The latest work ‘revolution’ touted by social media influencers, sporting, business and entertainment leaders alike, is based on a simple theory — you’re more productive when you work a little less. The (nominal) new golden number supposedly yielding optimum effort for maximum results, is to work at 85 rather than 100% capacity.
But does the 85% rule apply when you run your own business?
There are two widely divergent messages around the time and effort needed to run a small business. In one camp is team “work 110%” with the maxim that you’re never not working. While at the other extreme are the Tim Ferris Four Hour Work Week fans.
In many ways, solo practitioners are unique. We’re focused on being clinicians but in doing this we become accidental business owners. While there are some amazingly entrepreneurial practitioners, statistically most of us are one person bands. Behind the scenes we are administrators, CFOs and content creators, all while perpetually updating our knowledge.
If you’re planning to stay in the profession long-term and work for yourself, the 85% rule can be a useful reminder to pace ourselves to avoid burn out. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Workflow is rarely homogenous. How boring would it be if every day was the same?
In reality some periods of the year are super busy, while other patches are quieter. Perhaps our output averages out to 85% annually, though that’s not what this theory is about.
While we can ride out shorter periods of high demand, what happens when it’s for months on end? Despite how inspired we might be in the beginning, our energy ultimately wanes.
Conversely, while a quiet week provides an opportunity to catch up on admin and enjoy some downtime, if the blip becomes a trend, it could be a signal our business and/or life is in trouble.
Neither extreme is ultimately sustainable.
The 85% rule differs from quiet quitting
Don’t confuse consciously pacing yourself using the 85% rule with the concept of quiet quitting. A prolonged downswing in business or when life becomes too hectic to keep up with work, might be a sign that you’ve fallen out of love with your business or unconsciously quitting it.
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Takeaways for practitioners and business owners from the 85% rule
The theory behind the 85% rule isn’t new. Time management experts have repeatedly observed that we’re less productive, the longer we work. They’ve even come up with a magic number of the ideal weekly hours of work!
Long before this, Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way about the importance of taking time out to nurture our creativity in order to remain productive. One of her remedies is having regular artist dates, noting that the busier we are, the more important it is to do this. Consciously doing activities that inspire us from times in nature to artistic immersions, can refill our creative and emotional well. I like her version of not just working a little less to remain productive but using that theoretical 15% of ‘effort’ to nurture ourselves. It’s a great reminder, not just for creatives but for anyone who wants to remain passionate in their vocation.
Over the decades I’ve seen too many talented naturopaths walk away from clinical practice because of burnout. Prevention is always key! The 85% rule is another tool in the self-care business kit. We need to consciously balance our time, if we want to remain inspired and continue to love our work.
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