Carolyn Creswell’s annual self-reflection ritual, her favourite productivity hacks, and why she never eats lunch at her desk

My guest today is Carolyn Creswell. As Australian listeners probably know, Carolyn is the founder of Carman’s muesli, which is in pretty much every supermarket in Australia and is exported to 32 countries around the world. Over the last 25 years, Carolyn has built Carman’s into a $100 million dollar business.

But there is so much more to Carolyn that just delicious tasting muesli. She has given so much thought to the way she works and this interview is full of really practical gems. We talk about:

  • Her morning routine
  • Why she doesn’t do coffee meetings – and what she does instead
  • Her trick to making new year’s resolutions stick
  • Her annual self-reflection ritual
  • The role self-discipline plays in her life
  • Why Carolyn doesn’t listen to the news
  • Carolyn’s happy place
  • How she plans her year in advance
  • Why she books all her hair appointments for the whole year in January
  • How she protects family time
  • Why Carolyn never eats lunch at her desk
  • Her favourite productivity apps
  • Carolyn’s novel way of using to-do list software
  • Why you will never catch Carolyn in a lie
  • Carolyn’s approach to giving feedback

And here are links to everything Carolyn referred to during the show.


Teacher’s Pet

Languages of Love

Cyril Peupion

You can find more about Carolyn and Carman’s at

See below for a full transcript of the episode:

Carolyn: If something does make you feel good, how do try and systemize it into your life, so that kind of just happens naturally for you, as opposed to thinking, “I love doing that, but I never find time or I never do it?” Well you never will find time unless you actively go, “I’ve got to carve that time out.”

Amantha: Welcome to How I Work, a show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I’m your host, Dr. Amantha Imber. I’m an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium, and I’m obsessed with finding ways to optimize my workday. My guest today is Carolyn Cresswell. As Australian listeners probably know, Carolyn is the founder of Carman’s, which is pretty much in every supermarket in Australia and is exported to 32 countries around the world. Over the last 25 years, Carolyn has built Carman’s into a $100 million business.

But there is so much more to Carolyn than just delicious tasting muesli. She has given so much thought to the way that she works, and this is interview is full of really practical gems. I particularly loved hearing about what is almost like an annual self-improvement planning process that she does every summer, which was very, very cool. Over to Carolyn to hear about how she works.

Carolyn, welcome to the show.

Carolyn: Well thanks for having me Amantha.

Amantha: I want to start with your morning routine, because I know that you have one. So talk to me about, how do you spend your mornings?

Carolyn: So, my alarm goes off at three minutes to six. I never start by saying it where it has that five number in front of it, and then that just gives me a couple of minutes to wake up. And I then have a warm water with lemon juice, I get my gym gear on, I grab my puppy dog and I run down to the park to meet my girlfriend at 6:15. And we have a walk while the sun rises for about an hour. And what I like, I meet with the same girl every day, and we have really great chats. I can tell her anything. I know that it’s always confidential, and so I guess it’s half exercise and it’s also half an ability to have a good chat with a girlfriend about whatever is on your mind.

So then I get home, and I quickly make my breakfast. This morning was a porridge, and then I grab a coffee and I have a shower, and I then get myself ready while my kids they have their own little routine go on. And so then about 8:30 I drop the kids to school, and keep going on to the office, and that gets me here. So generally on the drive in, I always ring my closest girlfriend, and I also ring my mum, so by then I’ve had plenty of chat time and chatted to the kids, and I always feel like I’ve achieved a lot by the time I get to work.

Amantha: It sounds like it. And I want to dig deeper into the walk that you do every morning. That’s amazing. That’s a lot of talk time in the morning.

Carolyn: Yes, and people often say “How do not run out of things to talk to this one friend about?” And it’s funny. This morning, I went with two other girls, because that friend had an event on. And so the other girls, it just was different. Walking with two people is different, because it’s different dynamic and conversation than you have with one person. And what I think is that, you need to find little things that work for you, and then do more of what works for you and less of what doesn’t. So for some people they say, “I want to exercise at night,” or that they want to do … Everyone will have a different routine of what ticks in their world.

And for me, I love the fact of being in nature. We walk in a park next to the Yarra River, and we watch the sunrise. This morning there was a lot of hot air balloons. I love that sense of being connected and I feel great after I’ve done it, and I never feel … An hour goes, and you think, “Wow. Can’t believe we’ve already hit that hour.” But that’s because we’re chatting away.

Amantha: That’s amazing. And what are the types of things that you’d chat about, typically? What are the topics that you’d cover?

Carolyn: It’ll be anything. I sometimes find … Say for example I have to let someone go at work. I’ll be feeling really nervous about it, and I’ll say, “Hey, I just want to … Can I run through how I’m gonna script this conversation?” It’ll be about something that’s perhaps challenged me around the kids, or about Pete, or about what I’m thinking about what I want to do for my birthday. It’s just normal girlfriend talk, but I think there’s [inaudible 00:04:46]. You want to be able to have someone who will also say, “Hey, I think maybe you could say that from a different perspective.” Or you also want to have someone that will be able to keep things confidential. You don’t always want to say … If I’m gonna say, “Look, I’m thinking of letting this person go,” I need to know that they are a vault, because that’s not something that you can be having as a gossip around the trap. So I think that we all have different friends in different parts of our life, but I enjoy my walking friend Elle very much.

