The Secret of Getting Ahead is Getting Started

You know how it feels when you want to do so many things but you never seem to make progress on them. If you like writing things down, you may have a bucket list or “some day” list with items that have been on it forever. If you’re the visual type, you might have a corkboard or a Pinterest board with pictures of what success means to you, or activities that you want to engage in some day.

Apart from ambitions, there are also things that somehow end up in your court and need your attention. Getting it off your back and finally being free of the obligation feels like an elusive dream, right? So how do you go from dreaming to getting done and then to having done?

The Bliss in Saying “Done!”

When you’re faced with an unpleasant task, the worst thing to do is to let it sit undone. You already know this. I don’t know what the law behind this is, but have you noticed how something you try to ignore just becomes bigger and bigger until it topples over and crushes you?

Then what? Imagine the bliss, the freedom, and relaxation you’d feel in not having to do that task any more. Imagine the joy in crossing it off your list and yelling, “Done!”. That’s for the unpleasant tasks. Now multiply or divide that joy by your favourite number at the thought of saying, “Done!” to a long-evolving ambition!

Lock Yourself Down

OK so you’ve imagined the end of the road, the light at the end of the tunnel, the mountain peak – whatever you want to call it – and now you want it! What next?

Lock yourself down to do a little bit of it. Note how I said a little bit.

Whether it’s an assignment, a house repair, cleaning the attic, an overflowing inbox, a letter to your grandma, or reading a book that you’re supposed to read for some reason, don’t allow yourself to think about the job as a whole.

Then what? Lock yourself down for twenty minutes. You agree with your rebelling mind that you’d do something about the job for just twenty minutes. So maybe you’ll take out a sheet of paper and write the title of assignment, maybe you’ll pull out the box of tools for repairing, maybe you’ll sort one box in the attic, or maybe you’ll read and respond to one or two e-mail messages.

What’s important is that you promise yourself to do only that task for those twenty minutes. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get very far. It doesn’t matter if you do a bad job of it. Just stick to the promise.

In fact that’s exactly how this article is being written. (I want to make it clear that writing articles like this falls into the long-time ambitions category and not the unpleasant tasks category! :)) I’d tell myself that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to write, or that it was too warm to think comfortably, or that I needed to read up a little more on the topic before I could write. Then I obviously saw what was happening. So guess what I did!

I looked at the clock, gave myself a lock-down time limit and sat down to type!

What do you do at the end of twenty minutes? When I try this, I usually find that I can continue working for about forty minutes or one hour. So I allow myself to continue and really get into the zone of working on the task. Before I know it, the job I’d been procrastinating for months is done! Once in a while I find that I really cannot stand to continue. In those cases I would stop working at the end of twenty minutes and come back to it at another time when I lock myself down again.

With this article, I wrote a basic outline and about three paragraphs. After that I couldn’t concentrate any longer (I don’t remember why) and decided to come back to it at another time. The second time around, I wrote for an entire hour! I was able to do that only because I had already set the framework during the previous lock-down. The temperature or frame of mind didn’t even matter any more! See what I’m getting at? 🙂

What’s the point of doing this? The point is that you get started and you make progress. What was previously undone gets started and eventually gets done. Big jobs get simplified since you only commit to twenty minutes of it. You slowly carve away, stroke by stroke, to unveil the final product you want.

Analysis Paralysis

One of the common causes for not getting started is that we’re frozen in place by a confusing array of choices.

The convenience of modern society is sometimes inconvenient in that we have a wide choice to pick from, the consequence being that we spend a lot of time thinking about what to do rather than doing. It’s not just me saying this.

When you have a lot of choices, don’t you think there’s a higher chance that you would end up choosing some option? Wrong! As the popular experiment by Sheena Iyengar revealed, you’re more likely to choose when you have fewer choices rather than when the sky’s the limit.

I fall for this trap quite often, but fortunately I’ve learned to spot it when it happens and pull myself out of it. For instance, I spent a few days just thinking about what article to write. About a month ago, I sent out an e-mail to those who had subscribed at, asking everyone about their ambitions and their personal obstacles. It was heartwarming when people took time to write back and tell me about their hopes and the challenges they faced in fulfilling those hopes.

So the ideas in my mind were supplemented by real issues that I wanted to help people with. Therefore I had a variety of topics from which to choose a subject for this article and I was stuck trying to decide which one to write on first. I finally decided I would write on procrastination as that’s exactly the trap I had fallen into and could write from fresh experience! I know that I can address the others later on even if I don’t address them in this article – and it’s definitely better to address something that just waste time being paralysed between choices!

Some choices are a little more complicated. What you can do for those is again to lock yourself down and give yourself a time limit to analyse the choices you have. This way you get the thinking done and finalised without procrastinating endlessly because you haven’t even made up your mind yet.

Yup, the secret of getting ahead is getting started…

Stop Listening to the Experts…

…for six months.

Once you’ve overcome the analysis paralysis and focussed in on an option, it’s still easy dilly-dally on the pretext of listening to expert advice on how exactly to implement that option.

While they are called experts for a reason and are valuable to look up to, they can sometimes be detrimental to your success unintentionally. Focussing too much on the experts can paralyse you; so much so that you’re afraid to take action on everything you’ve learned from them so far in the fear that you don’t quite know enough yet. Note that by the term “experts” I’m not only referring to people who influence you directly but also to useful reference books, courses, articles, and more.

Then what? Make a pact with yourself to shut the experts out for six months while you implement everything you’ve accumulated so far. After six months you can go back to your books and guides to see what else they have to say and then implement some more.

It can be unnerving and require some courage. However, after you’ve spent a while learning and being caught in the analysis paralysis stage, the only way to get out of the frozen state is to turn on the heat and take action.

Stop Listening to the Critics

Criticism is good – when it’s useful. What we don’t need, however, is a circle of energy vampires shooting us down just when we’ve mustered enough energy to motivate ourselves. You know exactly who these energy vampires are – the blamers, the shamers, the whiners, the fault-finders, and the destructive guardians.

Recognise these folks for who they are and build your glass cubicle around yourself so that their words hit the glass with a nice ting! and fall off without ever getting to you.

Make Time

So you’re almost at the end of this article. You’ve imagined the bliss of “Done!”, you’ve agreed to lock yourself down, you’ve chosen the exact course of action and decided not to be influenced by more advice for the time being. Listen carefully – are you saying to yourself, “I’ll lock myself down riiiiiight after <insert excuse here>”?

Don’t fall for it, my friend.

Do something now. Something. Anything. You may not be in the right place or at the right time of the day or have the right tools to get started, but if you’re serious enough about getting ahead you will find at least one small move that you can make to get started. Look up a phone number that you need for the job, make a note in your diary, make an appointment in your phone, tell your mom that you need an extra twenty minutes before going to bed – just go on and make that first tiny move!

Make the time. Do it now. It’s just twenty minutes, after all! 🙂

If you have any questions about this article or want more information, please feel free to leave a comment below or to contact us via e-mail. In the mean time, do share it with your friends! 🙂


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