The Secret of Getting Ahead is Getting Started

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the secret to getting ahead is getting started

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What is that one big, overwhelming task you are staring down? You know the one – you recognize it because it just seems so enormous that there is no possible way you will ever even get started working on it. Forget about actually completing the job! Did you know there is actually a secret to getting the job done?

Yes, there is a secret. Here it is: start.

The secret to getting ahead or completing a job, no matter how overwhelming it may seem, is ALWAYS the same.

The Secret of Getting Ahead is Getting Started

Mark Twain The secret of getting ahead

Easier said than done?

Yes and no. If you think you can dive into any big endeavor without a plan and just plow through it, chances are you will find yourself stuck part-way in. And frustrated. And even MORE overwhelmed than you were before you began.

But with just a little planning (really – just a little) you can take control of the situation, and you can start and work into it…and finish.

The Secret of Getting Started is Gaining Control

The secret to gaining control over anything that seems overwhelming is to break that task down into smaller and smaller steps. If you really want to simplify it, take a sheet of paper and create a mindmap similar to the picture below. In the center bubble, write down the big, overwhelming task. Connect that to smaller tasks, and break those down still further.

Eventually, you will reach a point where each individual action no longer feels beyond your scope. Then, take all of those small actions, put them in approximate order, and do the first one.


After you complete the first action, move on to the second, and then the third. Do not think about the project in its entirety, just keep moving through the small steps. Your only task is the next task.

If you find you need to make adjustments or revise a few things once you are into your project, that’s normal. Just like the steps don’t have to be in perfect order from the beginning, they can be adjusted at any time. Make the necessary changes, and then get back to work, one small step at a time.

Challenge Yourself:

What’s the big project looming over your head? Grab a piece of paper and write it down in a bubble in the middle of the page. From there, start breaking it into smaller chunks, and then break those down further, expanding all around the first bubble. When you have reached a point where you can accomplish each task, make a list in the approximate order you will do each step. Then, start with the first one. Start now.

A Real-Life Example

What does this look like in real life? Well, let’s say you need to clean out your basement but it’s full of ten years of “I’ll deal with this stuff later”. Whoa, put the brakes on that, there is no way you can handle cleaning out the basement. Am I crazy???

Nope. You just need to reframe the process. Try not to see the basement as a whole. Can you break it into segments? For example: Today I will clean out the laundry area. Tomorrow I will install shelves for storage. Wednesday I will go through all the books and magazines. Thursday is for old sports equipment. Friday for all of the clothes I’ve put in storage boxes and forgotten about.

And then break it into even smaller tasks. Don’t think about shelves all at once. Plan it out. First I will measure where I want to put shelves. Then I will clear everything out of that area. Then I will go to The Home Depot and purchase the shelves. Then I will construct the shelves.

Measuring for shelves is such a small task that it doesn’t seem like it will help get the basement cleaned out. But it is the first step in a process that will make a big difference.

Related Post: Challenge Your Fear of Failure: Do Something Hard

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time

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the secret of getting ahead is getting started. quote by Mark Twain

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  1. Molly @ Transatlantic Notes says:

    Yes! Just making that first step is the impetus needed to make progress in whatever area we’re looking to improve on. I’ve lately become a bit stuck with starting but this is a good reminder to just do it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lori says:

      One tiny step at a time is all it takes. Thanks for reading, Molly!

  2. Nina | Lemons and Luggage says:

    Thank you so much for this! You have no idea how much I needed this right now!budapest

    1. Lori says:

      Thank you, Nina! I thought the same thing the first time I read the quote!

  3. Denise Gardiner says:

    Great tips! I love the idea of breaking the task down into smaller tasks, and I think when we see it as a large project we tend to put it off feeling overwhelmed not willing to put the effort into it at that time, and it stays that way even though in our mind we want to get it done. It can be so hard to get motivated, so thank you for sharing, as we all need a push in the right direction!

    1. Lori says:

      Thank you so much for your comments, Denise, I really appreciate them!

  4. Beth Elkassih says:

    Thanks for sharing this article. I had a neat-freak aunt and she always would say to break down any room or area to declutter in quadrants. And once you start you don’t stop until that ‘quadrant’ is completed. Needless to say, her house was tidy 24/7!

    1. Lori says:

      Your aunt sounds like my kind of person! While my house isn’t always scrubbed clean, I would say it’s almost always tidy and neat. Thank you for reading!

  5. April Key C. Rode says:

    I like this idea, Lori, thanks for writing and sharing this to us. Your management posts help me get through all these things that need to be done, but sometimes I’m caught up to the big picture ending I am overwhelmed. Nice and informative post! Very helpful.

    1. Lori says:

      Thanks for reading, April! Stick with it, it does get if not easier, then maybe just more automatic and less stressful.

  6. Gina Lucia says:

    This is brilliant. I’m a massive advocate of breaking something down into the smallest steps possible and then just getting started. Mostly because I had to learn to do that the hard way. It truly works though. If something seems huge, you’re just not going to do it. Great post!

    1. Lori says:

      Thank you, Gina! I admit, I had to learn the hard way as well. Sometimes I still get that “overwhelmed” feeling, and then I stop and remind myself to simplify the steps, and I can handle whatever comes my way. Thank you so much for reading!

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