The 2-Day App Project Plan: Build Your Ideas
Want to learn how to code apps? Start your own app project! It’s one of the best ways to master a new skill.
In this tutorial, we’re going to discuss an approach for starting your own app project. It’s called the 2-Day App Project Plan, and it’s designed to help you get moving and build momentum with your project.
Table of Contents
The 2-Day App Project Plan
I regularly chat with aspiring app developers, and I’ve made a habit out of asking them what kinds of challenges they’re struggling with. Many app makers say this:
- “I want to create feature X. How do I pick the right tool for the job?”
- “I’m stuck with programming – it is so hard! How do I move forward?”
- “I know Swift coding, but how do I successfully make my own apps?”
Building your own apps is a challenge for sure! Sometimes, over-excited developers get caught up in the high of a great idea, but that motivation quickly burns out by the time they’re facing the first real challenge.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this too. That’s okay! It happened to me, and still does. You get all excited because of a great idea, only to burn out some time later when I’m reaching problems that are hard to tackle. (People who buy a matching gym outfit – but never work out – I’m looking at you here too!)
When you fail often, you learn from your mistakes. You could call it failing up, because you accept temporary failure and realize you can change it for the better by learning from it. You can’t learn something without failing a little.
I’ve gained experience from building a few dozen apps, and many more attempts have failed. “Experience” is nothing more than knowign a systematized approach to successfully building something that works. The key component here is trying a lot of things until you find something that works.
If you start a lot of projects, but don’t see them through, you’re missing out on learning opportunities. It’s exactly these learning opportunities that help you gain experience. Compare it to the last repetition in a workout set – you need that last rep to break the muscle a little, so it grows back stronger.
The 2-Day App Project Plan helps you avoid giving up on a project, by giving you a workflow that works. It helps you to gain momentum with a project, and brings you in a position where you can learn the most – and gain the most experience.
In short, it’s a plan to help you build awesome things.
Step 1: Pick An App Idea (10 Minutes)
What are you going to build? Pick an app idea for your project.
Stick to the following “rules”:
- Don’t pick an idea that’s too big, or too small – a simple app is good enough for now
- Don’t pick an idea that needs lots of “external” effort, people or products – choose something that you can build with resources you have right now
- Don’t worry about picking an app idea that’s unique – the best apps are better mockups of existing ideas anyway
- Don’t fret over questions like “How am I going to scale or monetize this?” – no one’s ever wanted to monetize their garden shed build project, and neither should you
- Less is more – the better your ideas, the easier they are to test, change and re-test
- If possible, try to solve a problem you or someone has
In his book Choose Yourself, author James Altucher advises you to come up with at least 10 ideas a day. I think it’s good advice, although you can also just start with one. For the next 10 days, try to come up with one good idea a day.
Step 2: Block Your Calendar (2 Minutes)
When are you going to build your project? Pick and block a free weekend from your calendar.
It’s OK to pick 2 consecutive days throughout the week, of course. The sooner the better. This is free time; off-time; relaxing time; Build Time – you deserve it!
And… we all know that saying “I don’t have time” actually means “I don’t want to make time”, so make sure you make your 2-day project a priority.
Pro tip: The 2-Day App Project Plan can be a hackathon, if you want to. Invite a few friends to build together, or do a group sprint where everyone builds their own project. Stay motivated by doing regular check-ins with the group.
Step 3: Execute The Plan (2 Days)
OK, now it’s time to execute the actual 2-day app project. You’ll find my schedule below, feel free to adopt that or come up with your own.
It’s from Friday afternoon, till Sunday afternoon — roughly 55 hours. You can of course sleep, pause, eat and have fun, but it’s key that you stick to building your project as much as possible.
You may already have an idea for an app project. If you don’t, now’s the time to do some brainstorming. What does your idea look like? What’s the biggest benefit for a user? How does the app work? Sketch out your ideas on pen and paper.
Create a mockup of the app, based on your sketches. You’ve just “ideated” the project, and now is the time to make it tangible. Your deliverable for today is a tangible app mockup that you can play with. Plenty of tools to make mockups with — I suggest you use Balsamiq Mockups. Lay out all the User Interfaces (UI) of the app. How does the user flow from one screen to another?
On the morning of day 2 you’re fresh and ready to start anew. First, you’ll do some research. When you were designing the app on Friday, you may have had some thoughts about the technical implementation of the app. Now’s the time to test those ideas. You’ll look for systems, products, libraries, frameworks and assets you can use to realize your app idea. Maybe you need Xcode and Swift, or a 3rd-party library to do that one special thing. Use your time to find out how you’re going to build this app.
It’s finally time to code something! Start with the main interface of the app, and work your way to one or two other UI screens. Don’t spend too much time on fixing bugs, the goal of your 2-day project is to make a working prototype, not to win a beauty pageant. Code, code, code!
In the evening of Saturday you evaluate what you’ve done so far. How did it go? You don’t have to spend the entire evening on this question, but make it a priority. Are you satisfied with your progress? When you’re done, feel free to code some more, or have a party, or just call it a day.
When everyone’s still sleeping on their day off, you’re making a dent in the world! Rise and shine, because Sunday morning is programming time. Finish what you were working on yesterday, and see if you can cram another feature in the little time you have. Perhaps it’s good to focus: what’s the main problem your app solves? Apply your time and resources there.
Alright! You made it to the end of the 2-day project. Good work! You can be proud of yourself. Ask yourself: “The app you’ve been building, is it worthwhile to continue on?” Do you need another hackaton to see if it’s a valid project, or do you call it quits? Take your time to figure it out, and feel free to spend some more time on any of the topics you covered earlier: ideation, designing, doing research, coding, or evaluating.
Isn’t Friday-to-Sunday 3 days!? Why is this plan called the 2-Day App Project Plan, then? It’s a trick! You’re actually get about 55 hours of time in 2 days, which is more than 2 days, but you still have time to do work or chores Friday morning and Sunday evening. You get more time in fewer hours, so to speak.
The goal of the 2-Day App Project Plan is to help you gain momentum with building your project. However, during your 2-day sprint you’ll inevitably come up with more ideas and insights. This has been the goal all along, because more insight leads to better outcomes for you and your projects.
Here’s what you can focus on, to determine if you want to continue to build your project after the 2-Day App Project Plan:
- Establish a baseline idea and feature set. What are you building? Who’s it for? What problem does it solve? What else do you need to make it a success? Channel your creativity by working towards a tangible goal, and take action to bring your ideas to life.
- Spend time on planning and research. A potential pitfall, as we’ve discussed, is burning out from over-exitement. By deliberately spending time on planning and researching your app idea, you avoid problems down the line. How many times have you thought of a great idea, only to discover someone else has beat you to it?
- Publish your app! At some point you’ll need to ship it and see what happens. Your ideas are only worth so much, you need the real world to validate your assumptions. Publish your app, get feedback, and use that to improve your ideas and designs.
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