The Content of the Weekly Review and Planning

The Content of the Weekly Review and Planning

Howto, Self-help

I’ve kept the habit of the Weekly Review and Planning for a good while now and for the most part have not changed it that much. It’s a solid habit from which I’ve benefited greatly. If you haven’t started this habit I highly recommend that you consider it for yourself. The content hasn’t so much changed for me as it has matured.  The basic idea here is taking 15 to 30 minutes to step back from the work and consider the impact you’re having.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do this week?  Were you effective in communicating with your team?  Do you need to make any adjustments next week?  Do you need to seize the opportunity to reach out and tell someone thanks for a great job?

Activities

What work did you do this week?  Nothing fancy, just a word or two about the most important things you completed.  If nothing was completed what projects did you work on?

Accomplishments

What are a couple of things you’re proud of?  Are there any changes you wanted to make recently that you got right this week?  What projects did you really get right?

Setbacks

What didn’t go as planned this week?  Is there something you know you should have done but never got around to?  Was your communication less than stellar with your team?  What needs a little work next week?

Lessons Learned

What did you learn from the experience of this week?  How will you be better next week as a result of having gone through this one?

Next Week Will Be Successful If…

By the time you get to Friday you probably already have the schedule set for next week.  Even so, it’s important to make sure what you have planned includes what really matters.  If not, this is a good time to make an adjustment you’ll thank yourself for next Friday.

What’s New

What’s new is that as this process has matured for me I’ve found myself spending a few extra minutes jotting things down throughout the week.  Sometimes when something happens in the week I might take a moment to jot a note down on my iPhone to go into the WR&P.

There are a lot of times I find that after a meeting or during church or while I’m reading a book I find something new to throw into the Lessons Learned section.  It turns out there’s a lot to learn from life, and it’s useful all over life, wether we’re at work or not.

How’s It Working Out For You?

I’d love to hear how this habit is working out for you.  For me I’ve been able to make some noticeable improvements in my quality of work, interactions with team members, and life at home.  This simple habit continues to pay off week after week, year after year.

Resources

When, by Daniel Pink

Among the topics in this book, around the middle of the book the author describes the research that supports why good endings and beginnings matter.  In this case we’re creating a thoughtful ending for our week and setting next week up for a great beginning.

Set Boundaries with Your Time and Money

Set Boundaries with Your Time and Money

Howto, Self-help, Technology

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

The Habits

TIME BLOCKING

The Covey organization does a fabulous job of describing life as boulders, rocks, pebbles, and sand. You’ve likely heard the analogy a dozen different ways, but it goes something like this. Picture your life as a jar and things to do like things you put inside the jar. Fill the jar halfway with sand then try putting in 20 large rocks and you’ll run out of jar before your run out of rocks. Start with the rocks, however, and you’ll find that the sand just finds a place to live inside the jar. It’s a great analogy for life. If we prioritize the things that are most important, the rest will fall into place. If we fail to do that, the unimportant things will throw the important things out of our lives, and our lives will be less fulfilling. Simple stuff.

Time blocking is the digital calendar way of putting the rocks in the jar first. Take the most important todos from your task list and drag them to your calendar so they have a set time and date. Do this before you schedule anything else. The big rocks are your vacation with family, your annual retreat, strategic planning, project work that will get your business and life to the next level. Schedule these things first, and make sure you don’t blow them off. Everything else will happily find a home on your schedule; make sure you do these things without failing!

FINANCIAL BUDGETING

These two topics go hand in hand because they are the two most essential, but also absolutely finite resources we have.  In the same way time blocking budgets the time you spend on the things that are most important for you to accomplish in life, the habit of consistent financial budgeting (and living by the budget) helps you to map out a path to achieve the goals using the financial resources at your disposal.

My wife and I learned about financial budgeting — and looking at finances from a new perspective of purpose — by taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course, and it has changed our lives and improved our marriage without a doubt.

The basic principle of budgeting is to recognize how much money you have coming in, and learn to operate with that amount of money, and it really is as simple as it sounds.  When you use a monthly written budget you discover your ability to live according a disciplined financial mission and begin reaching your financial goals more quickly than you ever thought possible.