Amantha: Well that’s nice. That’s nice. And now you’re sitting here drinking your coffee, and I know that you have a no coffee rule, where you get approached a lot from people-

Carolyn: Oh yes.

Amantha: -just saying, “Can I have a coffee with you? Can I pick your brain?” Being such a high profile entrepreneur. And I know that you don’t do coffees. And can you tell me, when did that rule start?

Carolyn: So for me, when I started the business, I was working crazy hours. I was working late at night, there was always stuff to do on weekends. And what I realized over a period of time is that, if someone comes up to you on the street and says, “Can I have $20,” you say no, but if someone says, “Can I have 20 minutes,” or, “Can I have a coffee with you,” you feel like you have to say yes. And so my take around that, is that that is actually the difference of having the work life balance. That’s the difference of getting to 5:30 at night and going, “I’m under control. Basically nothing left in my inbox. I can get out of here.”

So I will happily help someone … So often on that drive to work, I will have … Depends if I do it in the morning or sometimes I do it at night when I’m driving home. I’ll have a mentoring call, so someone that wanted to catch up with me, or … So generally always my first port of call is when someone says … A reasonably high profile CEO yesterday said, “Can I come and have a coffee with you?” And so I’ll start by saying, “Can we just have a phone call?” But I book it in, so they know that at 9:00 on Tuesday the 19th, I’ll be calling them. And so I can still have that chat, but that’s just in the dead time when I’m driving to work. So I generally don’t see many people externally, so it means that I’ve got all the time to do, and I try not to have hardly any meetings. Obviously you’ll have one on ones with my direct reports, but that just means that I can carve out my day to do what I want to do.

And I feel like sometimes, people feel like they’re a bit [inaudible 00:07:07] if they say, “No, I can’t really. I don’t have time to have coffee with someone.” So that’s my way of juggling it, so that I can not feel like I’m giving everything to everyone else, and I can’t actually get my own work done.

Amantha: Yeah. What does your diary look like, then? If I had a look at your calendar, is it basically empty, or do you schedule thinking [inaudible 00:07:27]?

Carolyn: Generally I have certain rules. So I try not on a Monday, to see anyone in the mornings, because I like to get my week set up. I like to look at what the whole week’s gonna look like, and I like to clear through whatever emails might have come on the weekend, so that I can get to lunch. We’re very lucky to have someone here. We have a girl that does the cooking, so you can order your lunch, and everyone pays for themselves. But at 12:30 we all have lunch, and then I will go into the afternoons, and I try and have a lot of time for my team. So I’ll have on Mondays and Tuesdays, I’ll have one on ones with my direct reports.
There’s two things I spend my time when I’m working. One is on strategy, so I’m very much involved with the strategic process. So I’ll have, which yesterday and today I have meetings around each manager will have all of the … We do something called initiatives which are about excellence, so things that we’re doing that we’re gonna do a lot better, or innovations, which are new things that we’ve never done before. And the other thing is on product development. So often I’ll have meetings on someone will come in and say, “Hey, this is a new flavor of muesli that we’re doing. What do you think of this packaging, or these callouts?” And so I’m always involved in the product development. So I think those two things are probably, I only really work on the future of Carman’s. A little bit of on how we’re tracking, but I’m not really worried about week to week, how we’re tracking. I’m more about where are we gonna be in three years’ time? Have we set the right agenda to get there? What’s our future looking like, which is generally in our products.

And so that’s probably the main things that I would spend my time doing. And I feel like, I love coming to work. I feel generally under control, and I don’t feel I rush from lots of things. And if I’m in a meeting that I think I shouldn’t be there, I’ll happily say … Often I’m just asked to come in and say hi to a client, but I won’t maybe sit through the meeting, or if I think, “Oh, this isn’t worth it,” I’ll say, “Look, hey, can I catch up on the notes at the end?”

So I feel like meetings can just suck people’s energy and their ability to get done their important work. And so I’m always looking at how I’m spending my time. Was that a good use of it? Even on my inbox, what things are waiting for a rainy day? And so sometimes if I’ve finished all my emails, I’ll go into that reading file of thinking. So I think having rules on your emails, and turning them off for periods of time … I’ve obviously read a lot of the stuff that you talk about, how to work effectively. And I’m always trying to tweak that, to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.

Amantha: So how does that work? Are you reflecting on a daily basis, or almost on a task by task basis? Because it sounds like you think about it so much, which I love, and I’m curious, how does that reflection work? Or is it just this natural thing?

