IS Department

Take a Moment to Clean Your Desk Off

Posted in Uncategorized by Brian Russell on March 31, 2008

Over the last several weeks, I have been feeling buried in work.  The work came in faster than I could complete.  It is hard to explain the feeling you get when you have a ton of work on your shoulders, but I am sure most people reading this understand the feeling.

I needed to do something fast in order to get a handle on the stress I was feeling.  I started looking around my office and noticed that I have papers everywhere on my desk.  Each one represented some work to do or something I deemed important at one point in time.  It created this overwhelmed feeling causing me stress.  I didn’t recognize it at first, but the clutter was eating at my subconscious because I knew what it represented.  Furthermore, my virtual desktop had many files scattered all over it creating the same feelings as the real world desk.

I had two choices.  I could continue on and try to get as much work done as possible while still being stressed, or as I like to call it, working in a chaotic fashion.  Or the second choice was to take care of the two things I identified as creating added stress.  I chose the latter.

First up, I sorted the papers into 4 piles on my desk. 

  • 1. Things To Do – Everything that had action attached to it went in this pile.
  • 2. Things To Sort Through – This pile contained everything I wasn’t sure about.
  • 3. Things To Read Or File – I have a lot of sources of information coming in such as magazines, articles I printed out, training books, reports, memos, etc.
  • 4. Trash – You would be surprised at how much stuff makes it on your desk that was deemed important at the time, but now it is stale or no longer important.

Sorting is pretty easy once on establish how you are going to sort.  Of course, you always run into that one paper that seems like it goes in a few piles.  The best thing to do is stick it in the 2nd pile, things to sort through.  This allows you to continue with your process all the way through to completion while knowing you will be coming back to it.

Once I was done, I went through the 2nd pile slowly and moved items to the 1st or 3rd pile.  This is easier than you think.  Once you are done, your 2nd pile is gone.

Next, I went through the 3rd pile.  My first categorization had this pile rather large.  Magazines and articles I had printed long ago were in the mix.  For me, this was too large and I figured I sometimes just need to purge the backlog.  So I did, I went through the pile real quick and moved things over to the 4th pile (trash) that were not crucial to me completing my job effectively.  At this point, my 3rd pile is relatively small and manageable.  I could get through it in a few hours when I get to it.

After that, I pretty much created all my trash, so I recycled my 4th pile.  This is a stress reliever!

You should be left with two stacks now; things to do and things to read and/or file away.  I will leave it to you to figure out the process from here.  Personally, I grouped the action items and placed them in folders so that I wasn’t looking at a stack of papers.  I also am quickly able to reprioritize the folders based on business needs.

Next up, I went to my virtual desktop.  This is pretty simple.  Throw things in folders, archive them, or delete them.  You can pretty much use the same process for the virtual desktop as you did for the physical one.

Hope this helps someone else get a feeling of control of their work environment.


SharePoint Conference

Posted in Uncategorized by Brian Russell on March 5, 2008

Two of us are attending the SharePoint conference being held in Seattle right now. The sessions are hit or miss with both of us, but for the most part we are getting our questions answered and learning a ton of new possibilities on how to use SharePoint.  Would definitely come again.

Tonight was Game Night and we hung around for a bit. While we were hanging out we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get our pictures with Master Chief.

Julene with Master Chief

Brian with Master Chief

Growing as a Developer

Posted in Programming by Brian Russell on March 3, 2008

I have been wanting to write a post for a while now which describes what I do to grow my skills as a developer and offer some solutions for others wanting to grow their skills. Mainly, this is a piggy back post to Rodrigo Diaz Cocha’s post called ‘How to be a better developer?‘ I won’t repeat what he wrote, so read it then come back. I basically have three sources of information: Blogs, Podcasts, and books.

The resources I offer up in this post mostly revolve around Ruby on Rails or .NET based technologies since they are currently what I am into, but the idea is to find resources that fit what you need to learn.


My primary source of information comes from reading. Blogs are by far one of the best sources for you to obtain your knowledge from. I believe that if you have a diverse blog roll (list of blogs you read), you can gain a wide angle view on the technologies you are using. Spending just 30 minutes a day scanning your favorite blogs will help you keep your pulse on the technologies you are using and allow you to pick up new techniques and ideas to apply to your development. The biggest thing you can do is read about things you don’t know about. This exercises your mind to learn new things. Here are some of the blogs I am currently reading:

10x Software Development

Coding Horror


James Shore – Successful Software

Musings of a Software Development Manager

Null is Love


Scott Guthrie

Scott Hanselman

A Fresh Cup

37 Signals Blog

Softies on Rails




After blogs, my next favorite thing is podcasts. Podcasts can easily be synchronized with your iPod or MP3 player and be listened to anywhere. It is amazing just how much I listen to while driving to and from work each day. My commute is less than 10 minutes, so I get about 20 minutes a day to listen just from driving.  I also listen any other time I run around town in the car just adding to the time I can get through them.  Just from driving I get about 1-2 hours a week.  Way more productive than listening to some pop music from a boring radio station.
I find tech podcasts to be really hard to listen to while I work. I just can’t concentrate on the details from both activities at once. I believe you are kidding yourself if you think you can. You are letting one activity suffer more than the other, but both suffer. The idea is to find time when you can listen where it doesn’t impact other activities and you can think about what the people are saying.

Here are some of my favorites right now (all can be found on iTunes):

Cranky Geeks

.NET Rocks


Rails Envy Podcast

Ruby on Rails Podcast

This Week in Tech


This good old fashion medium still has a lot to offer. Books are all around us, and it just takes you to dedicate yourself to read one. Here is a challenge to everyone, find a tech book to read from beginning to end and force yourself to read some amount of time every night until it is done. Fit a tech book in between your regular book reading (if you do that) and don’t allow yourself to pick up another until you finish your tech book. If you don’t normally read, just dedicate about 15-30 minutes a night to reading, don’t allow yourself to watch a recorded TV show before you read.

Well, I hope that helps some people out. The main point is to seek out good quality information sources and consume them regularly. You do that and you can’t help becoming better!