The Tools

Time Blocking – The One Thing

Financial Budgeting – Financial Peace University
If a book is more your speed check out The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey

NEXT PAGE: 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

How to Round Up by Quarter Hour in T-SQL

Howto, Technology

If life should ever punish you by challenging you to round up decimals by a quarter of an hour – always up and never down – here’s a liferaft

In a scenario where you wish for 2.04 to be rounded up to 2.25 instead of down to 2.00:

This solution is based on the solution posted in 2001 on VBForums – props to original poster MartinLiss!

http://www.vbforums.com/showthread.php?64997-Rounding-to-nearest-25&s=c6a62b3deef741b3d7aaf8d10e8a9032&p=292208&viewfull=1#post292208

 

Weekly Review and Planning

Weekly Review and Planning

Howto, Self-help, Technology

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

For the past year I’ve kept a habit that has helped me significantly to grow professionally and to be more productive.  That habit is what I call the weekly review and planning pause.  This simple, 30 minute appointment is on my calendar toward the end of each week for the purpose of helping me assess what I did, whether or not I’m proud of what I did, and what I’m going to do next week to do as well as or better than I did this week.

The goods with this one are in the repetition.  A wise guy once said to me “perfect practice makes for perfect performance,” and I believe it.  What we practice we become good at, and what we become good at we have a shot at becoming great at.  I don’t know about you but I don’t just want to be decent, or even good, at what I do.  I want to be awesome.  Amazing.  Outstanding.  Here’s one of the things I do every week to try and get there.

  1. Make Sure It’s Quiet.  If you need to leave the office, leave the office.  If you don’t have the freedom to leave the office (your employer has totally missed out on helping you to be your best and serve them better – you should talk to them about this), then do this planning after hours or wait for a time when it’s naturally quiet around the office.  This is important.  Make time for it.
  2. Record The Review – paper, digital, black box recorder.  Whatever.  I don’t care.  Just put it down so you can review it later.  Why spend time doing it if you can’t look back at the data later?
  3. Be Consistent.  Do the review every week.  Answer the same questions.  Give it the same effort every time.  That is, unless you’re okay with totally mediocre performance.  In that case, do whatever you want to do.  But that’s not you.  You’re a pro.  You’re a ninja.  You’re striving for mastery.  So you’ll be consistent.
  4. Review.  Rinse.  Repeat.  After you’ve been doing these activities for a few weeks you’ll pick up patterns and start to hold yourself accountable for achieving better results every time.  You’ll find those ways you’re getting in the way of your own success and making life harder than necessary for yourself and those around you.

I recommend recording the following five bits of information:

  1. Activities. What did I spend my (my organization’s) time doing this week?  To what end did I strive, what was my purpose in showing up for work this week?
  2. Setbacks. What just didn’t go right for me this week?  What mistakes did I make that I can avoid next week?  What behaviors can I improve on next week?
  3. Lessons Learned.  Sometimes this one is something that really bit you in the butt.  Sometimes it’s a profound moment of learning and growth.  One week for me during a chat my plumber he laid down on me some of the most profound people management advice I’d ever heard.  What rocked your world this week?  Whether it was pleasant or painful, it will make you better.
  4. Accomplishments.  What have you forgotten to celebrate.  What level of awesome did you throw out for the world this week that you’ve been too busy looking down to celebrate?  Write it down.  This is the stuff you’ll look back on and say “I rock.  I need to do more of that.”
  5. Next Week Will Be Successful If…  Write down the 3-5 things you need to accomplish next week in order to get to the next step on your goal plan.  No matter what happens next week, if you get these things done, you’ll have lived to fight another day.

That’s it.  Five things.  You write these five things down every week and two things will happen. You’ll start performing better on Monday and you’ll go home on Friday unburdened, ready to rock it with the people you love.  After all, they’re the reason you do this, right?

Rock next week.

Next Page: 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

Web Presence 101

Web Presence 101

Howto, Technology

I originally created this page because my sister asked me about creating a website, and it occurred to me that is considerably easier than many people realize, and is getting simpler every day.  Things have changed for the better since I published this post originally in 2010, so today it gets a refresh.  Let’s get started.