Carolyn: Sometimes it’ll be a small tweak. The main reflection I do is in my summer holidays. So I set myself this big thing which is saying, for my New Year’s resolutions, who do I want to be next year? What are the little changes that I want to make, in my life? So, for example … And they’re about work, or they’re about my personal life. So one of my little changes last Christmas was saying, “I want to see my parents more, but I want it just to happen normally.” So I did this thing of saying, “Why don’t you come for dinner every Monday night?” And so we started off, and we always knew we were gonna have the same thing. It was always that we’re gonna have roast chicken, every Monday night, and they would come.

And now it’s just become this part of my kids’ life, that the grandparents are there, and they love it. The family loves it. And it means I don’t have to think about saying, organizing, “Oh gosh, it’s been three weeks and I haven’t seen Mum and Dad.” So, that’s just a little change that I’ve made.

And each year I might have a dozen of those. And then that culminates of going, “Wow,” over a period of a few years, the different things that you have done, the little tweaks you’ve done. So in a period of time, I remember saying, “I’m just not gonna paint my fingernails again. That’s just going off.” Or, “I’m not allowed to watch TV.” I just gave up. And sometimes it’s hard. But if you want to create the life that you want to live, you have to go, “What’s not serving me?” Or what’s maybe sucking up time?

And so, I’ve also, like this year, which is kind of hard, I’ve said, “I don’t have to respond to every email.” If it’s someone asking for something, or just cold calling, or something they’ve got to … That’s something that they need. I have to focus on what I need. So, that I find hard, because I’m a nice person. But it’s constantly, yeah, assessing how you’re behaving and whether it’s serving you.

Amantha: Yeah, it’s interesting. And so it sounds like you’ve almost got this annual planning cycle with yourself. I’m curious in terms of self-discipline. You come across as someone with a lot of self-discipline, and with some of those changes, just not watching TV anymore, and not responding to emails, and potentially having to deal with the guilt that comes with that. Have there been, I guess resolutions or goals that you’ve set, that you have struggled with, that have been a challenge to change your behavior?

Carolyn: Often, you say to yourself … What I try and say is, “Well, what’s serving my life?” So if you have a look at what are the stuff that you’re doing, that you think is a good thing that’s benefiting your life, and on the other side of the seesaw, what’s probably dragging you down? And so for me, not being tired is a really important thing. I need enough sleep. I need eight hours’ sleep. I wish I needed less, but unfortunately, that’s not the case for me. So I know that I really need to almost set my alarm to go to bed. I really need to be in my bed by 10:00, so I’m asleep so I can be fine at the other end.

And I just would find that, if you choose to do something … So for me, if I’d choose to go and spend that hour watching TV … And I’m not saying at Christmas I don’t binge on The Crown or do something. But I have to have a little bit of discipline, to lead the life that I do, and also to say, “I genuinely love my life.” And so, there’s nothing I’ve given up … If watching television was my big, delicious pleasure, well that would be fine, but it’s not. So, I’d much rather watch a movie on the weekend, than just watch whatever’s going on.

I’ll tell you something that was hard and challenging, was I gave up listening or watching the news. So I don’t have any real news, like someone said the other day the prime minister had changed. I didn’t know. Because I just don’t let that … I’ll listen to a podcast in the car, or I will … I just don’t consume news, and often find, it’s okay. You survive.

Amantha: And when did you make that change?

Carolyn: Why?

Amantha: When and why?

Carolyn: Why. So years ago, I remember reading something and someone said, “You don’t need to know the news.” And I thought, “Well that’s kind of interesting. What do you need to know?” And I would rather listen to something that, perhaps like this podcast, or something that would benefit me, as a person. Or I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and that will help me grow. I’m a big one for … Sounds wanky, but self-development, and becoming a better person obviously, from the way I’m talking here.

So you almost need to look at your life from the outside in, and go, “What’s filling my glass? What’s making me happy? What’s serving me? And what am I doing to perhaps impress the Joneses?” I don’t know, that I’ll go somewhere … I was talking about this with my friend yesterday. I think I’m almost gonna say no to anymore black tie, fancy events in casinos. I just go [inaudible 00:15:20]. Not sure I ever leave that going, “Wow that was a great night.” Whereas taking my kids to Chinatown and going and having [inaudible 00:15:26], or I don’t know, even just having a few friends around for a barbecue, that fills my bucket more than perhaps being at some swanky event.

Amantha: And speaking of filling your bucket, I’ve heard you talk about a Sunday market that you go to-

Carolyn: Oh yes.

Amantha: -being your happy place. And I want to know, if you I guess can talk about … I don’t know if that’s a regular Sunday routine-

Carolyn: Yes.

Amantha: -going to the, is it the [inaudible 00:15:52]?

Carolyn: Yes, it is the [inaudible 00:15:53] Market.

Amantha: Yeah. What does that do for you?

Carolyn: And I guess, for me, I often think, “How did I feel about that? What makes me feel happy?” And I think sometimes, you don’t want to keep doing the same things that you always do. You know when you just feel like, it fills your soul? Like going to the gallery last night, I was like, “This is so good. This is out of my normal world. This is so … I’m really feeling inspired and I feel great.”

