This is the final installment of the COPE System series.
If you missed the previous installments, get a big picture overview at COPE System Overview -- and navigate from there.
Over this series we've looked at how to Capture, Organize, and Plan. Now it’s time to Engage -- to DO the work.
Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Up to this point in our series, you’ve been sharpening the axe -- capturing, organizing, planning. But getting ready to do the work doesn't actually get anything done.
You can’t think a tree to the ground.
The sharpest axe, the perfect plan, are tools. Tools are useful because of the skill, experience and strength we bring to the job. Work is done by the worker, not the tool.
"Chopping" is how we take what we’ve planned for our week and our days, and then act. It turns the imaginary into the real.
ENGAGING has two challenges: starting the work, and doing the work.
The goal is to make it easy to 1) engage, and 2) stay engaged. Commence & immerse.
Starting is all about overcoming friction. The best way to do this is by focusing on persistent starting, instead of on having to finish (see “The Now Habit” by Neil Fiore).
Don’t obsess about completing the entire project in one sitting. Break things into smaller pieces, and persistently build the habit of starting. Just sit down and start, and don’t make it a big deal. Keep things in perspective.
A kitchen timer is a great tool -- it's like doing a workout against the clock. You can delay, chat with friends … but once that timer starts, you get to work.
Don't think about the work -- think about starting the timer, and THEN look at the work. This helps alleviate the stress, especially if you know there is a defined end-point for the session.
How do you start something you’ve been avoiding? Simple: set a 5 minute timer, and engage with it. Do NOT go longer than the 5 minutes. If you get into a flow, take a short break after the 5 minutes, then set a longer timer. If you can barely last the 5 minutes, take a longer break, and set the timer for just another 5 minutes.
Not long into this habit, you may choose to graduate to the Pomodoro technique, which is a systematic way to approach your work.
But, remember, you don’t have to be a robot. Not everything needs to be timed … but this is a strategy that REALLY helps overcome the challenges of starting.
Doing is all about staying focused -- avoiding distractions, both internal and external.
Internal distractions just pop up inside your head: ideas, wants, to-dos. You already know what to do: immediately capture these items, then continue with your work. Capture & continue. You build up your focus muscle -- single-minded on the task at hand.
External distractions can be really hard to control -- interruptions, noise outside, phone calls, various alerts, etc. Control what you can: put a sign on the door that you’re in a work session, silence your phone, wear ear plugs or headphones.... External distractions cannot be fully eliminated 100% of the time -- you may have kids running around, or other pressing issues. But simply setting your intention and taking steps makes a world of difference.
If you can master the two challenges of engaging with your work -- starting and doing -- you become a master of your fate.
This is the HOW of enhancing the quality of your life… anything that you want, any goal or desire, requires some form of starting and doing.
The entire COPE system is about spending your precious time -- a truly limited resource -- on the most important things to move you to where you want to go in life with ease and low stress.
Success hinges on getting the right things done and that's why I've spent this time, showing you how to COPE.