In Others’ Words: Getting Ahead

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” ~Mark Twain, American author & humorist

And the rest of the quote goes: “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”


I tend to over-complicate things. Spend too much time staring at the big picture and letting it overwhelm me. Then the “I can’t” thoughts ramp and before too long, I’m accomplishing nothing.

Sometimes it’s the simplest truths that make the biggest difference in our lives, isn’t it? Rather than try to tackle the big picture — the whole thing, that never-gonna-get-it-all-finished everything — all I need to do is get started. Or, as my husband likes to say: Do the next thing.

Getting ahead is as brilliantly simple as that.

In Your Words: It’s Monday. Got a lot to do? Don’t worry about finishing — don’t think about Friday. What one thing do you need to do to get started?

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  1. Loree Huebner
    February 6, 2012, 12:47 am   /  Reply

    Your hubby and my hubby would get along great. My hubby always says that “if you’re worried about something, get to work on it. Start on it and you will feel better.”

    I agree. We just need to take it one thing at a time.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 6:04 am   /  Reply

      It’s the truth.
      The challenge is when there’s a lot of “one things” waiting.
      The reality is you can only do one of them at a time . . . so ya gotta pick one.

  2. February 6, 2012, 6:13 am   /  Reply

    I LOVE this! This has been my motto ever since we said yes to adoption. Because there about a million cajillion things to get done and when I look at all of them, I start to hyperventilate. But if I look at just one thing at a time, if I look at just one day at a time and figure out what to do that day, then I’m good! I can do that! God is the MASTER at giving us our daily bread.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 6:18 am   /  Reply

      I can’t even imagine all you have to do as you walk the adoption path … praying for you.
      And yes, thanks for the reminder of looking for (and expecting) only “our daily bread.”

  3. Karen S. Elliott
    February 6, 2012, 6:14 am   /  Reply

    I do try to break down big projects, and yes, they are so much more agreeable when they are in small bits. And not so overwhelming. Like putting a collection together for a book – just work on one story at a time. Before you know it – collection done (or getting there, anyway!).

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 6:19 am   /  Reply

      How did writer Anne Lamott say it?
      Bird by bird. Bird by bird.

  4. February 6, 2012, 6:25 am   /  Reply

    Good quote. I need to review my submission for DT therapy one last time and then lots of poetry for a gentleman I edit for. It will be good to approach both bit by bit.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 6:31 am   /  Reply

      One thing at a time … and then you get started. Sounds like a fun Monday …

  5. February 6, 2012, 6:32 am   /  Reply

    That’s soooo refreshing to hear and to think about. Like you, I tend to get overwhelmed if I look at everything I have to. Today, my one thing is to work on rewriting a chapter in my novel. Thanks, Beth! Have a great Monday.

  6. February 6, 2012, 6:51 am   /  Reply

    So true!!
    First thing I’m going to do? Change out of my pjs. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 7:47 am   /  Reply

      You’re ahead of me, Coleen!

  7. February 6, 2012, 7:28 am   /  Reply

    Like I tell my daughters: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. This morning, my bite is finishing the synopsis to send to Susie.
    Another thing I tell them: If there’s something you have to do, but are dreading it…do it first. Get it out of the way. Makes everything else so much easier.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 7:47 am   /  Reply

      I like both of those thoughts, Pat.
      Now, what am I dreading?
      Hhmmmm …

  8. Jeanne T
    February 6, 2012, 7:34 am   /  Reply

    Coming back to read later, but wanted to share a couple of thoughts. Hopefully they’re not also shared above me. 🙂

    First, that whole eating the elephant thing–so helpful to break things down into bite-size–accomplishable tasks.

