Is the 85-15 rule the key to avoiding burnout?

In today’s fast-paced and competitive work environment, achieving the right balance between hard work and burnout has become increasingly crucial. Business leaders and professionals are constantly seeking strategies to enhance productivity, promote well-being, and foster sustainable growth. 

One such strategy gaining traction is the ‘85-15 rule’. This rule suggests that employees should operate at 85 per cent of their capacity to avoid burnout and focus on optimisation. 

In this blog I delve into the concept of the 85-15 rule and explore how it can benefit both individuals and organisations. 

The Origins of the 85-15 rule

The idea of working at 85 per cent capacity is not a new concept. In 2019, a group of academics employed artificial intelligence to determine the optimal level of difficulty for effective learning and skill mastery. Surprisingly, they found that performance peaked at 85 per cent difficulty. Bob Wilson, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of Arizona, explained that challenging oneself and making mistakes are crucial components of learning and personal development. This principle aligns with the concept of a ‘zone of proximal difficulty’, which has been recognised by psychologists for decades as essential for human growth and development.

Balancing risk-taking and expertise

The 85-15 rule isn’t just about avoiding burnout: it’s also applicable to risk-taking and expertise. Striking the right balance between pushing one’s boundaries and leveraging existing expertise is essential for personal and professional growth. Embracing new challenges, taking calculated risk and accepting the possibility of failure are all part of this journey.

The wisdom of 85 per cent

Tim Martin, chairman and founder of JD Wetherspoon, likened the 85-15 rule to a marathon race. In an environment where tasks are incessant, it’s crucial to keep something in reserve. The pursuit of 100 per cent perfection can be exhausting and counterproductive. Maintaining an 85 per cent effort level allows individuals to sustain their performance over the long term while leaving room for adaptability and recovery.

The 85-15 rule in practice: Hugh Jackman’s example

Even beyond the business world, the 85-15 rule finds relevance. The actor Hugh Jackman, known for his dedication and versatility, has cited this rule as something he incorporates into his professional life. According to Jackman, professional athletes often operate at 85 per cent of their capacity to focus on form and optimisation. This approach not only prevents burnout but also allows for continuous improvement and longevity in one’s career.

Implications for employers

As employees increasingly prioritise their well-being, companies must acknowledge that sustained peak productivity at 100 per cent is unrealistic. Embracing this fact is vital for retaining top talent. Employees are not machines; they require breaks, downtime, and opportunities for rejuvenation. Allowing time for breaks, stepping away from screens, and getting fresh air are essential components of employee wellbeing. When employees follow this rule, they are more likely to stay engaged, productive, and satisfied in their roles.

In conclusion, the 85-15 rule is emerging as a valuable principle for individuals and organisations alike. It encourages individuals to operate at 85 per cent of their capacity, fostering a sustainable balance between work and wellbeing. As businesses adapt to the changing expectations of their employees, embracing this rule can be a strategic move to prevent burnout, enhance productivity, and retain valuable talent. 

So, whether you’re an employee seeking to optimise your performance or an employer looking to promote a healthier work culture, consider incorporating the 85-15 rule into your approach for better outcomes and wellbeing.

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