Today’s guide will get you up and running with a web presence so that all you have to do is remember to add content.  I hope you find this guide helpful. Please let me know by posting a comment at the end of the post.

  1. Name your brand.  It can be your personal name, your company, an idea… really anything goes.  The most important thing to do here is to choose something that doesn’t already exist.
  2. Register your fabulous name on the Internet.  I like to go to Google Domains and check for availability.  Your domain name will be as unique as you are – that is to say there can only be one.  A small annual fee is required to register your fabulous name on the Internet, and in my opinion Google is a great choice.  They offer a fair price and most importantly make the process very simple to do.
  3. Now that you have your name registered, you need a home for your website.  I recommend Gear Host.  Gear Host allows you to purchase a space for your website and start small — small as in free.  Their most basic package costs nothing and is a great way to get started on the web for the least investment.  If you need faster service or if you become popular, or just want to plan for the future, you’ll need to pay a small monthly fee to keep your site up and running.  That fee starts around $5 per month.
  4. Install WordPress on your website.  This is done with a click of a button once you’re set up on the hosting site (see step 3).

At this point you have a website, registered under your own name, living on the Internet, just waiting for you to add content.  The next steps guide you on how to create a great site that will deliver real value to your visitors and keep them coming back for more.

  1. Create PAGES for things like contact information and text telling people how awesome you are or why you’re better than the next place that does the same thing you do .
  2. List a physical address and phone number on your site.  Use Google Voice to set up a phone number other than your personal phone number.  If you’re already well established or don’t need to bootstrap your online presence for free, there are other services such as Ring Central, Grasshopper, and ShoreTel that can allow you to have a sophisticated virtual phone system without the hassle of all the equipment.  All these services allow you to specify the hours you wish to receive calls and how you wish to deal with incoming callers.
  3. Get a Facebook fan page.
  4. Get a Twitter account.
  5. Sign up for any other social networks that are relevant to your audience – AND PARTICIPATE IN THEM.
  6. Use pictures on your site.  This post is an example of why.  If you have read this far I guarantee you’re bored and and have considered jumping ship at least once.  Pictures help keep visitors engaged.
  7. Update your site frequently.  At least twice a week.  Even if you have nothing to say, let people know you will be posting something new in the next few days.
  8. Sign up for Google Analytics to help you track your visitors.
  9. Get a good commercial analytics application (I like analytics app for iPhone) for your smartphone to help you keep tabs on who is visiting your site and what they like to see. Don’t stop there; use that information to keep your site relevant to your visitors.
  10. Set yourself reminders to periodically update your site and post updates to the social networks.  I recommend every day or two at a minimum to keep people interested.  Bear in mind that people will primarily be following you on their social networks, not browsing to your website, so your posts will have to be seen among pictures of your vistors’ nephews and nieces, the latest deal on pizza delivery, and the latest whimsy from their crazy cousin with the twisted view on politics.
  11. Set up reminders to review your analytics information.  This can take some time so block off a few hours every month or two, or more or less frequently depending on how active your site is or how frequently your customers habits seem to change.  If you’ve never done it before, I recommend blocking off 2 hours once every two weeks to go through every option on your analytics provider, and take notes on what has changed since the last checkin.  TIP:  print the reports out the first time or two to make it easier.
  12. Post customer reviews and testimonials on your site.  WordPress gives you the ability to post static pages for just this sort of thing.
  13. Register your site with the search engines and get your friends and family to post links anywhere that is crawled by the search engines.  If they participate in a forum, having your URL dropped in a post helps your page rankings.  Add a link to your site or Twitter or Facebook page to the bottom of your emails and forum posts.  Every little bit helps.

