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“My Experiment in Being Early: Conserving and Creating Energy in Life and Work”

Angela SteelBy Angela Steel, Vice President, Clinical Operations-Infectious Diseases, GlaxoSmithKline

As I race from meeting to meeting, both virtually and physically, I like to say, “I’m not Scottish or American. I’m Russian, because I’m always ‘rushing’ around.” That’s my standard line (admittedly pretty bad). I am also often heard saying “Sorry I’m late” or “I need to go,” particularly during 30-minute meetings!

That is, until earlier this year, when I made a personal commitment to experiment and be early for meetings, events and appointments. I had noticed that being slightly late (which I define as five minutes late) for almost everything, both at work and in other aspects of my life, was having a profound physical and emotional impact. I could feel my heart start to pound as I rushed my family (notably my 10-year-old) out the door in the morning. Running behind him, I was literally sweating, loaded up with laptop, gym bag and my kid’s school bags—and once behind the steering wheel, I was gripping it so tightly my fingers would cramp as I stressed over getting to work with no time to spare.  

 The Difference 30 Minutes Make

What I experienced during my experiment in being early was profound. I decided to set my alarm 30 minutes earlier to 5:30 a.m., thinking that would give me enough time to do all the things I needed to do without rushing or stressing myself or my family. Now let me be clear that waking up 30 minutes early was not something I did with any joy or expectation that it would be easy. For most of my life I had been a perpetual snooze-button hitter and those five to 10 minutes more sleep was a delicious habit for me.

However, I found that the early morning spring light was a great motivator, and I even started waking up at 5:20 a.m. Getting up without hitting snooze? That never happened before! To do this, though, I was going to bed earlier and giving up my nightly TV channel surfing. This turned out to be surprisingly easy. In hindsight, I recognize now that the TV watching did little for me compared to my early morning walks. Suddenly I had time to stand on our deck and take in the sunrise. Those minutes of quiet contemplation have become precious and addictive for me.

Changes at the Office

At work, arriving at least 15 minutes before my first meeting has been transformative, too. Instead of starting the day already behind schedule, I have time to get to the meeting room, buy a coffee and check e-mail. I actually gather my thoughts and am truly present from the get-go. This sense of calm and preparedness then sets the tone for the rest of my day. I can focus. I can listen. I am fully engaged.

What’s more, I am able to conserve my energy and redirect it to the people in my team. I don’t give the impression that I’m too busy to talk. Instead, I’m fostering a “speak up” culture, where people know that I am fully present and understand the challenges and issues that they are bringing to me for help and solutions. As a result, I’m mentoring others, building relationships and pursuing leadership opportunities.

A simple 30-minute shift in my day, along with my early morning walks, has been a wake-up call for me personally and professionally—and provides me with a fountain of energy. With extra energy reserves to adapt and thrive in an ever changing environment, I’m feeling more confident and empowered. A dear colleague once asked me, “Are you a fountain or a drain?” How would you respond?

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