When building anything, preparation is always better than luck. It's more reliable and helps you make better choices later in the project.
The preparation phase is key in any project I take on. In order to accurately see where I'm going, I need to know where I am.
This usually involves detailed research into the subject. I look for existing thoughts, problems and success stories and learn from them. I take extensive, organized notes and record ideas as I go.
This helps me identify the tools I'll need and gives me a great set of data to reference in my notes.
Preparation should never be an excuse, it should be a task. Many people have trouble launching because they don't feel "ready" and stay stuck forever getting prepared. You have to realize that you'll never feel truly ready, and in most cases never can be.
Most of the actual work behind development and design is about finding solutions. There's a reason you can bash your head against a problem all day and get nowhere with it, then suddenly find the solution while walking your dog or in the shower.
Taking time to think, away from the keyboard and mouse is one of the most important things you can do when tackling any problem. It brings new solutions, freshens your mind and strips away the fatigue.
I like to get a blank sheet of paper and sketch or to go for drives. Being away from the work opens up new perspectives and dumps out the prior prejudices that might have been limiting your creativity.
Some of the solutions I'm most proud of have come from getting away from the work. From an easy UX for managing image uploads to a faster way to structure a database that led to a six time performance increase.
Taking all the information and ideas you've gathered and applying them in a structured way to your project is the next step. The real value here isn't in the plan you build, but the experience you gain putting everything together for the first time.
Plans are often useless if your aim is to adhere to them blindly. Situations change, new ideas come and there's no way to take everything into account when drawing up your plan. The real value is in the act of planning, where you sit down and work with all the ideas and information you've gathered.
Consider yourself a sculptor sitting down with a block of clay for the first time, ideas and references spinning in your head. The art you end up with will often be nothing like what you imagined when starting. The experience gathered by kneading the clay and working with it for the first time is invaluable as you continue.
Sometimes the best way to find a solution to a problem is just getting started. Hacking together something rudimentary and then going from there. You can spend forever looking for the perfect solution, or you can come to it by building an imperfect one and asking yourself “what's missing?”.