Balancing the Grind with Carolyn Coon, Corporate Affairs Leader

Carolyn Coon is a communications professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. Recently, she’s launched her own communications consultancy.

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

I’ve spent the past 20 years building a career in communications which on the whole, has been pretty rewarding. I studied a Bachelor of Arts – Communications, and for 10 years after that worked with PR and communications agencies in Australia and London.

I got to cut my teeth and work on some great projects and clients. The really memorable ones are the IMAX theatre launch in Sydney, the Australian of the Year Awards, introducing Skype across Asia-Pacific and the launch of Sydney Wildlife World.

The second 10 years of my career has been spent working in senior communications and corporate affairs in-house roles where I was leading communications for high profile brands and companies in the spirits and wine industries.

Over the past seven months I’ve started up my own communications consultancy, where I’m advising a number of clients on internal and external communications and media relations.

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

For the past six months, thanks to COVID-19, a workday has looked very different for most of us. I’ve been working from home during this whole time.

A recent day ‘at the office’ starts with me checking the news headlines over a coffee for stories that may be relevant to my clients. I’m then reviewing my must-do list, which I keep in an old-school notebook (I’m a big list person!).

I’ve learnt that I’m more productive at bigger ‘focused’ tasks like strategy writing later in the day, so I spend the morning responding to any client emails from overnight, catching up on work admin like invoicing, and spending some time thinking about how to tackle new projects.

I’ll then follow up with a few journalists that I might be in touch with about a story idea for a client. From mid-morning, I’ll be drafting an issues management comms plan.

I’ll then go for a walk around the park at lunchtime. After lunch, I’m drafting sections of an Annual Report, sending off the sections for review, and updating the designer on the process. I’ll attend a Zoom call for a working group meeting on a project where I’m leading comms.

I’ll finish the day off by checking in on the evening news for any big headlines. Given I work with clients based in the UK, I’ll occasionally do a call later in the evening after dinner on a project brief.

The good thing about communications is that no two days are really the same, it really depends on what’s happening in the world and what your clients need.

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

Yes! This is a very different answer to what I would have given this time a year ago, when I was in a big corporate job with much less flexibility. Since I’ve been doing my own consulting work, I am enjoying the wonderful sense of freedom that comes with it.

You can generally work whatever hours suit you, as long as you deliver on your commitments to your clients. It fits really well into my life as I am now not having to spend time commuting to and from an office, or deal with the pressures of having to manage the constant demands of a global team.

Melbourne is only just coming out of its work-from-home restrictions, so I am still managing everything on Zoom, mobile and email.

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

I prefer to think about work-life integration. In my industry, the nature of media and communications means that you can’t always control timing for when your clients might need you – and often, they might need you to deliver on work at short notice and with time pressures.

So I tend to think about how I can integrate the things I like doing for my personal life with my workload. That means my day doesn’t always look like a traditional 9-5 (or 8-6!) day. I might go for a run on a Wednesday afternoon if I don’t have any work deadlines. Or start at lunch time one day and work into the night.

Lately I’ve started to think about achieving daily ‘micro-goals’. For example, I used to aim to run at least 7-8km when I went out. Now I’m happy enough to just walk around the park for 10 minutes every day. Smaller goals are more realistic for me in that I will achieve them and they become more habitual.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I mentioned earlier that at the beginning of the year I was working in a very senior, high pressured global in-house role. I enjoyed the challenge but it also came with a great deal of constant stress.

My daily routine was to be at my desk in the office by 7.30-8.00am every day and often still in the office working into the evening – plus weekend work. That has all stopped. I now have a much more flexible routine which I can manage better and it’s immensely satisfying to feel more in control of my time.

My day is generally starting later and finishing earlier. Given gyms have been closed due to COVID-19, all of my exercise is outdoors. I’ll go for a walk every day and take in the natural surroundings, topping it up with a longer run when I feel like it, and I’ve recently started outdoor group training twice a week.

I love writing as a creative outlet, so am in the habit of writing for fun regularly. I’ve started to protect Sundays as a ‘sacred’ day where I will fill it up with all the things I like doing for creativity and relaxation, because I think spending time on creativity feeds your soul and gives you energy. And I love dance, so I’ve started doing online dance classes for fun!

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I’m currently reading White Tears, Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad, a fascinating read which looks at the intersection of white feminism and racism, the premise of white entitlement being masked by victimhood, and the impact of this on women of colour.

I’ve also recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which is all about finding space to nurture creativity in your life because it’s so good for your soul.

And First We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson is an insightful read for anyone who lives with anxiety – which these days, is many of us.

I’ve recently listened to a great podcast series “The Imperfects” which interviews musicians, artists, sportspeople and other high profile people to explore how failure and imperfection is a part of their lives in a world where the pressure to be perfect is all too prevalent.

And if you need a bit of light relief, the Betoota Advocate is a must-read for a fresh twist on news.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I love my Nike Run Club app, which tracks my runs and walks. For work I’m always using Time Buddy, which is a great short cut for when you’re planning work across many time zones.

I confess I really can’t live without UberEats, it’s a life saver for when you just don’t have time or could be bothered cooking dinner! I’m experimenting with Trello, which is great for task and project planning – like an online pinboard.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

It’s obviously relevant to our times – Daniel Andrews. Regardless of whether you’re pro or anti government, the man has been extraordinary leading our state through this crisis, and fronted the media more than 100 days in a row.

With the pressure of a job like that it looks impossible to achieve work-life balance – but he must have some sort of daily habit or ritual that is getting him through.

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

I think in these strange times it’s important for us to be kind to ourselves. COVID-19 has created challenging circumstances for all of us in different ways, and while there are some silver linings to be found, we can’t underestimate the impact of these conditions, particularly on our mental wellbeing.

That might mean not feeling like you have to achieve or work as hard as you might have before. For many of us, it’s also forced us to ‘reset’ and think about what’s really important in life.

For me, it has really helped me balance out time to indulge in the things that I know are good for my mental wellbeing, like creative writing, gentle exercise, sunshine and reading. I’ve generally slowed down. I’m not working as hard or as stressed as I was this time last year, I’m grateful I’m able to change for the better, and I intend to continue on that path.

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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.