Optional Steps

  1. Live chat is a nice bonus and can be done easily using a Google Hangouts badge, which costs nothing, and can be set up to allow you to chat with customers live from your smartphone.
  2. Get a PayPal account and a merchant account if you intend to accept credit cards.
  3. Optional: Get a professionally-developed theme for WordPress.  If you’re a coder or hardcore DIY person you may want to do this yourself. There is no denying that getting a professionally-developed theme will help your credibility online.  Don’t have a lot of cash?  Don’t worry.  This step is optional and can be done later at any time.
  4. If you’re selling products, set up a shop on a big site like ebay or Etsy.

I’ll try to post some screenshots soon to help give this guide better clarity.  I had to get the post out to make sure I didn’t let the idea die with the day.

T-SQL Query For Beginning And End of Any Month

T-SQL Query For Beginning And End of Any Month

Howto, Technology

I’ve used this technique many times to help grab the beginning and end of a month. It’s useful for queries where you need to use a BETWEEN.

Sample usage:

I hope this is helpful to you in your querying adventures. Got another way to accomplish the task? I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment below.

How To Write Better SQL Queries

How To Write Better SQL Queries

Howto, Technology
Play

In this audio session we talk about how strategic query formation can help you get exactly the information you’re looking for with a minimal amount of work

Here’s a video of the technique I describe in the recording

Key points from this lesson:

  1. Start with the end in mind
  2. Alias the tables
  3. Let SSMS do the heavy lifting

Start With The End In Mind

What is the main body of information we wish to find?  Where does that information live in the database?  This is the table we’re going to query first.  All other data we use to enhance the dataset will appear in the form of joins, subqueries, and all the usual suspects.  Starting with the FROM portion of the query will get things set up so that you are going straight to the key information.

Alias The Tables

If you’re typing out [myserver].[mydatabase].[dbo].[myreallylongtablename] every time… well really – why are you doing that?  I can’t think of any good reason.  Even when querying a linked server, type it once, alias it, and get out of the typing business.  We alias a lot of the tables – sometimes even all of them, if we can do it and maintain readability of the code — to get the query built quickly, and to make it more readable.  If I can read 3 characters and understand it as well as if it had been spelled out completely, I”m sold.  Aliases are great.

Let SSMS Do the Heavy Lifting

Once you’ve started with the FROM line and aliased the main table, anything you type into the SELECT section will have a much stronger chance of being spoon-fed to you by SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS).  The less typing we do on our own, the less we have to go back and troubleshoot typos.  Less work, less troubleshooting.. win, win.

That’s all there is to it.  This is one of my favorite techniques when working with SQL Server Management Studio.  It makes every day easier for me, and I hope it will help you too.  In this clip we just touched on the topic.  If you have a question, please comment in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you with an answer. 

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.

Resources

EaseUS Partition Master Professional (affiliate link)

Dropbox

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.

Playing with oAuth on .NET web forms app

Playing with oAuth on .NET web forms app

Howto, Technology

 

 

 

 

Today is a day off for me… but i’m kind of geeking out the last couple of hours.  Got a call a little after 6am and one of the servers i manage was having an issue, so i coaxed it to life so my teammate could get some work done.  no big.  didn’t take long.  back on track for the morning.

saw the wife and kids off to school and work as i from the cup of joe my wife had so lovingly delivered to me just moments earlier, and thought, well since the laptop is already fired up and connected to the vpn… why not tinker just a bit with oAuth.

Why not indeed.  This was magical.  within minutes our little starter app was connected to Facebook and a few minutes later I was logged into the seedling app with my fb creds.  right. on. man.

SettingUpoAuth

 

built the shell of the app using webforms in visual studio.  I like to add in ajaxcontroltoolkit from the nuget package manager

for some reason i can never remember to update the site master and have to refer to this awesome page by Stephen Walther, and verify the app builds successfully.

with the formalities out of the way it’s time to connect to facebook.  in the solution explorer, i browsed to the OpenAuthProviders.ascx file and opened it up, not knowing what i’d see.  Remember, I’m a newbie here and have never. done. this. before.  Right there in the page code is a handy link:

great_ms_documentation

 

So i followed the link to a very simple document detailing the steps i needed to take.  In this case that amounted to signing up at developers.facebook.com, creating a new app, and getting an appid and secret key.  After doing that I went back into the Solution Explorer and plugged that info into the appropriate file in App_Start.  Done.  Houston, we have login.