So, of my little funny Sunday market, and it’s in a little sleepy country town, and I go down there and it’s all second hand books, which I’m a big reader. And I pot around, and I buy my veggies, and there’s someone that plays live music, and have a coffee, and I’ll always buy some random little jug or something. And my kids love coming down with me, and we just go down for an hour or two and pot around. And it just makes me feel good. And I think if something does make you feel good, how do you try and systemize it into your life, so that just happens naturally for you, as opposed to thinking, “I love doing that, but I never find time or I never do it.” Well you never will find time unless you actively go, “I’ve gotta carve that time out.”

So sometimes, I’ll put a dinner thinking, “I know once a year I love having dinner with those people I used to work with.” And I’ll put that reminder in my diary for next year, to go, “Okay, it’s October. It’s time to catch up with those work guys.” And even, I’ll put something in months in advance, and all of a sudden, the year unfolds, and you go, “Well wow, that’s just come around.” And so there’s looking at your life, I guess in its entirety or even on an annual cycle. Like in January, I set my hair appointments for the whole year. So I don’t want to think, “Oh my gosh, I desperately need a haircut,” and I could only get 2:00 on a Thursday and I gotta work. I want to know that I’ve got my slot that I like, at 8:00 AM, that works for me.

And so, I just find that that is … Your life just unfolds, comfortably, because that’s been thought through, and it’s really not a big deal to sit and go, “Okay, I need to get my hair cut every six weeks. I’ll book those appointments.” To me, I think it just makes your life a bit calmer, and a little bit happier maybe.

Amantha: Yeah. It’s interesting you said you’re systemizing things, because it sounds like when you were talking about the, almost the yearly goals that you want to change, you develop a system to make that stick, like what you were saying about your parents’ dinner. What are some other systems that you’ve put in place, that might surprise people perhaps?

Carolyn: So I predominantly don’t see my friends as much on weekends. And I’ve got four kids, aging 18, 12, and 14. So I try and say, I’ll do social things, generally Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so that then weekends are much more about family time. But I love it. I’m not doing it out of any form of being a martyr, that so often we might go away, we’ll go down to our farm. So that’s probably more of a priority.

And then I will do things like, I’m in two book groups, often on a Tuesday. So twice a month, on a Tuesday night, I’ll have my book club book. And often on a Thursday would be the night where I go out with my husband and we’ll have dinner or we’ll go somewhere and do something different.

So I find that I, as my week … I’ve got Mum and Dad, grandparents on Monday nights. And so they’re just … People know there’s other little rules for me, that I say, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” So you will never see me anywhere after midnight. I’m sure lots of good things happen for other people after midnight, but because I love my sleep and I think … And so it’s a standing joke that I’m gonna just evaporate, if I’m at a dinner.

We do another fun dinner, which is called Men’s Dinner. So we have three couples, and the men cook for the women, and we sit around, and so that’s quite fun. So we have a cycle of those that happen. And I’m not that structured that I don’t change things, or juggle things around at all. But I just find that it just works for what I enjoy doing, so that I don’t have to think about saying, “Oh I’d love to see those people we have Men’s Dinner with, but I’ve got to organize it. Where did the year go?” Well I will often plan those times, in advance.

Amantha: And how about in the office, during the 9:00 to 5:00, are there … What are some of your most valuable systems or habits or routines that you have in the workplace?

Carolyn: So, a couple of things, that if you want to do a really quick email, you pick up your phone not your laptop. Everyone, as soon as they see, “Sent from my iPhone,” that people understand that it’s just a very brief whatever. I will have lots of rules on my emails, so things that will go into certain folders. I think that sometimes people feel that they need to write very long, beautifully written, extensive paragraphed emails. I’m much more your bullet point sort of girl.

I always will stop … Food is really important to me, so we all stop at 12:30 and everyone has lunch together, and I think that that’s a very good thing. You shouldn’t eat at your desk, and I think you guys just did a example of that recently. And I think it just actually stops and clicks your brain into a different mode. And it’s literally 20 minutes. You come down, you eat, you go back. But I feel you’ve got a freshness to what you’re doing.

What else? I try and keep things reasonably ordered and tidy, and I use tasks a lot. And I think a lot of people don’t use tasks. So a couple of my favorite apps that are a big life changer to me, one is called Wunderlist. So, it’s a shared list app, so you can have … And I’ve got how many … Maybe 30 on my list, so-

Amantha: So how do you use your Wunderlist? Because I’m a big Wunderlist fan, so talk me through. And for those that don’t know, Wunderlist is like to-do list software, and you can have different to-do lists if you like, within the one app. So what does yours look like?

Carolyn: So, for example, we have a home shopping list. So I can add something to it, my husband can add something to it, and whoever goes to supermarket can know what’s needed. I have one for our head office, which I share with the project manager here. So whenever I walk around, and I’ll see that a door handle’s falling off, I put it on Wunderlist. “Door handle in Tokyo,” We call out all our rooms, places we export to, “is falling off.” And so then I’ve done it, I know that it’s there. I also look at then I can see what’s been done, so that’s a good thing of being able to track what happened in the building this week.

