Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind With Sheila Knight, Director of Digital Marketing & Ops at Kira Systems

Sheila Knight is the Director of Digital Marketing & Ops at Kira Systems, a machine learning software company based in Toronto, Canada, where she leads the digital marketing and operations.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Once upon a time, I was a programmer, planning to become a video game developer. Despite this plan, I was doing an increasing amount of digital development work. After the dot-com crash, I realized that digital was something I enjoyed, so I changed my plans.

I was lucky to find digital work for brands and television channels that I loved, and even luckier to learn from amazing people who made an impact on Canadian media. Through them, I also learnt about visual effects, TV/photography/sound production, creative design, and events marketing.

Eventually, I moved into management, took on a beginner’s mindset, and went ‘back to school’ for programs at Rotman.

Through peers and mentors, I began to understand what it means to create an environment that encourages inclusivity, innovation, and creativity. I also no longer discount my previous experiences, as a deeper understanding of various work was the basis of my success.

I’ve since participated in transitioning several brands, from food to Fortune 500s into digital-first marketing experiences or storefronts. I’m currently at Kira Systems, evolving digital marketing and operations for their machine learning software products.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My husband and I wake up to a hungry cat named Simba at 7 am. After he’s fed, I look at my schedule or messages while getting ready. I then go downtown with my husband using public transit.

At the office, I join meetings with internal teams or external vendors before going to the gym. I usually squeeze in some cardio before a Yoga or Pilates class. While changing, I use an app to pick up a smoothie or poke bowl on my way back to the office. Sometimes I have lunch with friends or my husband, but those are rare occasions.

The afternoon usually contains more syncs or 1:1 meetings while getting snacks. Kira is growing with dozens of hires each month, so we have an optional Slackbot that matches us up with random folks.

Thanks to this, my afternoon often has a meeting with someone from a different department. It’s a great way to learn all facets of the business or find challenges we can collaborate on.

Between meetings I catch up with team members in general. It’s best to talk things out or visually explain problems we’re solving whenever we have the chance since we work remotely often.

After work, I do errands while drinking bubble tea, or do some volunteer work, or take a class/lesson. When my husband and I get home, we do some housework and feed Simba.

During dinner, we either watch YouTube, a show or play a game together. I later check messages or update planning documents, as I often come up with ideas or remember things while showering.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Kira has a health-conscious culture, the company invests in employee growth and prioritizing a balanced lifestyle. The definition of growth and balance is up to each individual, and I define it in my own way. I can work remotely, have unlimited vacation, and can commute to the office when I choose to.

Since my commute routine varies and sometimes I’m alone, I tend to have my head buried in a book. I’m currently re-reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I used to read business-related books for a few years straight, but I find reading fiction feeds my imagination and self-awareness.

I consider Jordan’s take on servant leadership to be a brand of wisdom that was subconsciously passed onto me during my formative years. I still read HBR and leadership literature but in moderation.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I automate whenever I can:

  • Rules in Gmail – To filter, label, mute or flag important threads, schedule sends, and get closer to Inbox0
  • Google Calendars – I share multiple calendars as planning tools with reminders
  • Quip and Google Documents – To comment, plan projects, assign tasks, plan events or activities
  • Integrating apps or botting myself – IFTTT, Slack or Discord bots, for notifications, social media actions
  • Nextbus, Waze, Uber, Weather – To pick the fastest routes or proper clothing
  • Ritual and Restaurant/Food apps – To order food or book meals, so food is ready when I need it (important)
  • Timeboxing is pretty effective. I limit the amount of time I spend on a task so that I don’t get stuck. When I give myself a time limit I tend to do better than expected.

I used to have two mobile phones for several years. One for work and one for personal, but in the end, it got cumbersome with all the other devices and apps I wanted to sync between or carry.

There are apps and settings to alter notification levels, filter calls, and silence on certain times of day or days of the week nowadays. So two phones isn’t necessary for me anymore outside of security.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Balance for me means being enjoying every moment. I believe it takes an effort to define and pursue that balance.

At the beginning of my career, I used to be someone who wanted to please everyone, but now I realize that I wasn’t being myself and was following others’ definitions of growth or success.

Finding my tribe at a diverse company culture that enables me to grow and give back to the community, in the ways I choose, was a journey for me. I’m now able to balance volunteer work or pro-bono work for organizations like Annex Cat Rescue, S.E.A.S. Centre, and South Asian Women’s Centre, and do it alongside colleagues who care.

I’m also aware of how my energy can ebb and flow. There are some weeks where I’m super productive in some ways, then there are some weeks where I’m super productive in others. Sometimes this can go on for months.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt how to work with my body and schedule activities to harness or conserve energy. I try to stay conscious of pacing myself and protecting that balance because it isn’t easy.

This means I sometimes need “cheat days” for my body or mind to recover. I think it’s important to sometimes have nothing planned or just reflect. I like to let my mind wander freely and let it go wherever it may go.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Finding ways to make the best use of my time and being a member of strong support systems.

Whether on business travel or vacation, every meal or meeting has been planned so that not a moment gets wasted. Particularly when on vacation, I try to make each moment a new, relaxing, or special experience.

I now have an itinerary and backup plans whenever I go somewhere, while still slotting time for exploring, shopping or just chilling. I’ve been nicknamed “Spreadsheet Sheila” due to my need to make so many plans!

I also consider myself a member of strong support systems across diverse groups. Knowing I’m not alone and having the right people invested in “checking” me without filtering themselves has been instrumental in keeping me balanced and learning. I thrive in being exposed to different or conflicting opinions, having my assumptions challenged, and changing my mind.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?


Work related:

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Start the day with an intention that you keep only to yourself.

I try to follow Benjamin Franklin’s ritual: starting the day by asking myself “What good will I do today?” and ending the day by answering “What good did I do today?”

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Take charge of your time and prioritize who or what really matters long term. Realize that there are some things you don’t need to do right now, or ever, to be happy. Some things are worth the wait.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.