How to Protect Your Daily Productivity and Peace of Mind


What if the key to having a productive day has less to do with how hard you work during the average work hour, but everything to do with a focused activity that takes no more than 30-minutes? In this article I describe the power of a daily technique used by the most productive people.

If you ask these people what they do to be effective, you’d find it’s not the kind of question you can pose directly. I liken it to querying a centurion – “What’s the secret to a long life?” Oftentimes the answers you receive are just as confusing as those given by the most productive. To find the truth behind their anecdotes, you must turn to research involving large numbers of people.

In my book, I share a key finding: a person performs better when they make a detailed, daily plan. In these modern times, what is the nature of this plan and how is it made?

To explain, let’s start with the definition of a “time demand.” It’s something you create each day in your mind – a commitment to complete an action in the future. At some point in your adolescent or teen years, you quietly discovered that reaching your goals meant keeping time demands alive. Seeing one slip through the cracks was awful, especially if it was part of an important plan.

Yet, that is exactly what happens when we enter college. Or get married. Or get a promotion. All of a sudden, the number of time demands increases and we can’t keep up. Some get “forgotten” in the rush and we suffer the consequences.

A small number of people adjust their methods quickly. A few never do. Failed exams, divorces, firings – they happen when we don’t keep up. Even your children’s GSAT performance isn’t immune: wise heads tell us their performance is correlated with quality time spent with them. They don’t pass or fail, you do.

Add to this not-so-subtle pressure is the increased data that flows at you. You see more information in a day than your grandparents saw in a month. Is that a blessing or a curse? It depends on what you do in that 30-minute time-slot I mentioned before.

This time-slot should be used for setting the stage for your day in what I call “Emptying.” It’s the critical opportunity to consider all the inflows of information in which you decide which time demands to execute, and when.

Early in your career, you got by with haphazard Emptying skills. In these modern times, doing your Emptying casually is an impediment. Now, it’s a battleground where you juggle priorities, urgencies, time limits, expectations, personal goals and more. The output should be an optimized schedule that meets your specific needs today and for the future.

Given the importance of this short slice of time, how can we make the most of it?

1. “Emptying” means leaving things empty

The term “Emptying” implies that all decisions regarding incoming information have been made. When you are done, you leave behind completely vacant Inboxes, whether they be digital, voice or paper-based. Their pristine state gives you the peace of mind knowing that you don’t need to return to them until tomorrow to repeat the act.

2. Schedule Emptying for the start of the day

It’s a grand mistake to jump into the first task of the day without conducting your daily session of Emptying. As you do so, check your email Inbox, voicemail, text messages, Instant Messages, notes or any other possible source of triggers for new time demands. Even if the number you currently face is small, prepare yourself now for the inevitable: a potentially crippling, spike in communication.

3. When you Empty, do it at a time when you won’t be interrupted

Employees wonder why the best executives often come in early. Sometimes, it’s to beat traffic, but often it’s because they crave the uninterrupted time it takes to do high-volume, high-stakes Emptying. They realize that their entire day depends on how well they do this intense activity, so closing off their world to interruptions is a requirement. This is far easier to implement at 6:00 AM than at 10:00 AM, long before others have arrived. To enhance the effect, they turn off all devices and notifications on all platforms, the better to focus the activity.

In today’s world in which you must process a lot of inbound information, your skills at Emptying must improve if you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder. There is simply no escape from a job that is yours and yours alone to complete and no excuse if you fail to make the necessary, ongoing improvements.

Blaming your environment, as some do, is not an option. Instead, it’s a sign of incompetence in one area of corporate life where personal mastery is essential to your success.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to

Why It’s Better to Remove Toxic Employees Now Rather than Later


It’s a dilemma common to executives. What should they do when they realize their company is staffed with mediocre performers? The immediate instinct is to go out and recruit superstars, but there’s new research indicating that there’s a better approach: remove or transform your toxic employees.

If you recently joined a new company or just received a new promotion you may have discovered that your staff isn’t effective. Whether by grand epiphany or slow discovery, you see the problem clearly and desperately want to solve it. You envy departments filled with high potentials brimming with vibrant energy, wishing you had the kind of people whose work ethic and intelligence you could admire.

Your secret wish is to somehow attract a few good ones, who would, in turn, bring in others, but there is new evidence to show that you should focus your efforts elsewhere.

In a recent working paper from the Harvard Business School, Michael Housman, and Dylan Minor start by sharing the obvious: toxic employees are costly. In addition, their study of over 50,000 employees shows that they also detract from the performance of others. They take a toll on morale, customer service, and turnover. They note that an employee who is surrounded by toxic colleagues is likely to fall into similar behaviors. In other words, toxicity is contagious.

Furthermore, the study also showed that it’s better to replace a toxic employee than hire a great one. Doing so has twice the impact.

But even with these facts in hand, the typical company often can’t take action. If you are an executive, consider the following reasons why your organization is unable to easily remove these employees.

Reason 1 – Toxic workers often appear productive
They know what to do to generate a lot of activity. But in the end, their presence is a negative one. For example, the rogue trader who cost Grace Kennedy some US$20m in profits in 2010 was, from all prior appearances, a high performer. Earlier removal would have made a gigantic difference.

Reason 2 – Toxic workers are confident, plus they follow the rules
Their outward personality makes it difficult to see them as anything other than strong people who never do much wrong, according to written company policy. Furthermore, they are bold in asserting their high productivity, doing a good job of those things that can easily be measured. It’s harder to document the damage they do in other areas.

Reason 3 – Companies keep bad records
Jack Welch is a huge proponent of forced ranking. While its overall benefit is disputed, the system does make it clear where weaknesses lie. Most companies in the Caribbean possess no such clarity. Instead, one manager after another dodges the bullet, giving toxic employees passing grades simply because it’s the path of least resistance. Over time, reality becomes separated from the written record. The executive who finally decides to do the right thing finds that the laws in the Caribbean are quite strict: no employee who has a record of adequate performance can be summarily dismissed.

The researchers didn’t specifically go into the effect toxic employees have on high performers but we can imagine. A high potential who believes she’s being rewarded exactly the same as a toxic colleague is likely to depart for a saner environment. She may say it’s “for more money”, but that’s sometimes a cover-up. The truth is, she’s gotten to the point where the company’s lunacy has become unbearable.

What then should your company do to prevent itself from filling the ranks with toxic employees?

Step 1 – Analyze your human resource records to see whether there is a separation between high and low performers. Compare your company’s performance with the story told by these records.

Step 2 – If there’s a mismatch, move to identify toxic employees. Work to remedy the skills of their managers in giving feedback and hold them to account so that the separation becomes clear.

Step 3 – Monitor the gap between high and low performers over time, using company performance as a guide. It’s better to do this long before there’s a crunch so that the right adjustments can be made.

Think of a top football club. There is universal recognition that players come and go: it’s a requirement of their system which is different from a family with its life-long blood relationships. Instead, a club is actually a temporary coalition of high performers striving towards the same goal. So is your company.

Attracting star performers may be a more sexy solution than dealing with toxic workers, but you have a higher obligation to keep your company healthy. It’s not the easy path to take, but it’s the one that pays off in the long-term.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to


The original article on the Gleaner website can be found here.