I also keep it … So when someone says to me, “I’ve seen a great movie,” I go straight into my movies on Wunderlist, so that then when I sit down on a Saturday night and go, “What am I gonna watch on Netflix?” Whatever. “What movie will I bring up?” I can just pull up my Wunderlist so I’ve got that list, and I always write who recommended it as well, because if you loved it or … Often you don’t remember things like that. So I just find that it’s a really good way … It’s a very good shared list scenario. Yeah so that’s one of my favorites.

There’s another, an app that I love for pocket money for kids, called Spriggy. So the pocket money goes in but they get given a little card, and they can spend their pocket money how they want, and they can put it into savings, and it’s a great bit of technology. Anyway. There’s-

Amantha: Are there any other apps that you’re really into?

Carolyn: I’ve got a luggage tracker, that I am … It was called Luglock, it’s just changed its name I think recently, and so that’s a great app. So whenever I’m traveling, to know that my bags have made it, and I’ve had situations when they’re stuck at an airport, and they tell me it’s somewhere else, and I go, “No, I can tell it’s there.” I’m just thinking from an organization point of view. Oh I’ve turned my phone off for this.

I will often, or the other thing that I’m a big one, is using Siri really well. So for example, I’ll say to my phone, “When I leave this destination, please remind me to call Amantha.” And so, I’ve forgotten about it, I’ll hop in the car, and one minute later, it’ll pop up on the screen saying, “Call Amantha.” So it reminds me that when I’m leaving, to be able to use it. And I use Siri all the time. So when I’m driving in, “Please email myself.” I know if something ends up in my inbox, it doesn’t get lost in the ether of any other form of either a post-it note, or a text message. So I’ll say to myself, “Ring this person at 4:30. Take this muesli bar home for someone.” Whatever. So I’m always telling Siri to email myself.

And I’ve been a fan of Google Home as well, so I find that’s a good … Being able to call out, ask questions, what’s the weather, turn the lamps off. I love technology, and I’m very, very excited about Amazon coming to Australia in a big way, so I think that’s gonna be awesome.

Amantha: Fantastic, fantastic. I’m keen to hear more about … You seem like such a chilled out kind of person, and I can’t even imagine all the different things that you’re juggling in your mind. And I remember reading in an interview, I think it was your husband Pete that said that you used to be a stress head, but not so much anymore. And I wanted to know, was there a time where that changed? And how did you make that change?

Carolyn: And it doesn’t just happen going to one seminar, and going, “Oh my gosh, I’m a new person.” And I think sometimes if you say to yourself, in any book you read, or any seminar you go to, if one thing sticks, that’s enough. Accept that that’s one change. And I probably realized before, and this is now my son’s 14, so probably 15-ish years ago, well I couldn’t keep that lifestyle going, and it probably wasn’t serving me, and I probably switched … Maybe a lot of people probably then switched a bit more into the self-development.

It used to be a badge of honor, to go, “I am busy. I’m so busy.” I would get to an airport, and I didn’t want to hop on a plane unless they were calling my name on the loudspeaker, because that meant I was successful. People would say, “How are you?” “Stressed out of my eyeballs,” because that meant I’d made it in life. And then I listened to this beautiful little story, it’s called The Mexican Fisherman, so just bear with me for one second. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but this fisherman, he goes out and he catches the fish, and this guy says, “So, what are you gonna do for the rest of the day?” And he said, “Oh, I’m gonna go and have a sleep, and then I’m gonna go and have a lovely lunch with my wife, and then I’m gonna go into the village and play guitar with my friends.” And he said, “Well why don’t you fish more?” And he said, “Well I could, but I don’t need to. I’ve got enough of what I need.” And he said, “Well you could.” And then [inaudible 00:27:05] “What could you do, what could you do? And you build this up, and you’d fish so much, you’d make all of this money and you’d move to New York,” and all of this stuff.
And anyway, Google it if you’re interested. I’m doing a very fast version here. And then he says, “Well what would happen with all of that money?” He said, “Well you could just move to a little sleepy village, and you could sleep in, and just catch whatever fish you wanted, and hang out in the town with your friends, and play guitar, and have afternoon siestas.” And it was just that thing of, what are we striving for in our lives? Is busy really this badge of honor? And I think for me, I try and keep the noise and the clutter at bay, and the way I do that, is I’m really conscious of my time, how I spend it, and that’s why, for example, I don’t want to think, “Oh my gosh, my haircut’s a week overdue, and I’ve gotta do the 2:00 in the afternoon thing, which is gonna ruin my whole day.” I want to know that life just unfolds, and all of a sudden, that I’m never in a state where I feel I’m really behind the eight ball, or I’m really feeling that life’s got out of control.