What a great tool.  Props to Facebook for the ease of integration, and props to Microsoft for making it dead simple to add to your solution. I’m sure the same goes for the Twitter and OpenID APIs; I just happened to start with Facebook.

Simple DIY: Create a Website Using WordPress

Howto

Many people in my circle have recently become interested in making a blog or website, so a few weeks ago I set out to document the process.  This is the second of two posts on the subject.  The first is geared toward those who are looking to quickly and easily set up a personal blog to share experiences or advice.  This post is directed toward those who want to use the simplicity of a powerful blog format to help them easily create a website for their business or organization.  Let’s get started.

For this project we’ll be using WordPress.com. The first step is to pick a name for your blog.  Just like the first post I have chosen Bullfrog Song.

Success!  The name I want is available.  Save it using a password and register using an email address. (NOTE:  no fake emails allowed.  They will email you to verify you own the address)

After clicking “Sign Up” you have a fully-functioning blog, suitable for personal use.  In this case my URL was http://bullfrogsong.wordpress.com.

Here’s what a brand new WordPress site looks like after you first set it up.  Click the Login link (shown in red below) to start moving in…

Nothing special here.  Use the username and password you specified in step 1.

WordPress welcomes you again after your first administrative login.  Such friendly folks, there at WordPress.

In typical geek fashion I’m wasting no time in upgrading.  These next steps allow me to become www.bullfrogsong.com instead of just bullfrogsong.wordpress.com.  Not only is this easier for visitors to remember when they’re looking for me, it looks more professional (well, except for the silly name).

In this dialog box we specify the name we want.  No need to add “WWW” to the front of it.  No need to fret about upper or lower case.  None of this is important to the Internet.  If you insist that one way is right, go with all lower-case letters, because caps means you’re yelling… and really, that would be the Internet equivalent of yelling your order into the drive thru speaker at McDonalds.  Unnecessary and unappreciated.

Nothing exciting or unexpected in the following example.  You want services, they want money.  You give them money, they give you services.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  Everyone’s happy.

A yellow band of congratulatory text is your reward… that, and a brand spanking new domain name.  This will advance you far beyond the Joneses next door and their unpersonalized blog about bullfrogs.

As they requested, I waited 60 seconds, changed the main name for my new blog to the new domain I just registered, and clicked Update Primary Domain.

SCORE!  We have a domain name now and if we browse to www.bullfrogsong.com it works just fine, showing everyone our site… which is, alas, very plain and boring.  We’d better log back in and set up some personalizations.

Let’s cruise this time down to the Themes section on the left side of the screen, and choose a new look for our site.  You can search by keyword, color, features, and so on.  WARNING: Theme surfing can be addictive and never-ending.   There are thousands and thousands of themes from which to choose.  Beyond that you can make your own theme from scratch, and you can buy them from places like themeforest.net. (Thanks to Dan the Man from work for hooking me up with this resource.  Now can you not only search endlessly for free themes, you can pay endless amounts of money for non-free themes!)

I thought this one was nice, and the price was right.

Activate theme? check.

We’re looking pretty good.  Now to get REALLY busy.

This is where the article ends and your creativity begins.  Just a couple more screenshots of how to set up your widgets, but there is much more you can do.  You may want to consider creating a few static PAGES (which differ from posts) and spend some time surfing through WordPress help to get a good understanding of what all you can do.  WordPress manages to be a very flexible and robust platform while remaining simple enough for anyone to use.

Here we move to the Widgets section and drag a widget to our sidebar.  This allows us to keep static elements on the sidebar.  In this example I’ve added a place for visitors to sign up for email updates.  Now they can get email updates every time I post something new on my site.  This is really handy for when I’m selling something.  Anyone who likes my business is instantly up to speed. Pretty simple to do, too.  Just drag and drop from left to right.

Make any needed changes and click save.

And view the final result.  Notice that we now have an email signup form on the sidebar.

In conclusion, I found this project to be very simple indeed.  In fact, it took me significantly longer to write this post and add the images than to acquire and set up the blog.