    When I taught, I’d create units beginning with the big picture. Then, I’d break that down into subpoints (think outline). Then, I’d break those down into the steps needed to eventually accomplish the big picture. 🙂

    Using Susan May Warren’s resources to prepare to write has been so helpful in learning how to write a novel. This week, my goal is to write the last few scenes and write “The End.” I’ll begin that by writing one scene at a time. 🙂

    • February 6, 2012, 7:45 am   /  Reply

      Yay! Jeanne. There’s just something about writing The End. I’m so proud for you.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 7:49 am   /  Reply

      Having watched you systematically write scene by scene by scene, I know you’ve worked hard to get to “The End.” Jeanne.
      You’re almost there.
      How shall we celebrate?

      • Jeanne T
        February 6, 2012, 9:04 am   /  Reply

        I’m going to think on that and get back to you. 🙂

  9. February 6, 2012, 8:09 am   /  Reply

    Thanks for the reminder, much needed!

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 8:37 am   /  Reply

      🙂 I needed it as much as anyone else.

  10. February 6, 2012, 8:15 am   /  Reply

    When I’m in situations like this I like to reflect on…Bob. Ever seen What About Bob?

    Baby steps. Baby steps. 😉
    ~ Wendy

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 8:37 am   /  Reply

      What About Bob: One of my husband’s favorite movies.

    • February 6, 2012, 9:16 am   /  Reply

      Love this – Yes! Baby steps…. I will now have Bill Murray in my head all day as I work… 🙂

  11. February 6, 2012, 9:22 am   /  Reply

    I too am one who looks at the entire task and is overwhelmed to the point of paralysis sometimes. “Do what’s next” seems a no-brainer to some, but a needed reminder for us all-or-nothin types. I have a weird system for doing my work (church office manager doing everything from bookkeeping, recordkeeping, publicicity, media prep, preschool administration, webmistressing, etc etc) : I tend to want to get everything done at once, and don’t want to forget something, so I am often seen with 14 or more piles of work around me at my L-shaped desk. I tend to try to do them all at once. Yes, I know, this is ridiculous. But I’ve not been able to change this compulsion, so I’ve learned to roll with it. I sometimes flit from stack to stack keeping at the piles until they’re all done. Helps keep me focused, maybe. Or maybe I just like to look like I’m really busy. 🙂

    What’s the next thing? Oh, shower. Yes, I believe I can do that…. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 9:36 am   /  Reply

      Hhhm. Methinks I need an L-shape desk. Right next to yours, Camille.


  12. February 6, 2012, 9:26 am   /  Reply

    Excellent advice, Beth. I needed to hear it. I tend to focus on a whole task at once and feel overwhelmed when what would serve me better is putting my detail-oriented mind to work on one small portion.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 9:37 am   /  Reply

      Glad this quote helped you, Keli. I need the reminder too. This is a new favorite quote.

  13. February 6, 2012, 10:00 am   /  Reply

    Good stuff, Beth. And sooooo fitting for a Monday. The one thing I need to do today to get started: Focus. I had an emotional jumble of a weekend (not bad, just roller coastery 🙂 ) and now I just need to FOCUS. (And probably have another cup of coffee too) 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 10:51 am   /  Reply

      And so the next question is: What are you focusing on, Melissa?


  14. terri tiffany
    February 6, 2012, 11:41 am   /  Reply

    I have a zillion things to get done but here I sit:) Thanks for the encouraging words!

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 11:57 am   /  Reply

      Me too … back to my zillion. Hope you’re zillion things get whittled down.

  15. February 6, 2012, 12:17 pm   /  Reply

    I love this, Beth! I’m all about chunking my big to-dos into little manageable pieces. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 4:28 pm   /  Reply


  16. February 6, 2012, 1:04 pm   /  Reply

    I sometimes overcomplicate things by looking at the whole picture instead of the small steps needed to get it done. This year, I’m trying to look at the smaller steps first.

    • Beth Vogt
      February 6, 2012, 4:28 pm   /  Reply

      Is it working, Stacy?

  17. February 7, 2012, 12:05 am   /  Reply

    […] Contact ← In Others’ Words: Getting Ahead […]

  18. November 29, 2012, 11:12 am   /  Reply

    […] My husband has a favorite saying: Do the next thing. […]

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