And so, learning and looking, and the little things that I’ve tweaked … And it’s not like it happened … This has been a slow evolution, over a long period of time. I remember one of the first ones was wash my face at night. Really funny little things of going, you’re a young girl, and you could get away with just going to bed, whatever. But now, middle aged, 44, you do some different things to take care of yourself. Even from what you wear, of how that makes you feel. So I almost have a bit of a uniform I laugh about, that I’m not a big fashionista or … I haven’t lost one friend since I stopped painting my fingernails. What are you doing some of these things for, and who are you trying to impress? Because that’s just not the person I want to be. I want to feel that I surround myself with really interesting people, and that I’m leading an interesting life that’s fulfilling me, that’s making me feel good.

And so, if you’re sometimes running around things … And you just have to say … Like I stopped going to a lot of things where I think, “Oh, that could be a networking thing.” But then it also could be just a waste of a night where you go, “I could actually be doing something that serves me more.” So, yeah.

Amantha: And what do you do? Because I imagine that there still are things, in your life, like you mentioned let’s say you have to come to work and let someone go for example. How then mentally do you manage those stressors, if you like?

Carolyn: So my first thing, and this has taken me a long time, but I will only ever tell the truth. So I don’t tell white lies, and that is really hard sometimes, because sometimes it’s really easy to tell a white lie. And I try and say to my kids the same thing, that if you come from a place of just telling someone the truth … Now I might not choose to tell you … I might only tell you the truth if you ask me what it is, but I will never be caught lying, to my kids, to anyone. So, I’m not gonna say, “Sorry, Will can’t come to the party because he’s sick,” and then you find that Will was actually down the street kicking footie and wasn’t sick, because I feel like over a period of a lifetime, if anyone comes across me that has dealt with me in my career, they’d say, “Do you know what? I didn’t always like her, but she had integrity.” And so that’s one of my core values.

And like I said, sometimes it would be a lot easier, to tell a white lie or to … So I try and always come back to that. So, I will often say to myself, “I’m here for the long term. I’m here for a marathon. It’s not just a sprint.” And I know I’m coming from a place that’s the right thing to do. There’s a great Maya Angelou quote that, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, but most of all liking how you do it.” And I like how I do it. And that’s taken a long time to get to that space. 26 years, I think [crosstalk 00:31:17].

Amantha: And truth telling, truth telling 100% of the time. That sounds quite different from how a lot of people operate. When did you come to that realization, that you just want to tell the truth?

Carolyn: So years ago, and you’ll see in my office, I have a big picture behind my desk, and it’s a bookshelf, and every spine of the book is about telling the truth. And everything’s in black and white. So, and it’s called The Truth in Black and White. I remember being really broke when I … It was about five years into the business. I had to buy these nuts were getting delivered, and I didn’t have enough money. And I was going to give the nut guy a check in a envelope, and I hadn’t signed it. By the time they got back to their head office, which was half an hour’s drive, they’d realize it wasn’t signed. They’d have to bring it back the next day. I’d sign it the next day, and it’d be fine.

And the guy I worked next to, he said, “Why don’t you just put a post-it note saying, ‘Look I’m really sorry. I’m short of money today. Would you mind holding this check and banking it tomorrow?'” And I was like, “I never thought about doing like that.” And here I was trying to be manipulative and he said, “They will appreciate that so much more.” And then over time, that …

And I guess it’s also come with confidence. It’s hard to do stuff like that when you’re young, and you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh. What are they gonna think of me? What are they gonna say?” And then as time went on, I thought, “Do you know what? I actually really appreciate it when someone tells it to me how it is.” So if I let someone go on, I go, “Look I’m really sorry. It’s nothing to do with you. We’re downsizing. Business hasn’t been great,” and then they find out that we’ve hired someone else, and business is booming, then they’re gonna be bitter and angry, and they also can’t learn from that. You can’t grow.

If I come in and say, “Hey, I just don’t think this is the right fit. You seem moody and grumpy when you come into the office, and we’re just not that place. We just expect more.” And no one will ever … It’ll never come out of the blue. You will have had a conversation, and I’m happy to have that conversation early on, of saying, “One of our core values is positivity. And I understand that everyone’s got stuff going on in their life, but when you come into here, it’s not fair for the people on the left and the right of you to deal with you being aggressive and grumpy and difficult to work with, because that’s just not the place that I want to build. That’s not the people I want to work with.”

And people then have a choice of going, “Okay, right. I get where I’m coming from.” But otherwise you will take that through your whole career, because no one’s actually told you how you’re showing up. And I actually find that, I’ll often say, “This is, feedback’s hard to hear, and I get it’s hard for me as well. This is how I’m seeing it. I’ll just let you sit with that, and it’s up to you.” And whether they want to take it on board and address it … Like I said, it never comes, first conversation out of the blue. People will generally know. But that’s just what I think is the right thing to do.

Amantha: I really like that. I must say for myself when I’m having these conversations with, particularly in the workplace, I feel very stressed beforehand. Do you feel that, or has truth telling just become a habit, so it’s like that’s fine, being the bearer of difficult news, for example?

