I recently held a one man “hackathon” where it was my goal to release as many iOS apps to as I could in one long weekend. These were apps that I’ve already had the ideas for but never had the motivation nor energy to make. When the motivation came, I decided to squeeze every last bit of it before it vanished again.

A little under two years ago, I spent eights months working sleeplessly on a social networking app for notes, dubbed Notestand. I did not have a job, and had a measly income of $25 a day from other apps I had in the store. I had given up every semblance of a social life to work on this project. Never had I had so much faith in a project or myself.

Being my first real product, I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was doing. The concept of lean startup was foreign to me, and I spent months scrupulously finessing every last detail and squeezing in countless features. The end product did too many things, making it difficult to market. I now have a full time job as a developer.

The experience I gained was invaluable, but I vowed never to spend that much time on something I wasn’t even sure was market desired. The result was an antithesis of the Notestand way: ship, and stop taking yourself so seriously.

If the number one rule of Day Trading is never carry holdings overnight, my number one rule is never let a project take long, or it’ll never be finished.

With a full time job, for time, energy, and motivation to convene all at the same time was a precious event. And on this particular weekend, the stars had aligned and the universe’s motivation well had overflown, and I finally got to work on all the ideas that were just floating around in my mind.

The apps

1. Do Something (free) – find great things to do nearby.

There is no task more difficult than to find a new place to eat. Open Yelp and you are instantly overwhelmed by listings, pictures, reviews, distance, numbers – what does it all mean!? When an emotional being sees 3.5/5 stars, what are they to infer from that? There is no emotional equivalent to what that number represents. And to see five different restaurants all with a 3.5/5 rating makes making any decision dangerous and impossible. So you end up going for what you already know. So much for adventure.

Do Something solve this by finding only the best places nearby, and presenting them nicely one by one. No meaningless star system. No data overflow. Just “Really Good” or “Pretty Good”, and a “Take me there button”. Stop making excuses and go do something already.

2. Great Words (2 dollars) – I use this one frequently. I enjoy learning new words but was frustrated that there were no places I could save a word I encountered and refer back to it later. What I desperately wanted was to enter a word, look up the definition and usage, and later run through all my words like flashcards. And that’s exactly what Great Words is. The next time you’re reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, and come across a word like obsequious or antinomianism or capitulate, save it here and you won’t forget it. The goal is that by practicing, you’ll become a better writer, speaker, and overall communicator.

3. Note 22 (1 dollar) – I also use this frequently. I take a lot of notes, and Apple’s basic notes app does it for me features wise. I don’t need my notes app to control my thermostat. With the default iOS notes app however, there isn’t a way to organize notes into folders. Note 22 solves this issue, and lets you add different notes to different folders. Note 22’s UI also feels more native to iOS 7, whereas the iOS Notes app seems to be in a confused state between iOS 6 and iOS 7.

4. Routines (1 dollar) – a checklist for your common routines – every weekend I visit my family in the suburbs. I always end up forgetting something, like my charger, pajamas, glasses – something. It’s really frustrating. Thus was born the idea for Routines. Simply create a “Going home to suburbs routine”, and add a list of steps like “bring charger”, “turn off heat”, etc. Every weekend before going home, walk through each step, and check the item off as it’s completed.

Lessons Learned

It’s too soon to tell the results of this experiment. For one, it felt really great to work on some personal projects. I am never at my happiest than when working on a project of my own.

It’s also given me a lot of momentum. I feel much more fast paced. I’m not just lying around and pondering what I ought to do next or whether I ought to do it. I just do it.

I’ve realized it doesn’t matter what I work on, as long as I’m working on something. If that million dollar idea hasn’t hit yet, don’t just sit idly hoping it’ll come soon. Keep yourself busy and warmed up so that when it does come, you’re hyped up and ready to go.

If you have any tips on the motivation problem, or how you balance a full time job and personal projects, I’d love to hear about you: email or tweet me.