Crank Your Workday Enthusiasm up to Eleven

One key element that consistently adds to the success and enjoyment of a workday is having positive interactions with coworkers.  Anytime we encounter a person who has an upbeat attitude with a cheerful manner we tend to contribute more to the conversation and walk away from it feeling energized.

The Habit

I say BE THAT PERSON with the upbeat attitude and cheerful manner. While you may not naturally beam sunshine everywhere you go, there are a few simple things you can add to your day to increase the amount of fun you have, which will improve your interactions with others.  Anytime we can improve the days of those we meet we pave the way for better relationships, more opportunity, and in the process increase our sense of self-worth.

The Method

As often as possible, I start the day with movement.  For me that means walking or jogging for 30 minutes (or longer, if time allows).  It’s not always the first thing on my mind, but I have never — not even once — regretted going out for a exercise once I got started.  Without exception, getting started with a little exercise in the morning improves my day every time.  I start the day with a clearer mind and less stress, and find my thoughts are easier to organize and the projects I work on require less effort to begin when I’ve started with movement.

During the morning exercise I often listen to music, news, podcasts, or just tune in to whatever nature is happening around me as I go.  I try to make sure that the things going into my brain are helpful and positive things.  Whatever we fuel up with tends to come back out naturally, so I try to make sure what’s fueling my morning mindset looks like success when it comes back out to others I meet throughout the day.

If at all possible, I try to work in at least a small amount of carefully-selected music that inspires me to have fun.  Doing this as closely as possible before the workday starts really puts me in a mindset to help people I meet have a better day.  I used to start the day Dwight Schrute style but I’ve learned more recently that any music that makes me smile and feel like dancing in my chair is the best way to go.

The Tool

spotifyiconHere’s a playlist I’ve been grooming for just such an occasion as the workday:

Darren’s Spotify Playlist for Workday Enthusiasm


Get It Right EVERY TIME (not just the first time)

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

One of the cool things about working with developers, sysadmins, and customers is that the environment is changing constantly.

The Habit

We technical folks often fall into one of two mindsets when we’re working through a problem.  We either get laser focused on the end goal — forsaking any and all incremental improvements along the way in favor of that sweet victory that waits for us in the end, or we revel in the flow of the technical process itself until we are surprised — if not a little let down — in the end when we’ve implemented an elegant solution.  This is natural.  It’s why we’re good at what we do.

But if we’ll take force ourselves to pause during the moments when we’ve made positive progress and take notes of how we got here, we’ll end up doubling the bounty when we beat the big boss at the end of the level.  By taking time to document what it was that got us here, we’re no longer just solving this problem — we’re taking time to solve this kind of problem and not just for ourselves, but for anyone who might follow in our footsteps.

The Method

As mentioned above, I have found it very beneficial to as completely as possible document how it is that I do my work.  The idea came while reading The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and it’s a simple but vital discipline to have in order to move from art to science in your field.

When we’re starting out we think of what we do as an art form, and there’s no one in the world who can do it as well as we can.  Most of us stick with that mindset and quickly fall into the trap of limiting mindsets.  We’re grateful for the work but there’s only so much of it we can do.  This is where packaging our methods into a process can take our success to the next level.

Converting from Art to Science

Most of us can identify tasks we’ll need to repeat again in the future.  I recommend keeping a watchful eye out for those tasks, and committing to making the next time you do the last time you perform that task as an art form.  The next time you perform that task, you’ll write down in detail how you did it.  Write it in detail – step by step – so that anyone can follow it with little or no knowledge of the art at which you’ve become so skilled.

The next time you perform this task – and I know this is hard because like you, I’m an artist and there’s no one better at this task than me – don’t rely on instinct.  This time use your documentation.  Read it step by maddening step as if you had never done it before.  Pretend you’re an intern learning the ropes of this business and are reading the words from a learned master of the art.

Replay.  Revise.  Repeat.

Think for a second.  Did the documentation give you everything you needed to get the work done?  Or did you have to rely on instinct for parts of it.  If you had to use your gut, go back and update the documentation.  Commit to using this document every. single. time you perform this task until the end of time.  Each time you do, the documentation will get better, and someday in the not-very-distant future, magic will happen.

Someone will ask you to do the task and you’ll realize you’ve documented it so well that anyone can do it.  So well in fact that because anyone can do it, you no longer need to do it.  You can provide the documentation to the person who asked, or you can delegate the work to someone on your team, complete with detailed instructions on how to complete it.  The point is, you’ve successfully created a process that allows your art form to be done by someone else, so you can create new art.  

That’s how you begin to say yes to more opportunity and succeed with work than you ever thought possible.

Next Steps: Use Your Template as a Template

Once the fix is in place let’s take the next step in creating the ultimate elegant solution by formatting our notes into a reusable template. Write out a solution that works for this type of problem in all its forms. For whatever variation of this issue may come along may our solution be the solution that works.

Let’s make the template beautiful, effective, and simple. Let each step be so well-planned that the outcomes our readers experience are the outcomes we have predicted.
With a working template in place, build it into a template for templates.  Use it to make templates for other solutions.  Take note of patterns we discover from template to template and use those patterns to create automation. With that we can package a way to either prevent the problem, or to solve it reliably on command.