Carolyn: So, what I’d say is it sometimes is very uncomfortable. That doesn’t make me veer from telling the truth. I know that’s gonna be my approach, but don’t you worry. I am often sick the night before. You’re running to the toilet, and you’re just like, “Oh my gosh.” Because I’m acutely aware that this is someone’s life, and that I don’t take that … I never take that light-heartedly.

But then also, I’m actually not a charity operation here. I’m actually running a business, and my take is that there is a million incredible people. We have people queuing to want to work here. So if I’ve got someone here who’s not pulling up their socks, you need to be able to give them … And that’s what I said. They will always be given a sense of saying … Often, it’s on a values decision.

So I had a guy that was telling me that he wanted to work super early, and I just had this sense of going, “I just don’t think you’re arriving at work at 6:00 in the morning.” And I said to him, “How’s it all going?” He said, “Oh it’s great. I get so much work done,” and I thought, “God I don’t want to get up to have to come in here just to see if he is.” And I happened to look over and I saw the alarm panel. And so I just rang [inaudible 00:35:43] and said, “Hey, what time’s the alarm been going off?” Knowing that he was turning it off. 6:40, 6:45, there’s no way he was doing … But he just lied to my face. And I was like, “Do you know what? That’s it.” Like you’ve had it, I’ve given you a chance without even knowing. Is it working for you? [inaudible 00:35:56] adjusted?

And I think that there’s also a duty for employees to be able to tell the truth of how something’s working for them, or how they wat to adjust things. Because I think it makes you feel good about yourself, that you can hold your head high, that you’re doing the right thing. And anyway, that’s I guess, as I said, one of my core values, that’s important to me.

Amantha: Yeah. And it sounds like you’ve got this self-talk going on I guess, when you’re experiencing that stress around having a difficult conversation. Is that your main strategy for, I guess, getting through the stress before that big conversation?

Carolyn: Well I think my self-talk is saying, “Are you doing the right thing?” And often, you know what the hardest one is, is having the tough conversations when it might be to a friend. In the workplace, we are taught to have those conversations. We have training for it, we know that we have to do it. But often in social situations, people feel really uncomfortable.

And I for example won’t sit through a racist joke. If someone says it around me, I will say, “Hey, that’s just really inappropriate, and I just don’t want to sit through you saying something like that.” And how you have enough confidence to be able to do that, but I just think … I just want to be proud of who I am, and how I behave, and I don’t want to sit through a racist joke, so I will tell someone. And yeah. I do find it often more difficult in my private life.

Amantha: I want to go back to the self-improvement theme of your life, and I know that you’re … I think you said you’re off the charts in self-improvement when you’ve done surveys and questionnaires and things like that, which I love. And what I’m curious about is, how do you know what education and information to consume? Because there’s so many options, for someone that is big on improving themselves and learning more. How do you decide what you’re gonna put in your brain?

Carolyn: So, to me, i think that you have to have an ability of looking in your life, and saying, “What’s serving me, and what’s making me feel good, and where do I think I need to improve? Where’s something?” And so, for a couple of things. For example, I would love to be better at meditation, I’d love to be better at writing journals. And so, I’ll think, “All right,” and then I’ll ask someone I know who’s good at those things, “Well how are you fitting it into your life? What are you doing?”

And so then I’ll try different things. And so I used to try doing little short meditations before I went to the gym, or go for a walk in the morning, or going to the gym, and then I … So for example, they’re are areas that I haven’t nailed, and we’re gonna start meditation classes here at lunch time. And so I’ll then … It’s not like, I don’t think you have to think of education as some formal something. It might be from someone that you know that’s really good at that, and then I call it test and measure. You’ll try something. Does that work for me? Do I like it? Am I enjoying it, or am I suffering through it? And then you’ll try something else, and you’ll think, “Well hang on.”

Like I often feel when I write a journal, like, “What if someone picks it up and reads it?” And then my friend [Christina 00:39:10] Carlson said, “No no, you just burn the pages. You write the pages, and you just put them straight in the fire and burn them. Just light a match.” I was like, “Okay.”

So, what are the things that … How are you feeling about something? What’s holding you back? What are the challenges? And then you consume what you think might be appropriate. So sometimes, for example I read Tools of Titans, and Tim Ferriss, and there’s lots of little different little things, tips of people’s mornings and what they did, and what serves them and motivates them. And then, it’ll be, whether it’s I read lots of interesting business books or … I quite like, as I said, listening to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m driving, and the time just flies.
Or when I’m falling asleep at night, and I’m listening to that Teacher’s Pet at the moment. So [crosstalk 00:39:57] so addictive. Every time I’m in the car, or going to sleep at night, I find that really interesting. And sometimes, don’t feel it’s always about self-improvement. It’s about what … Sometimes it’s about feeding your soul, and what’s making you feel good about you, and that’s giving you a spring in your step because you’ve done something a little bit different than what your normal day is. So I just feel that that helps create the best version of you, and that’s all we’re trying to do is that over this cycle of life, to get to the end and go, “I was really proud of who I was, and what I did, and I didn’t lead a small life. I wasn’t boring. I don’t have any regrets about not trying things.”

