking for the backpack. So, again, it’s chipping away, I think is the term you used that was just perfect. These things where you notice there’s repeated chaos, repeated tension on your part, where there’s a little bit of that hamster on the wheel zone and thinking it, “What’s one thing I can do that might make this simpler, solve it, and is potentially repeatable? I think that’s really, really helpful.


Jen: Yeah, and about backpacks, that’s such a great idea, and it reminds me of an experience I had with an extremely well-organized member of my family, my nephew and his wife and their three children. I stayed with them one time. They had three young children, and they had everything systematize, so that in the morning, the kids who went to three different schools, rode different buses, everybody had a different time that they had to be out the door, but there was zero chaos, and I had never witnessed that before in my own household. [laughs] 


I was so inspired by it because it clearly can be done. So, the kids’ clothes were already picked out and out for them. So, there was no discussion about what to wear, whether it was weather appropriate or anything like that. The breakfast, two choices. The kids knew what the choices were. So, each of the kids, even as young as a kindergartener, got up on time, got themselves dressed, got themselves breakfast, and were out the door on time. So, to me that was living proof and shoutout to you, Billy and Jamie, [laughs] that it can be done, and just taking those simple organizational steps made a huge difference, and all of the kids went off to school with that peace of mind of just having a normal quiet routine that morning, which I think probably also influenced the parents start to the day at their work.


Jill: Yeah, great point. It reminds me of the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant one bite at a time?” People say, how do you get more organized? We’ve just given some really good examples of just one part of the process at a time, it can really make a big difference. Dr. Jen Barna, CEO and founder of DocWorking, thank you so much for coming to have this conversation with me, and thanks to all of you for joining us. Make sure you tell your friends and colleagues about DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. And until next time, I’m Jill Farmer.


[DocWorking theme]

Doctors are often great on their feet, good at reacting in the moment, and doing what needs to be done. But over time, it may feel like life is a little chaotic, and you’re not as organized as you want to be. So, what can help? You need a really simple system to organize your time and your tasks, both at work and at home. And you need to be able to learn that system on your own time, on your own schedule from the comfort of your own home. No classes that you need to schedule around or long books on organization that you need to read. A simple system you can learn on your own time and implement right away. Doctors can’t believe how much peaceful productivity is right at their fingertips when they learn a better way to get organized in their life.


Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you for being here. Please check us out at and please don’t forget to like and subscribe. Thank you for listening.


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.

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

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