Darren’s Guide – 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

Products I Love

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.



Online Meetings and Collaboration

Online Meetings and Collaboration

Products I Love, Technology

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

Capturing Meeting Action Items and Notes with OneNote

Products I Love

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

LINK: http://www.onenote.com

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)

Products I Love

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

Xmind.net: 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

Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

Products I Love, Technology

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)

LINK: http://www.dropbox.com


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

Long-distance Kanban with Trello

Long-distance Kanban with Trello

Products I Love

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.


How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

Products I Love

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

Google Apps for Business / Office 365 for Collaboration and Document Collaboration

Google: $5/user/mo | Microsoft: $13/user/mo

Every team needs a collaboration solution. Individuals can benefit from having a classy email address on a personalized domain. These service are both really good. Both Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Business work great. One will most likely stand out as better for your situation, so I recommend getting trial accounts for each and making your decision based on your own needs. Here are a few observations based on my experience with both solutions:

  • Exchange vs. Gmail. Gmail works really well in the cloud. Exchange and Outlook go really well together in offices on computers. With both products you get integrated presence information, including chat, voice and video and application sharing.
  • Exchange vs. Calendar. The same discussion plays out in the calendar category. Microsoft has a great product in the Outlook desktop client and Google has a great cloud-based product. Both work equally well for scheduling meetings with multiple people.
  • Document Creation. If you need to generate documents for print, presentation, and sharing outside your organization, Microsoft has a clear advantage. They’ve been doing this for longer and produce some really rich documents that are suitable for audiences of all types. In addition if you’re analyzing database data with spreadsheets and pivot tables, Excel stands head and shoulders above the rest. With that said, if you’re using Macs and want to create beautiful content I’d skip 365, use Google for email, and create gorgeous documents with Pages and Keynote. For Google’s part, they do simultaneous collaboration on documents better than anyone else.

My advice to you is to test them both and find the ecosystem that best compliments own.


Use tasks or reminders to help you remember to get things done. Set due dates on them. Set up categories or labels to help identify what area of your life they apply to. Actually do them – on time. You took the time to write them and give them due dates. If you don’t actually do what you write down you’re not making realistic goals, or you’re not really serious about succeeding. See the next section on mind mapping and goal setting for help with that.



Google Apps for Business

Microsoft Office 365 (NOTE: the $5.00/user/month version was not considered because it doesn’t offer the desktop apps mentioned in the guide)

Reminders and Tasks

You get a two-for-one benefit with this suggestion, because if you’ve followed the first advice in this guide, you already have the tools you need included with either Office 365 or Google Apps. Where the first section covered the what part of the equation, my recommendations in this section center on the how.


Sounds simple, but it’s very important. As mentioned in the mind mapping section, I recommend creating tasks and reminders to help you make sure you’ve done the things that are truly important to you. I recommend using the full capabilities of your software. Use reminders, due dates, start dates, categories and recurrence. Some very smart people wrote these applications. Learn how to use them and get the most effective bang for your productivity buck.


One of the big rocks I add into my week is a review of what I’ve done and plan for what I’ll do the following week. This space in the week gives me a chance to do a quick gut check, make sure I haven’t wandered off track from reaching goals. It also provides me with the mental space I need to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned, the wins from the week, as well as anything I think is super important to get right next week. During this time I make sure and write down a handful of things that, if I accomplish them, will make the next week a success. Get it right and I win. Get it wrong and I miss out big time. I’ve found that if I make as many things in my life as black-and-white as this decisions come easier and action happens more automatically.


The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Why I Recommend Weekly Review and Planning

5 Choices helps you with your productivity


Next Page: 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

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Books, Products I Love

Worthy of Repeating

I wrote in a recent post about how some of the concepts mentioned in this book, combined with lessons learned from great mentors through life, have shown me how to stop dreaming and really reach goals, one step at a time. If you haven’t already ready it, I encourage you to take a look at that post also.

Build Your Own Roadmap

This book is really a fast, easy read, and is really down-to-earth common sense stuff.  While I was reading this book I could hardly wait to finish it and get started putting the ideas into practice.  Some of the themes in the book you’ve heard before.  Does “starting with the end in mind” sound familiar?  But the way it’s presented in this book just makes it all click.

Additional Tools

The book doesn’t stop there.  On www.the1thing.com you’ll find great resources like a helpful blog, web communities, and podcast episodes featuring interviews with dynamic leadership speakers who have experienced The One Thing firsthand.  Also of great use is the web app, which you can use from your computer or smartphone to help you stay focused on your goals and report to your accountability partners.

I think you’ll really get a lot out of this read.  It’s worth the price and is one you’ll want to share with friends.

Go Get It

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan




Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote

Products I Love, Technology

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

Microsoft OneNote is a really great application, and it seems to be getting better with each release.  In the last year it seems Microsoft has felt the pressure from competing products like Evernote with lower barriers to entry.  This has really been great for consumers, and it has allowed a really useful tool to see more publicity as a result.  Although Evernote is also, a really great tool, we’ll cover that in another post.


OneNote has a really fabulous user interface.  It’s set up to be useful right out of the gate.  On top of the notes area you can see all your Sections and Section Groups, providing easy access to unrelated notes.  This makes it really easy to switch gears to a new subject, group of people, or project.  Groups of notes related to your present topic are found along the side of the notes area.  This makes easy to revisit, revise, and review information in all areas of the subject you’re working on.   You can quickly slip to another research bite or update a note.