And with that, we amplify the value of our solutions.

The Tools

The E-Myth Revisited
Next Page: Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

Photo Credit: Viktor Hanáček

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

I’ll go ahead and assume you know what Scrum is.  If not, look it up – there are tons of people who can provide a far better and more complete explanation than I.  My team is technically too small for Scrum, but we use it in the best way we can, and have really seen amazing results with it.

The parts of scrum that have proven most revolutionary for me:

  • Understanding how to assess the priority of work
  • Being able to accurately estimate the amount of effort and time required to complete the work
  • Scrum provides the team with a level of self awareness that helps us confidently accept new work, and to recommend alternatives when we know the proposed work is unlikely to succeed as proposed.

The Habits

The team agrees on the estimate of all new work

The team closely monitors the types of stories that become problematic (unclear, too large, too small, etc.)

Retro and planning at the end of EVERY SPRINT.  Complete with kudos, things to change, things we learned and things to keep.

Through the use of the template process, create an organized method of delivery that is used every time.  This will help funnel each story into a way to get the work done successfully. For more about this see THIS POST.

Scrum master and product owner roles are rotated between members from sprint to sprint in order to maintain perspective

Sprint time is sprint time.  This one is a big challenge.  Time blocking is a huge essential for this component.  Without proper, somewhat rigid, time blocking, your sprints will fall behind.


The Tools

Scrum Crash Course

Official Training

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Long-distance Kanban with Trello


Next Page: How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Darren’s Guide – The Best Tools and Techniques For Winning at Business and Life

We owe it to ourselves to bring out best every single moment of every single day.  Why would anyone want to waste time being less than the best human he or she could be?  When it comes to getting the most from myself and my day, I’m ALL IN.


In my 20 years in technology business I’ve seen and used a lot of tools. This guide is aimed at anyone who wants to make effective use of the Internet in daily life, whether it’s in business or in personal life. These tools are equally helpful regardless of whether you’re trying to run a business across multiple time zones or just trying to stay in touch with family and friends and keep your life moving in the right direction. I believe you’ll be more productive and successful than ever after taking these tips into consideration. I’d love to hear how you use these tools in your life.

The Habits

It’s easy to get caught up organizing things on paper and in the digital world, but all the tools we use are nothing more than ways to do the things we do.  For this reason the guide starts with the habits that help ensure daily success before we talk about tools.






The Tools








Thanks for taking the time to read this guide. I hope it has helped to get you started on your way toward making the web work for you, so you can get to work.



Keep Email in its Box with Inbox Zero

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

We all have a love/hate relationship with email, except maybe without the love. Yes, email is terrible, but it’s part of life so we may as well deal with it in this guide. I recommend looking at email at least once per day and no more often than three or four times per day, depending on the length of your work day. If you’re an eight-to-fiver, twice is plenty. If you run from five am to midnight, you may need to deal with email as many as four times a day.

The Habit

Check sometime in the morning. Schedule it AROUND your big rocks. Give it anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and get through it then. If you have more email than you can read in that amount of time, make use of rules, filters, and assistants to get you through the list every single time.

Do Inbox Zero. Delete, delegate, do, defer.

Delete what needn’t be there (and unsubscribe, rule, or filter it away from your inbox forever).

Delegate what must be done, but not by you, and schedule time to train involved parties on how to do the work, and how not to involve you. Empowering others is one of the qualities of highly effective professionals.

Do what must be done. Do it right now.

Defer what can’t be done now. Sparingly, you may need to schedule some things for a later time. Put them on your calendar or todo list, and get them out of your inbox.

Inbox Zero

David Allen’s Getting Things Done

The Tools

How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

Shrink the Window and Shrink the Energy


Next Page: Weekly Review and Planning

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Online Meetings and Collaboration

Photo Credit: Viktor Hanáček

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

The Habit

Online meetings can be just as productive as a meeting held in person, provided everyone remembers that the meeting is still a meeting.

Turn your camera on.  It seems weird at first but it doesn’t take very long before it feels normal, and makes a huge difference in the quality of the conversations you can have.

Especially in larger meetings and when some attendees are present via phone only, announce who you are when you’re talking.  It takes no extra time to do, and brings refreshing clarity to the call.  Not only is it courteous to other attendees, others can focus more clearly on your comments and questions when they’re not trying to remember whose faceless voice spoke last.

Prepare.  As with any meeting, be organized and prepared.  Make sure you’re ready to contribute value to the discussion and serve the needs of the group with your presence.

The Tool

This is one section of the guide that has been revised many times.  My favorite tool is GoToMeeting, but in the last couple of years Cisco WebEx has improved significantly and has some nice features, especially when it comes to collaborative remote computer support.  With that said, GoToMeeting is clearly the most polished, professional experience available.

LINK: GoToMeeting

Next Page: Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Capturing Meeting Action Items and Notes with OneNote

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life


If you had the previous version of this guide, you’ll notice that Microsoft OneNote has replaced Evernote in my list of recommended tools. In truth, either is a fine choice; you can probably be effective with either tool. OneNote integrates so naturally with Microsoft Outlook that it brings a host of useful features that in my opinion cannot be found anywhere else.

