Elon Musk Uses the 85 Percent Rule to Help Staff Increase Productivity with Less Energy

In a recent memo to Tesla staff, Elon Musk asked workers to reduce Q4 transportation and delivery costs by avoiding additional expenses such as fees to expedite, overtime, and extra resources such as temporary contractors. He noted that he didn’t want staff working like crazy at the end of the quarter, only to be met with a nosedive come Q1. 

By avoiding the typical end-of-quarter dash–followed by the steep drop that follows it, Musk is asking staff to slow down and work to steady production. It is another genius lesson from the master of high performance’s playbook. Musk isn’t just urging staff to create a consistent and manageable flow, he’s brilliantly taking the pressure off of his staff’s shoulders by asking them to slow down and work less. 

That’s right. Because while Musk has cracked the code, enabling him to easily work superhuman hours–as much as 120 per week–as a CEO he takes a different approach to management. What he understands is that increasing workplace productivity isn’t synonymous with increasing staff’s working hours. But the exact opposite. 

What Musk is really doing is brilliantly setting up Tesla to increase its productivity–using a psychological brain hack that will go unnoticed by staff. And everyone can use it.  

There’s one surprisingly easy way to hack productivity and combat ‘productivity dysmorphia.’ And it doesn’t involve mini mediations, chanting mantras, or traditional incentives. The trick to doing more is to simply commit to doing less or asking less of staff.

That’s right, if you want to do more, all you need to do is decide to do less. In doing so, you will effectively end up doing more than if you had committed to doing everything. It’s called the 85 percent rule, and it says that by committing to just 85%, the output will often be 100 percent–if not more. 

By asking less of others or ourselves we reduce expectations, and with that, the pressure that can paralyze productivity. More importantly, it creates the perception that something is easier to do. And when we believe something is easier, we will more easily do it. 

This holds true across many facts of life, from work to sports. For example, research has found that when competitive runners were asked by their coaches to take a run easy, most would end up running faster than they do during races when they were expected to give it their all. 

As much as many work well under pressure, it’s not always the most conducive to working optimally and consistently. The pressure of time is incredibly effective for some, but deadlines and time constraints aside, the pressure typically combusts productivity and it’s not an effective long-term production strategy. 

It’s easy to get wrapped up in end-of-quarter and year-end production and sales numbers. But following a big push, teams get burnt out, and means of production get exhausted, leaving figures to crash coming into the next quarter. The genius of Musk deploying the 85 percent rule isn’t just how he is yet again effectively increasing production, but he will have a happier workforce. And according to researchers at Oxford University, happier staff are more productive.

Ultimately, it’s a long-term success strategy. Time and time again Musk does an incredible job of staying laser focused on the future–whether that looks like asking staff to work less or living in a $50,000 tiny home. Everything he does is with great attention to detail, and the detail is the future of the company. 

If you ever find yourself struggling to work at maximum production, remember to take it down a notch and commit to less. Less energy, less output, less pressure, and chances are you and your team will be more productive, happier, and with that, your business will be more successful. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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