How I Came Up With The App Idea For Crest
What happens right after the conception of an app idea? When you’ve had that first initial thought, where do you go? How do you develop, grow and refine your idea?
I’ve written a lot about iOS development, app marketing, idea validation – but I’ve never taken you on a journey from “first idea” to “fully designed app”.
Table of Contents
The First Thought That Sparked This Journey
The building of my Crest app started with a Hacker News discussion I stumbled upon. It discussed what people do to align their daily to-dos with their long term goals.
I have been fascinated by achievement and goal setting for as long as I can remember. Ever since I read It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden, I’ve wanted to get better. I got obsessed with how anything could be improved – especially myself – and defined my goals accordingly.
Reading through that Hacker News discussion I got an insight into something I had long suspected: most people fail to connect their day-to-day activities with their long-term goals.
I compare it to building a bridge over water, from one shore to another. Except you don’t know where the other shore is. You can only build a small part of the bridge every day. How do you make sure you’re going in the right direction?
You can’t, because you can’t see the shore. You think you know where it is, of course, but as you gradually build your bridge you get a ton of insights into bridge building, the shore, the sea, and how life gets in the way of achieving your goals. Working on your goals changes them, even if you know where you’re going,
That’s a problem.
The Problem: Better, Faster, Stronger, More Productive
That Hacker News discussion was as a petri dish for my imagination. I had practically found a problem!
If you know me, you know that I think that all apps must solve a problem. It’s a tenet of app development, business, startups and entrepreneurship: solve a problem. The rate at which you make money is proportional to the value you provide.
Now that I had found a problem, I turned it into a question I could answer. How can people best be helped to mediate between short-term tasks and long-term goals?
This is where it gets interesting. Based on that question you can come up with a number of hypotheses:
- People just need to be more productive, more focused, less distracted, be smarter, have more time – essentially more of anything – to achieve their goals.
- People need more insight into their priorities. If they choose what to work on they’ll surely achieve their goals, right? If they can’t, maybe they need a manager or coach.
- People need a system, a framework, a tool, a technology. Something that helps them do what they can’t, which is mediating between short-term tasks and long-term goals while they are achieving those goals.
If you create a product for hypothesis 1, you end up with a book like Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. If you create an app for hypothesis 2, you basically end up with… a manager, boss or coach. Someone who tells you which task has more priority. And if you create a tool or a technology, you will most likely end up with – there it is – a to-do list app!
Do you see how hard it is to solve problems? Maybe you thought that building apps was all about coming up with that one idea for a social network. Well… it’s not.
Ultimately, I decided that the solution I was looking for had to combine all three categories. It needed to:
- Increase productive time and decrease distraction time
- Make priorities clear and help set them
- Be a tool or automated technology
I also capitalised on the age-old idea of breaking up goals. I found out that the effects of breaking up bigger goals into smaller steps have been researched, among other principles such as “prompts” and The Fresh Start Effect.
You typically can’t just apply a scientific study to an app you’re building, but reading studies like these can help you come up with new ideas and insights. Likewise, none of my insights are proof that this app idea is validated, or that people want or need this kind of app.
The Solution: A Kick In The Butt?
Do you see how this app idea is taking shape?
It’s not like one idea popped into my mind. There were many ideas over the course of many months that came together into one sharp bright spot. You know it when you see it.
I knew what I wanted to build:
- Mediate between short-term tasks and long-term goals
- It had to be a digital tool (i.e. not human, analog or 100% manual)
- The tool needed to free up time for productive work
- The tool needed to give insight into priorities
- It also needed to support the breaking-up of big goals into small steps
That last two requirements proved to be crucial for the entire idea. I realised that if I could come up with a system that could give insight and structure, I had solved 90% of the problem.
I then hypothesised that a big goal, like starting a business, is actually made from hundreds of small tasks. Likewise, you could break off one mid-sized chunk of the big goal.
So, I found this “structure” from large to small:
- 1 big goal
- 3 milestones
- 3 projects per milestone
- many tasks per project
One of the insights that stood out from the Hacker News discussion is that people appeared to have a problem with mediating between short-term tasks and long-term goal. Breaking them up isn’t enough – it actually makes the problem worse.
My thoughts settled on the principle of reflection. Reflecting on myself, my actions, my work, and where I’m going, has been a cornerstone of my obsession with self-improvement. I incorporated reflection into the app idea, based on a few questions:
- What are you working on today?
- What did you do yesterday, last week, last month?
- Are you still on track towards your goal?
I hypothesised that people will consider their entire goal, and the path towards if, if they’re asked to reflect on it. Instead of bridge-building away into the distance, they now have to consider realigning by doing a bit of reflection.
Does it work? I don’t know yet. But I will find out.
Let’s take a retrospective look together. As you read through this story of mine, you see how I went from an idea about building a bridge towards a shore you can’t see to a tool that helps you to achieve your goals.
Can this tool make sure that you achieve your goals? Can it soften the impact of insights you gained while on your way to your goal? Can it show you the shore you want to get to, before you get there?
No. No one tool can. Most solutions for problems we come up with are approximations. Until a better tool steps up to the plate, we’re stuck with this one.
I think it’s time for a tasks and goal-setting app that can help you fill the gap between short-term tasks and long-term goals, instead of just asking you to make well-defined tasks “here and now.”
In this tutorial I’ve tried to give you insight into my ideation process. You’ll have to read between the lines, and follow the story, to see the framework I used. I hope it helps you to design apps of your own.
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