And I can tell you the one thing I have learned, is that money is not the answer to your happiness. It’s very nice to be able to pay your bills, absolutely, and it’s a great privilege to be able to travel. But without question, the most wealthy people I know are the most unhappy, because they feel that that is their badge of honor. That is their way to success, and to happiness. And I feel that having great friends, and being able to laugh around the table, and to be able to feel that you’ve been an interesting human, and to me that is much more about what gives you personal satisfaction.

Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nice, nice. I want to finish with a few quick questions around what are you consuming now, in terms of books, podcasts, newsletters, things like that. So let’s start with podcasts. That’s come up a couple of times. Teacher’s Pet is obviously one, but what are one or two other go-to podcasts for you?

Carolyn: Well I don’t know if you’d officially call it podcast per se, but I’m mad for TED Talks. And I find that they, and I will look at what are the most popular ones, or I’ll go into genres that I find interesting, whether it’s health or happiness, or that I find that they’re very well put together. But then I’m starting to, a lot of the girls … I’m in a learning book group, so they consume a lot more, so they’ve just sent me a list of some other ones that I’ve got on my phone.

So for books, I’m often trying … So I either go from my two book groups, which is my main reading. One is of novels, which I actually really enjoy thinking about something different. So, for example, Lionel Shriver’s one of my favorite authors, and so Mandibles or something crazy that she’s written. That just gets me out of my normal thought process.

But then the other’s much more on, whether it’s development of self, so things like Languages of Love, or I’ve just read, was it The Unspoiled Child, which was around how to raise kids that are much more grounded and generous and smart with money. And then, so I often flip. I actually quite like on a plane just a real book. I’m still old school. I carry a Kindle but I find that a book is really still nice to … Generally I’ll often be traveling with one in my handbag.

And then I do still love just to listen to music, and I think that sometimes, we can consume information but it is very good to have, just have some great … Often if I’m driving home a bit late, and I put the music super loud, and sing in the car. And so I think that that’s another good thing.

And then I have a pile of things that might have been sent to me just to like, Sunday afternoon reading of different, whether it might be articles that someone might have clipped out and sent to me old school. So, there’s always a reading pile of what can be consumed.

And I also would say that if you start reading something and you think, “It’s not for me,” or whatever, it’s okay. Just let it go. There’s just a million other things that you could consume.

Amantha: Definitely. I love the sound of your learning book club group. That’s really cool. How do they decide on which books to-

Carolyn: So, it’s got some amazing girls in it, with Christina Carlson, Alisa Camplin who won the gold medal, Maryanne Shearer who won T2, Sally [inaudible 00:44:07] who’s an artist, Rebecca Herman who owns Belinda, an audiobook company. So she sends me just cases of audiobooks. And so generally if someone’s heard about something, or something that is interesting … We’ll move around whether it’s around love, or around parenting, or around … There’s a brain one that we’re doing recently about brain plasticity, and they’re always very interesting. And I think it’s often the conversations we hae as a group.

And then we actually … Sounds over the top. We actually travel once a year together, so last year we went to Sweden, and went to Christina’s house, and then we just talk books and drink tea. And then this year we actually went to New York, which was very exciting. So book club on tour, on steroids.

Amantha: I love it.

Carolyn: So, it is an enormous privilege to be able to do that.

Amantha: Yeah, wow. And e-newsletters. Are there any e-newsletters that you subscribe to, that you love reading?

Carolyn: I have to say I probably don’t. The only one that I am a little bit addicted to, is a guy that I’m super fond of called Cyril Peupion and he wrote Work Smarter, Live Better. And it’s a very skinny little book. I highly recommend it. And it’s basically around how to organize your emails and your work life, so he has carving out time for the bigger projects, don’t worry about some of the little stuff, a lot of the stuff around don’t multitask, turn your inbox off just to sit there and pump through it, don’t feel you have to write essays, bullet points are fine, put in your rules, all that stuff.

Amantha: Excellent. And finally, where can people find more about you and Carman’s?

Carolyn: Well I don’t know about me per se, but there’s plenty of stuff out there about Carman’s. And as I said, I’m a super proud mum of this baby. And it’s going from strength to strength, and we’ve got our new beautiful head office here, so if anyone ever wants to come down to sunny Huntingdale, which is just near Chadstone in Victoria, we’d love to see you and you can try the whole range, and get a sense of what Carman’s as a business is like. And more often than not you see me, lurking in the foyer, chatting to everyone.

Amantha: Excellent. Well I’ve loved this chat with you. Thank you so much for your time.

Carolyn: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Amantha: Hello there. That’s it for today’s episode. If you liked it, there are plenty of others that you might also enjoy, such as my chat with Mia Freedman about her trick for overcoming procrastination, and my interview with Rachel Botsman, who shares her one-minute alternative to mindfulness.

Finally, it’s great getting feedback from listeners such as yourself, so feel free to give this podcast a review in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like this episode, make sure you hit the subscribe button so that you can be alerted whenever new episodes are released. See you next time.