How a Head of Engineering Prioritizes the Workday

Chandra Kalle shares a snapshot of his day and how he effectively manages his time at LeanTaaS.

Published on Apr. 06, 2022
How a Head of Engineering Prioritizes the Workday

For Chandra Kalle, his work week begins on Sunday night when he takes time to write down everything he wants to accomplish in the coming week.

As head of engineering at SaaS healthcare company, LeanTaaS, Kalle’s role requires him to focus on perfecting and advancing the company’s software used to solve scheduling and capacity management issues in hospital systems. 

“At a very high level, I obsess about three things. First, is recruiting and retention — hiring good engineers and keeping our engineers happy, focused and productive. That’s my big goal,” Kalle said. “Second is product innovation, making sure that our product roadmaps are moving and our products are getting better, and people are getting what they need. Third is keeping things safe, security.”

When Kalle joined the company as its second head of engineering in 2016, there were 13 employees. Now there are 285 fully distributed employees but most are concentrated at the company headquarters in Santa Clara, California. Whether managing employees in person or remotely, Kalle emphasizes the importance of building relationships with his team members.

“The most important meetings that I do are my one-on-ones,” he said. “I like to schedule them in the afternoons because I’m more of a morning person. I want that morning time for myself to do all my thinking and writing and strategic things.” 

Kalle shares how he likes to structure a typical day in his role at LeanTaaS. While the day-to-day schedule can vary greatly, Kalle tries to keep a general structure to stay focused. Read on for his tips which you can implement to stay productive at work. 

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Starting Off the Day With Strategy

Kalle is quite regimented in the way he starts his day, he said, and that might not be for everyone. His wake up routine includes starting the day with black coffee and taking his vitamins, followed by getting some exercise. 

“The first one hour after I wake up is me time — no one can touch it,” Kalle said. 

“The first one hour after I wake up is me time — no one can touch it.”

Once he starts the work day, Kalle tries to leave the morning as open as possible, so he can concentrate on strategic thinking and focused work time. 

“My morning heads-down time is focused on just thinking and getting the communications in order,” Kalle said. “What do I want to accomplish this week? What do we need to be doing? What [do] I need to communicate? What are the KPIs that matter? It sometimes involves some research.”

Still, about 30 to 40 percent of his calendar time gets filled with meetings from people who want him to consult on topics like technical decision-making, security strategy or HR needs, Kalle said. But to keep his schedule as open as possible, Kalle keeps recurring meetings to a minimum.

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Relationship Building in the Afternoon

While Kalle usually goes into the office once per week, he and his wife both mostly work from home. That allows them to enjoy lunch together. Then, the rest of the afternoons are all about his one-on-one meetings with direct reports.

“By the time the one-on-ones begin, I build up the social energy and the mental energy to do these one-on-ones,” Kalle said. “Then I go for a nice long walk in the afternoon, and then go back and spend some time with my family.”

That afternoon walk happens usually around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Being able to work remotely, Kalle and his wife are also able to drop off and pick up their children during the day as well.

“It’s actually quite nice. I think we are able to spend more time with each other as a family,” Kalle said. “Before that, I would go in the morning and come back at 6, and 6 to 8 is when I get to see them and spend time with them, then I’m done. I think I’m getting a lot more time with them.” 

After family time, Kalle said he ends his night in “thinking mode … in terms of keeping track of what I want to get done this week and also the big picture.”

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Tips for Staying Productive Throughout the Day

Kalle doesn’t use any fancy tools to organize his to-do lists or stay focused — Google Docs is his go-to, he said. He encourages his team to use Google Docs and Slack to communicate asynchronously.

“I encourage people to over communicate and make sure that people have clarity all the time, and deliver it in an asynchronous written form because people are working out of different time zones,” Kalle said. “Engineers especially need a lot of contiguous blocks of uninterrupted time, so we’ve got to make sure that we are communicating clearly in writing, and we are funneling the information to the right people at the right time.”

Ultimately, Kalle said being a productive leader boils down to three factors: clarity, focus and empathy. 

“To focus is about saying no — it’s not about saying yes.”

“To focus is about saying no — it’s not about saying yes,” Kalle said. “It’s exceptionally hard for a fast-growing company like us because there are lots of things going on, and lots of things that keep coming our way as a product engineering team, so we spend a lot of time just staying focused and prioritizing and getting things done.”

Being empathetic and flexible is of utmost importance for managers, and just being clear about expectations is the key to successfully managing your team and schedule, said Kalle.

“At a high level, it boils down to having clarity on what we want to get done in the next quarter, breaking it down into monthly goals and then weekly goals and then tracking it and executing it with as little disruption as possible,” Kalle said. 

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