The Secret to Getting Ahead According to Mark Twain

Are you frustrated by the lack of progress on your goals and projects? Are you the type of person who doesn’t like to set goals because you secretly think you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment?

Mark Twain was one of the most successful authors of his day. When asked how he had been able to accomplish so much in his career he said:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”

The Secret to Getting Ahead

It seems so simple doesn’t it? But often the simple things are not easy in practice. Let’s break down Mark Twain’s advice into practical steps we can take today.

Step 1. Break complex projects into manageable tasks.

Do you find yourself procrastinating on big projects? The reason you procrastinate is because you haven’t broken down your big project into smaller bite size tasks or sub-projects. When our mind is only focused on a large, overwhelming goal, we lack clarity on what to do in the present moment. Break down your big goal into smaller tasks and then just focus on the first task.

Bonus tip. Once you break down your big goal into smaller goals, go ahead and place some deadlines on your smaller goals on your calendar. I do this with a to do manager I use called TeuxDeux. You can read more about how I use it here (The Power of a Calendar To Do List). Since it’s a calendar-based to do list, I can easily drop my small goals on a date in the future.

Step 2. Start on the first one.

Once you’ve broken down your goal into smaller parts, only focus on the next action that needs to take place. Don’t allow your mind to get overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. Procrastination sets in when we think too much about all the details. Just focus on the first task. When you focus on just completing the first task, you’ll begin to create some momentum. You’ll also feel a sense of success so celebrate the small wins on the way to your big win.

If at all possible, do your first task, first thing in the morning. Make it a priority and avoid any other type of distraction. This is essential if you are going to move your goal forward. You need to see everything else as a distraction. Period. This is what the most productive people do. If you admire someone for how much they seem to get done, then you’ll probably find them to be ultra selective on how they use their time.

For me, I protect my mornings at all cost. It’s when I am the most energized and creative. I push all appointments, business matters, and networking tasks into the afternoon. How I structure my day is pretty simple. I have “maker” mornings and “manager” afternoons. Since I work for myself, I have both the worker hat and the boss hat I need to wear daily. Anything related to creating value in my business is done in the mornings. Managing my business must wait for the afternoon.


Question: How about you? Which of the above tips do you need to work on the most? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



    Jonathan has been blogging since 2009 and is still in awe that the Creator of the Universe desires to have a relationship with him. His passions include spending time with his kids, reading, March Madness, surprise get-a-way trips with his wife, and watching funny YouTube videos.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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