Catherine Carter is the Founder & Director of Salon Canberra, a forum connecting thought leaders and influencers to discuss and dissect issues that influence the future of the nation’s capital and capital region.
This conversation is sponsored by graphic design platform Canva. Empowering millions of people around the world to design.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I started my professional career working as an advisor in the NSW Government and then worked in various public affairs roles, eventually moving to Canberra and taking on a leadership role in the property industry.
My time working in property led me to develop a strong interest in the built environment and how great places can enhance quality of life and contribute to community well-being. This interest partly informs the consulting work I do now and the projects I get involved with.
One of the really interesting consulting projects I’ve worked on in the past few years led in an indirect way to my establishing Salon Canberra in 2018.
Salon Canberra is a forum that brings together leaders and opinion makers to share big ideas for Canberra and the region, and which creates opportunities for people to connect and collaborate in a range of interesting and exciting ways.
2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
One of the things I enjoy about my work is that there is no typical day! I could be attending client meetings, working on a consultancy project or catching up with colleagues to brainstorm ideas for future Salon events.
Taking yesterday as an example, I started my work day helping a client finesse a communication strategy as part of a bigger program of work relating to the development of their business.
I’m a member of the National Association of Women in Construction and this year I’m taking part as a mentor in their industry mentoring program, so I then went to check in with the group involved in delivering this year’s program, and to catch up with my mentee.
Then back to the office for a couple of video-conferences with clients, as well as responding to other calls and emails, and setting up meetings and travel arrangements for the following week. After that I walked to meet a friend for yoga and then home again to be with my family.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
These days I work from a home office which means I can work flexibly, managing the hours I work in and around other interests and commitments.
I see clients and colleagues reasonably frequently, sometimes at their work premises, but most often in coffee shops or cafes, and I host Salon Canberra events in a range of local venues and locations in and around town.
When I need to travel interstate or overseas for work, which is less frequent these days than in my old corporate life, the laptop and iPhone keeps me connected to the world.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
For many years I worked in very high-pressure jobs, involving big workloads and very long hours. The main things that worked for me at the time were creating task lists, prioritising important tasks over the smaller stuff, and knowing which things you have to let go.
These days, while there’s always a focus on the business plan, I place more emphasis on prioritising my personal health and well-being, taking breaks and setting boundaries.
5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I don’t really see my work as being separate from the rest of my life but, that said, I do try to keep my life in a state of reasonable equilibrium. At the simplest level this means making sure I exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, spend time with family and with friends.
While I can be pretty social, I also need time to myself to recharge. My kids sometimes complain that I walk around looking at random things, but I enjoy taking time to look at the world around me, whether it’s street art in an inner-city laneway, an architecturally inspiring building, or finding shells on a beach.
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?
Prioritising my health. This may seem obvious, but I didn’t do it for quite a long time. As mentioned, I had worked extremely long hours in previous roles and I frequently felt chronically tired as a result. Now it’s simple things that keep my life in balance, such as making sure I get up from my desk to go for a walk.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I was a book worm when I was a child, and have generally been a pretty voracious reader ever since. I have a deep curiosity about different ideas and experiences, and I enjoy words.
A quick glance at the bookshelves behind me (did I mention I work from a home office?) reveals lots of the classics, crime thrillers, other contemporary fiction, biographies, works of poetry, Lonely Planet guidebooks and quite a few shelves of children’s picture books and literature.
For some reason I fell out of the habit of reading a couple of years ago. I was too busy, too tired, but over the past year I started reading again and the simple habit of reading each day makes me feel happier and more myself.
Right now, I’m revisiting Hugh Mackay’s Australia Reimagined, Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and Brené Brown ’s Dare to Lead. I’ve also just started reading William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, which is about the relentless rise of the East India Company. I’ve always enjoyed his histories and so far, this one is no exception.
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
While I often need to set aside quiet time to focus on projects, particularly if what I’m doing requires a lot of writing, the most important part of my work day is taking time to check in with others.
I have a small team around me with whom I work fairly regularly, either as sub-contractors to my business or colleagues I collaborate with on particular projects. Checking in means making sure we’re all on the same page and helps to make everyone feel involved and connected. That’s especially important for the team I work with as we all work remotely.
It’s also important for me personally, especially given that a major focus of my business is about connecting people and ideas. For me, many of the best ideas come from through talking and collaborating with others.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I love this quote from British physicist and author Stephen Hawking:
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
When you find what you’re good at, and love what you do, finding balance becomes easy.
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