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.



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

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.