Claiming Quiet
Balancing effort and ease at work

By Woodrie Burich

Pavel Sevryukov | iStock


e know the benefits of effort well.

The drive. The push. The excellence and outcomes that accompany it.

We know what it takes to push ourselves personally, and we’ve learned how to support our teams in learning this skill too. We know the motivational techniques, the key performance indicators, and the data we need to keep our teams and stakeholders pleased—and we drive our results towards these.

But how many of us know the skill of ease?

Not many, in my experience. Research backs this up too. Whether we look at stress indicators or simple stats related to downtime, we aren’t great at stepping into ease. In fact, we seem hard pressed to take time for ourselves outside of work, let alone within company doors. One stat shows that the average US-based worker only takes half of their paid time off—and those are pre-pandemic figures. Post pandemic it’s gotten even worse.

Our collective lack of ease is endemic to our current work cultures.

Personally, I hardly know any high-achieving professionals who consistently work less than 50 to 55 hours a week, especially if you count after-hour phone calls, late evening/early morning emails, and all those vacation check-ins.

Yet if we look beyond the work hours, we see a deeper issue. We seem to have forgotten the benefits that ease offers us both personally and professionally. There are benefits that arise with downtime and strategic thinking time. Deeper connections with ourselves and others, for instance, which translates to improved relationships and enhanced teamwork. Creativity is born out of this space of stillness, and with it come newly harnessed problem-solving skills and stronger decision making. These are the gifts of ease. Ease is not just about chilling out on some beach or unwinding; it’s about having the time and space needed in order to connect with ourselves and learning to apply the benefits that connection has offered us.

Luckily, the next generation seems to intuitively get this. In fact, they are leading the charge toward sustainable working hours and balanced work lives. In time, we will see our work worlds shift and trend toward more ease—and this trend will only accelerate once more leaders begin to recognize and capitalize on the improved business outcomes that arise from it.

Tension Between Worlds

For the meantime, though, one major problem remains: we know what we need (more time, space, and ease), but we don’t know how to get there yet, given the demands (e.g., how will all this work get done?).

There is tension between these two worlds of effort and ease. The value is in learning how to navigate this tension. We need tools, strategies, and approaches to manage ourselves and our teams through it so that we can learn to reap the benefits found in both effort and ease.

Where do we start when everyone around us is running at the same crazy effort-filled pace? How do we push back against a culture and a wave of expectations stemming from our teams, directors, and stakeholders inside our companies—let alone the onslaught of demands driven externally from our clients, vendors, and broader community?

How do we find ease in an effort-driven work world?

The root of this answer has to do with boundaries. The heart of it, though, is connection. Boundaries provide us access to both.

One of my favorite tools to acquire more ease in the workday is to use boundaries to claim quiet. It’s an entry point for ease. Practiced occasionally, claiming quiet can offer some stress relief and bring to life newfound clarity. Practiced consistently, it offers us increased energy reserves, composure in moments of crisis, and creativity, which is used for innovation, problem solving, and much more.

There are three steps that can help leaders and their teams claim quiet and ultimately create more ease at work: create permission, claim your quiet, and bridge the gap.

Create Permission

Create a culture of permission. This frees up your team and alleviates high levels of pressure that high-performing teams often work under. Over time, permission starts to embed itself into the corporate culture. This is where creativity benefits, and the benefits of stronger teamwork really start to emerge.

Pre-emptively provide permission to your team members, and do it often. Guilt is a common feeling—especially for high-achievers. If you (or your team members) are driven, more than likely you put personal needs aside for work needs. Granting permission, taking a moment to see our team members’ needs, and offering that need pre-emptively can go a long way toward a mutually supportive and strong culture that honors individuals.

Where do your best strategies and solutions arise from? Chances are they arise from some form of quiet. Some reflection or stillness was involved.

Example: A global client reached out to us for support when the Ukraine war started. They have a variety of worldwide offices, with clients, vendors, and stakeholders in the surrounding area. Specifically, they wanted some advice on how to best support their team members to process what was occurring. The first thing we started with was preemptively offering permission. We focused on offering and supporting their teams with the time and space necessary for processing, as well as ensuring access to a variety of support resources. Permission is something individuals are often challenged with in the workforce regardless of location or background (important note: this can be compounded for certain teams depending on cultural differences and/or for marginalized groups). We as leaders can counter this by granting permission without having to make people wait or ask for it.

Claim Your Quiet

One of the top things individuals and teams need is strategic downtime. Some teams call this strategic thinking time, or sometimes it’s referred to as quiet reflective space.

For a moment, consider when and how you get your best insights. Where do your best strategies and solutions arise from? Chances are they arise from some form of quiet. Some reflection or stillness was involved. This is why leadership retreats are often off site. It’s also why we hear jokes about the best ideas for work arising from the shower—or how we come back renewed after a vacation with energy and new ideas. Quiet time and space are the lifeblood of creativity and innovation, and they are critical for complex problem solving. We need quiet, and as leaders, we need to double down on it.

Example: The company 3M seems to recognize the gift and creativity offered by space and quiet. In fact, since the ‘50s it has practiced a “15% Culture.” Each employee is encouraged to set aside 15 percent of their work time to focus on innovation and creativity, to follow their whims and play. This has contributed to 3M’s high innovation culture: it was during that 15 percent allotted time that 3M’s Art Fry invented the iconic Post-It Note.

Bridge the Gap

Over the years, I’ve found people hold back from claiming their quiet. Often this is due to the fear that somehow the work won’t get done. Yet for those clients that make the leap and claim their quiet, they find new ideas, solutions, and opportunities that help them manage the workload in new ways. They are stronger for it. Their work outcomes are better for it. The thing that’s needed up front is just a bit of courage and commitment.

Recently, I gave a presentation and I absolutely loved what one client said: “Be fierce with your ‘no’ so you can protect your ’yes.’” The power of boundaries expressed in a single sentence.

Research can help bridge the gap. It can help people learn to trust themselves enough to take that first leap. If we look at the science and data, we can see the benefits arising from ease. This can help us prioritize it. And once leaders experience it—once they truly see the benefits that arise from claiming quiet—there’s no going back. Time and time again, I witness leaders and teams claim this time for themselves, and I see the power that arises from it. As a coach, I’m lucky enough to witness my clients’ insights and watch their paths take them toward more clarity, creativity, and confidence. The ease that was once on the back burner becomes front and center. Recently, I gave a presentation and I absolutely loved what one client said: “Be fierce with your ‘no’ so you can protect your ’yes.’” The power of boundaries expressed in a single sentence.

Finding Ease

Claiming quiet is an entry point to finding ease. Ultimately, claiming quiet requires both boundaries and connection. It requires that we implement boundaries—to first claim our space and time—and then it requires that we still ourselves long enough to be within the quiet. This process stimulates an inner connection with ourselves that then reverberates to all our relationships. It’s the quiet—this ease—that is the wellspring of creativity, connection, and new possibilities in our work and in our world. Create that permission for yourself and your teams. Claim your quiet. Bridge the gap. And enjoy the gifts and rewards of ease.

Woodrie Burich is a national speaker, executive coach, and owner of the Integration Group, which empowers professionals to create sustainable and thriving work lives that enable them to enjoy more, stress less, and connect with their communities in positive ways.

For another approach to motivating a workplace, choose this article.