Meeting Notes and Todos

While I don’t recommend having your nose stuck in a computer during meetings, it can be helpful to use a computer to capture the deliverable to-do items at the end or after the meeting. OneNote is a great tool for this. With simple keyboard shortcuts and mouse options it’s easy to capture what was discussed in the meeting and who needs to do what by when. The notes are even tied directly to the meeting so you can click back and see who was there and what was on the agenda. If any of those to-do items are on you to deliver, a few clicks of the mouse transfer the information into Outlook with due dates, reminders, and anything else you need to make sure you don’t let anyone down.


If you conduct a lot of meetings, or just need to record a lot of the same types of information, the template feature is great for making sure you only have to open and type. If you get a note formatted the way you like it, you can save it as a template for later use. This saves time, and provides consistency when reviewing and sharing the information you’ve captured.

OneDrive Storage

Although OneDrive isn’t my online file vault of choice, I do recommend it for use with OneNote.  OneNote makes use of Microsoft’s “freemium” OneDrive service. The free included space offers plenty of room to store loads of notes, but if you run low you can purchase more from Microsoft with ease. Storing your notes in OneDrive allows you to share notes between PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet, and web app.

LINK: Why I love Microsoft OneNote


Next Page: Online Meetings and Collaboration

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Why I Think Mind Mapping Isn’t Crazy (And The Tool I Use)

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life Free with Professional version available

Don’t write this off. Just don’t. I know that “mind mapping” sounds like a weird, touchy-feely thing that people do right before they go off to yoga class and never do anything productive with their day. Not so. If you will learn to effectively map out your goals you’ll be much better at actually achieving them. If you’re still resistant to trying out this tool, do yourself a favor and get some 3×5 index cards out and put your goals there. If you’re not willing to do that, I can’t help you. Once you’ve done that and seen the benefit, come back to this guide and give XMind a try.

In this post I mention the method I use to reach my goals. XMind is a huge part of the planning process, and is my basecamp when reviewing goal progress.

  1. Map out the areas of your life where you’d like to succeed
  2. Add goals to each area of your life
  3. Add the most important thing you need to do in 5 years to reach that goal, then work your way back to 1 year, then to 6 months, and so on – all the way back to TODAY.
  4. Tag the goals (F3) with categories that line up to the categories you use in Outlook or the Labels you use in Google.
  5. Use XMindLook or XMindSync to send your must-do steps to your todo list.


LINK: The method I use for reaching my goals

LINK: Map Your Strategy (HBR)


LINK: XMindLook for sending your goals to Outlook

LINK: XMind Sync for sending your goals to Online Task managers


Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Dropbox for File Sharing

Free with paid version available for home users with large amounts of data enhanced collaboration features for business

Dropbox makes it a breeze to sync files between multiple computers and multiple people. It is simply a must-have application for anyone who needs access to files from multiple places. Even more than that, if you need to share files with business associates, Dropbox makes this task a breeze. You simply set up your files in your own folder structure and share only the specific files and folders you need to share. You have complete control over who has access to the files, and you get notifications anytime someone updates them. This is great for teams who are separated by geographic distances or work in different time windows.

Another really helpful feature of Dropbox is that it maintains a list of previous versions of your files. This comes in SO handy when you make a regrettable edit or deletion to an important file and need to get it back. Just a few clicks takes you back to happier times. This has saved me countless times in application development.

In-Sync and Available on All Your Devices

With apps for every type of device under the sun, dropbox puts your files where you need them when you need them. At any given time a quick open of the app puts you in touch with the information you need, with the ability to share


If you use any other web-based service, there’s a great likelihood that it integrates with Dropbox. Through integrations you can link to and share files directly from your applications, often without ever needing to download the file.

Simplified Sharing

With Dropbox it’s easy to share files with other people, and to share very large files. No more worrying about how much you can send in an email, or trying to find creative ways to send information to other peoples. Thanks to Dropbox’s share feature and built-in file viewers, your recipients can easily view or download any file you send.

LINK: Why Dropbox is Awesome for Programmers (and everyone else)



This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Long-distance Kanban with Trello

My team recently had to make the switch from the traditional artifacts associated with scrum – white boards, racing stripe, sticky notes, and paper everywhere – to an electronic tool.

Finding a suitable replacement that works as well as paper was more difficult than I thought it would be. We tested several products, including WordPress plugins, standalone web applications, and also tried repurposing existing apps we already used. We even considered writing a homegrown kanban app when all other roads appeared to have dead ends.

For some reason Trello came to mind. It was an app I had heard about years ago and dismissed as irrelevant; but in minutes I was able to perfectly duplicate everything that had previously been on our physical scrum board.  A few more clicks and the team was up and running and able to manage projects and todos efficiently, easily.   It requires little to no thought to set up, and works from any device.

When in meetings a few weeks ago I was able to quickly collect a few ideas and convert them into stories using my iPhone. Now what previously was good enough had proven to be better than the physical tool.

If your team is spread out in different locations I suggest checking out Trello.