Probably the best way for you to make rapid effective progress on your project is to have a good idea of how you want the project to end up, and then identify the Simplest Problem that you can solve Quickly. In computer science, almost every first program is some variation on Hello World. Essentially, it is a surefire way to just show that it works. You know that you are not making some basic mistake. Once you can do something really basic, then you can work on doing something less basic. Hopefully the next thing you do won’t be too crazy hard, or you are likely to just sit there frustrated and annoyed.
Quick Simple Problems Quick Simple Problems may seem too easy, and may seem like they don’t get you to your destination. What they will do, however is to get you moving. If the problems are truly quick and simple, you will have rapid successes on your project. You won’t be sitting there wondering if it will work, you will know whether it works or not, and what the conditions that cause success are. One of the greatest asset you can create for yourself on a project is to feel good about the likelihood of the outcome. If you feel good about it, and feel like you are moving forward, you will have more ambition to try new experiments, which will also move the project toward success.
Solve lots of Quick Simple Problems. If you want to get further along, you can solve lots of problems. If you get impatient, and decide you want to chuck the whole project, then maybe you are trying to make leaps between successes that are too large. It could be that you just need more information than you are stuffing into your brain, so you are making mistakes that research could help you avoid. Perry has distilled the idea down to Think Solve Do in his process of creating Frankenstien Prototypes.
Set goals, but keep them realistic One thing that often happens with people new to an idea or subject is that they see advanced work and think that they can just ‘do that‘. What they often don’t realize is that to attain such a level of complexity you see in a mature product requires the solving of many many Quick Simple Problems, and is often done over large blocks of time by groups of very dedicated people. Some times you need to start as simple as, ‘can you get an LED to light between two contacts?’ If you can, then you could probably put a motor or something else between those contacts.
Make photos and video As you work, it is also helpful for you to take photos of the process you are developing. Think about how you would explain what you are doing to somebody who is not there. What would somebody need to know if they were going to do what you have just done? A lot of this will be you answering your own questions that came up as you did the work. What were you wondering as you opened something up, or securing two things together? Were there certain tools that were useful or needed?
In pretty much every operating system, there is at least one way to make a screen shot, which can be cropped later for tighter reference. If you make these photos or screen shots while you do the project, you can often look back at the pictures later and the ideas behind them will come back and you can write up the process. The photos or video will help you remember.
How do you solve problems? Do you like to solve many Quick Simple Problems, or do you like to go after the big fish? Do you have examples of problems you have solved and process you have used to get through them? Add your ideas to the comments, and put your photos and videos in the Make Flickr pool.