Look outside the box for time management tools
Time management tools are plentiful, but sometimes it’s the small time-savers that pay more dividends in the long run. One trick that Kwok believes is often overlooked is the simple task of mastering keyboard shortcuts. Learning these can help you more easily navigate software and applications so you can find the information that you need, significantly cutting down on how much time you spend doing everyday tasks.
Another basic, though not entirely obvious, time management tool Kwok recommends is a password manager. “That shortcut where you’re on a website and it populates both the login and password for you saves so much time,” he says.
Of course, he recommends also using more traditional time management tools. Evernote, for instance, is his go-to app for maintaining notes. “I like taking notes in meetings with a pen and paper,” Kwok says. “I always transfer those notes over to Evernote whenever I get the chance, so that I can search them and organize them.” His notes go all the way back to the mid-2000s, and he can search through them anytime he needs.
“There are certainly times for shorter meetings, but if your objective is to accomplish something more strategic or get a bunch of ideas or tackle a single, really tough problem, I just don’t think 30 minutes is enough.”
Schedule time for big-picture thinking
Before Kwok joined Slack, he worked at Yahoo and LinkedIn. At LinkedIn, he worked with Jeff Weiner, the current CEO, who taught him a valuable lesson: Schedule nothing.
“It’s really important for leaders to have blocks of time where they aren’t distracted, to do some longer-term, more strategic thinking,” says Kwok.
Instead of leaving how you’ll use your “nothing time” up to chance, though, have some ideas of how you’re going to spend it without getting caught up in everyday tasks. For example, Kwok has a two-hour block scheduled every Monday morning for a meeting with himself in a conference room.
“It’s kind of silly at first when you do it. You show up to the meeting room and you start the meeting with yourself,” he says. “But I feel like it’s been very helpful for me to start my Monday thinking about what I need to do—not just for the week but for the quarter, even a year or two years out.”
Productive team meetings aren’t one-size-fits-all
You’ve probably heard that shorter meetings are more productive meetings. Conventional wisdom claims that people are more likely to stay engaged when the agenda is focused and concise.
But Kwok believes there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to how to conduct a productive team meeting. Specifically, short meetings are excellent for tactical purposes but not for discussing bigger initiatives.
“There are certainly times for shorter meetings,” he says. “But if your objective is to accomplish something more strategic or get a bunch of ideas or tackle a single, really tough problem, I just don’t think 30 minutes is enough.”
Kwok’s ideal runtime for strategy-focused meetings? Sixty to 90 minutes. “[That’s] when I see teams start to get into a rhythm,” he says.
That said, an effective meeting is measured by a lot more than just runtime. It’s also about creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe enough, psychologically, to contribute.
“I don’t think a team can truly be in a flow unless everyone feels comfortable contributing ideas, riffing on something, or voicing that something is not worthwhile,” says Kwok, “and where nobody feels like they are being judged.”
When teams achieve that level of trust, Kwok points out, “the idea-generating just happens so quickly that it’s really hard to keep up taking notes.”
Organize your weekly tasks around your personal productivity profile
Kwok tends to begin his week more strategically and spend more time on the tactical stuff—like one-on-one meetings, emails, and responding to non-urgent Slack messages—toward the end of the week.
“Coming back from a weekend, I’m generally more energized,” he says. So he recommends avoiding wasting that valuable motivation on things that don’t matter as much to the big picture.
Kwok also believes his personality profile has a lot to do with how he uses his time management tools and skills to structure and prioritize his work. After taking a test to determine whether he’s an introvert or extrovert, he found out that he’s right down the middle. “They call me an ambivert,” he says. “Sometimes I like less stimulating environments, and sometimes I like more.”
Closer to the end of the workweek, he has noticed that he tends toward the extrovert side of the spectrum, possibly because he’s looking forward to the weekend. That’s when he seeks out busier environments, like open spaces at the office or a nearby coffee shop. On the other end of the spectrum, at the beginning of the week, he prefers quiet time and ample space where he has room to do more strategic thinking.
Effective time management tools and skills help you recharge
Through it all, Kwok stresses the importance of recharging. For example, he likes to start his mornings with exercise.
“I feel that after I get all the energy out, my mind is in a clearer state to think and operate,” he says. He also makes it a goal to sleep at least seven hours a night, play with his kids, and help with the cooking.
“In my job, in the office, I don’t create a lot of stuff,” he says. “The act of creating food is a form of art for me, and that’s pretty relaxing.” That kind of self-care—along with developing effective time management skills—can not only rejuvenate but also keep you from experiencing burnout, which, let’s face it, is one of the biggest and worst productivity killers out there.
Ben Luthi is a freelance writer who covers entrepreneurship, personal finance, and travel.