The 85% Rule: Working Smarter, Not Harder, for Startup Success

The 85% Rule: Working Smarter, Not Harder, for Startup Success

Startup culture glorifies the hustle. We celebrate the founders who pull all-nighters, push themselves to the limit, and give 110% effort. But what if working smarter, not harder, was the real key to startup success? Enter the 85% rule.

Why Giving Just 85% is Optimal

Research shows that consistently operating at 85% of your maximum capacity delivers the best results. Pushing yourself to 100% leads to fatigue, errors, and burnout. But pacing yourself and avoiding exhaustion boosts productivity and creativity over the long-term.

The 85% Rule is not about being lazy or reducing ambition. It’s about working strategically and sustaining high performance. Think of your effort like the battery level on your phone. Sure, you could run it down to 0% every day, but you’ll drain it faster. Better to keep it charged between 85-100% for longevity.

How to Apply the 85% Rule in Your Startup

Implementing the 85% Rule starts with shifting mindsets away from “always be hustling” to “work smarter then recharge.” Here are some tips:

Set realistic goals - Don’t buy into the myth that impossible goals inspire peak performance. Unrealistic targets often have the opposite effect - stress, frustration, failure. Set ambitious but achievable goals to motivate, not overwhelm.

Prioritize ruthlessly - Not all tasks are created equal. Using Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix, divide activities into: urgent/important (do now), important but not urgent (schedule time), urgent but not important (delegate or eliminate), and neither urgent nor important (ditch). This ensures you’re focused on high-impact work.

Encourage open communication - Suppressing problems and concerns leads to resentment and turnover. Foster transparency where employees feel safe surfacing issues early so you can collaboratively find solutions.

Value learning over perfection - In startups, mistakes happen. But failures contain learnings that fuel future success. Don’t penalize errors - celebrate them as growth opportunities through analysis and discussion.

Make 85%-right decisions - Don’t get trapped trying to find perfect solutions. Making a decision that’s 85% right now is usually better than a 100% right decision too late. Pull the trigger based on available data to keep momentum.

Lead Your Team at 85%

As a leader, model sustainable effort, not heroic burnout. Set boundaries and leave work on time. Emphasize output and results over face time. Offer flexibility and encourage rest and recovery. Your team will follow your lead on healthier work habits.

The 85% Rule helps startups balance their hustle with self-care for enhanced creativity, performance, and longevity. So work hard - just not too hard. Success is a marathon, not a sprint.