Sometimes, you have a problem. A problem that itches and maybe even hurts.

The kind of problem where you wish “wouldn’t it be cool if…,” but then you follow that up and it’s clear that it’s either too difficult or would take more time than you have to spare. Or maybe you realize you don’t know something needed to solve it.

Here’s how you could scratch that itch, even if you think it’ll probably take too long.

First, identify the problem. Just figure out:

  • who the customer really is (probably yourself, because everyone is like you),
  • what they seem to want to do (just bloody ask them, or guess! You can become more accurate later),
  • and then consider the context (time, space, bloopglorp).

As a __, I want to __ within __ context.

As a working adult, I want to take time out to journal in the AM every day, maybe during my commute.


This is a “job” that you’ve identified is either hard or not even possible to do right now. Try thinking about other related “jobs”, using the same structure of “customer”, “want”, and “context.”

Now, that you have a problem in mind (just pick the one I chose if you don’t), it’ll feel tempting to jump to solutions and to start building them.

But perhaps try this, even if you have a great solution already: brainstorm the “general outline” of the solution, think about the properties any given good solution should have. Rephrase the problem, try to imagine instances of it happening as scenes in a movie. Try adopting a skeptical POV and suggest something you normally wouldn’t. Try thinking like the stupidest person you can think of. And the most or least optimistic.

And setup an unreasonable, artificial, too-constrained time limit, let’s say it’s 25 minutes.

Think about the customer. Think about the context. Think about what you now think the customer really wants.

You’ll be doing this every day in the morning. Where will you do it? Imagine yourself doing it in the morning — are you sitting behind a steering wheel before the car is started, in a bus or train, or perhaps with a coffee at a kitchen bar? What do you have in your hands? What would annoy or relax that person in that moment? When will you consume what you produce, and how?


Clock’s ticking already!

something that’s easy to do on the go, probably

Maybe something that can work from all my devices?

Maybe… something that makes me want to write day after day

Whatever seems to be the most research-support method out there… solution should probably incorporate some of that

Something that is free or inexpensive

I do care about the data being only accessible to me… so, that.

Anything, it just needs to be very quick, already running out of time!

Okay, great!

Now I’m gonna leave the solution-defining up to you. You have the remaining time in your 25 min slot, use it well!

Here are some resources you might find useful, now or for future problems:

  • Zapier: connect A to B. Hookup certain kinds of emails to be filed into Evernote, or certain tweets to be set as Facebook statuses. Even connect to a Google Sheet or to a MySQL database! All in the web UI, no coding!
  • Typeform: dead simple forms. Integrates with Zapier! Looks half way decent!
  • Fieldbook: haven’t used this, but it looks like an easy way to create a personal dashboard. The list/detail mapping thing looks great.
  • Email: send and receive text (even with attachments, and with web-like styling! Even 😍😎👏!) with anyone on the planet, without gatekeepers, for 10k/mo. for free with Mailgun, and there’s an app for it on every device!
  • Parchment and quill
  • Your programmer friend who likes to do things on dares
  • Google Sheets! It totally counts as programming, yo! Just say you’re “programming in a data oriented, modeling-friendly language that has a live REPL and was made by Google #InTheCloud #CollaborativeTextEditor #Web #TooManyHASHTAGS”

Anyway, after your first run through with this 25 min slot, you might have something working or you might not. In either case, STOP.

Drop, and roll. No, actually… Actually, just set it aside and come back to it after a break. You deserve it.

Back? Well, that was an unnecessary amount of dancing.

~~Awkward pause if you failed~~

Now, give your previous session a review, or grab someone off the street, ply them with donuts, and ask them. Is that the right solution to the problem you defined? Is something missing? How would you measure how successful your solution is?

If you failed, which is very likely, you’re in luck — you now know a bit more about what doesn’t work!

One likely cause of failure could be that you just needed to learn/know something to solve this problem. Learning takes time, problem-solving takes time… probably some kind of time-constrained, iterative, feedback-driven approach could work for both. But everything adds up to the same dimension: time. Sometimes it’s not worth it to learn the best way to do something. Sometimes an adequate solution for the next month is all you really need anyway.

Regardless, setup a new goal. Annotate the problem you defined or make a new version of it. Resist the Dark Side of Proposing Solutions Too Early. Setup another unreasonably short time frame, and roll again.

At least, that’s how I try to do it, with varying levels of failure.

original post on Medium