The notes themselves allow graphical markup, such as lines, boxes, ovals, and freehand drawing and highlighting.  It’s really just a great way to take and update digital notes.


Meeting Notes

Great tool for recording meeting notes.  There’s no question that writing things down on paper is a great way to remember information (insert a link to the study), but a tool like OneNote really excels at quickly capturing and disseminating notes and todos.  You can share your notes with others, or simply use them to link back and forth with the Outlook mail client.  This is a really great way to keep track of what was said in that one-on-one meeting you had six weeks ago.


Embedded Content

One great thing about OneNote is that I can keep track of all aspects of a project in one place.  I can have loose notes from project meetings, Visio diagrams, and Excel early draft spreadsheets I’m working on.  All of this rich data can be stored in once place and linked to from my Calendar in Outlook. Todos can become Tasks in Outlook, and if I need to share information, I can email part or all of my notes with the click of a button.


IFTTT, Mobile, and Free

If you’re using OneNote on your OneDrive account, you can use IFTTT to help you collect new content, share, and more.  The application runs on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and best of all, it’s recently been made free.


Where OneNote Falls Short

Even without this great feature from its cousin, MIcrosoft Word, OneNote shines.

In using OneNote over the last several years, I’ve found little about the application that can be improved upon – with two exceptions:

  1. Sharing the notes themselves is a bit cumbersome. Microsoft could really take a — ahem — note, from Dropbox in this arena.  Sharing notes in OneNote can sometimes fail or be sluggish.  The workaround is simple: if your meeting requires notes that have been shared with you, prepare a few minutes early and make sure the sync has worked properly.  It works nearly every time, but for those rare occasions when something is going wrong, you’ll be glad you spent the extra few minutes to prepare
  2. Image effects.  OneNote is such a useful tool, and is especially useful for creating documentation.  It would be just great if Microsoft would give us the same powerful effects found in Word.

If you have EVER considered making notes digitally, OneNote is a great choice.  I encourage you to give it a try.  It’s powerful, flexible, and free of charge.

An Often Overlooked Way to Protect Against Computer Crashes

An Often Overlooked Way to Protect Against Computer Crashes

Howto, Products I Love, Technology

There are tons of great applications and tools to help protect your PC from disastrous operating system failures, but I’d like to highlight one very simple way to protect your critical data in the event of a PC crash.  This solution won’t protect you from a hard drive failure — you’ll need other tools for that — but what we’re talking about here will make it significantly simpler to recover in the event something goes wrong with Windows.  There are similar techniques available for Mac OS, but in this post we’ll only be covering Windows.

Keep Your Information Separate

That’s the secret.  I suggest creating a partition on your hard drive to store your critical data.  The system files run in one place, and your information stays in another.  That way it’s much simpler to repair your system files or completely reinstall, while keeping your data files just the way you like them.  The full details of how to split your hard drive are included below.  If you’re using an older version of Windows, or want the convenience of a tool designed specifically for this purpose, I’ve included an affiliate link to EaseUS Partition Master Professional.  I’ve used this product dozens of times and it has been a really handy part of my tooklit.

Get Organized

One of the simplest parts of keeping your data safe is simply knowing where everything is.  We so often take for granted that the PC knows best what to do with our information, and that isn’t always the case.  Often the PC simply does what we tell it to do, and if we aren’t paying attention when it asks, then it’s like the blind leading the blind.

Once you know where all your information is, make life easy on yourself by redirecting your documents, pictures, and other often-used shortcuts to your new data locations.

That makes everything just as easy to find as it was before, but now everything is sectioned off into it’s own place.

Get Backups

Finally, make sure you use best practices and get regular backups of your data.  I like to use Dropbox because it is simple to use and is very feature-rich, but there are lots of great products available, including Crashplan, Mozy, and Carbonite to name a few.  Another really great way to accomplish this is to contract with your local Managed Services Provider for cloud backups.  For a few extra dollars a month you get the piece of mind and support that come with a professional support team.  I’m biased, but I really recommend JMARK Business Solutions.  They’re a great group of people who really know data protection.


How To Create a Data Partition In Windows 8.1 Step By Step

Before starting, it’s a good idea to back up all your information.  If the unlikely event anything goes wrong, you’re covered.  To make room for your data files, create some free space on your hard drive.  In Windows 8.1 that’s done by using the search feature and typing in “Disk.”  This feature can also be found in Computer Management.

Next, right click your C partition and click Shrink

Next, choose the size to make available for your data.  Be sure to leave a portion of your C drive unused so you have room for growth.

You will now have free space available, and that’s where we’ll make room for your data.

Follow the prompts to set up the new volume for data storage.

I like to rename the volume to indicate that it contains my data.

Finish by formatting the drive to make it ready to use.

Now you have a drive to hold your data

The hard work is done.  Now just move your data to the new volume.


EaseUS Partition Master Professional (affiliate link)


JMARK Business Solutions, Inc.

I hope you find this tutorial as evidence that keeping your data safe and secure is simple, fast, and smart.  If you have a comment or would like to know more information, please drop me a line in the comments section.