The 80% Rule – Unraveling Our Culture’s Greatest Myth About High Performance

September 16, 2017 ​- 50 Comments

You've been lied to.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but you've been lied to. And it gets worse: you've been lied to by some of the people you admire and look up to, the most.

Specifically, you've been told that you should always give it your best. That you should always give 100%. Perhaps even 110%.

That is the path to success and excellence, is it not? That's how the rich and famous managed to climb to their position in life.

In reality, this is an idea that, if followed in earnest, will keep you small, weak and frustrated.


This Advice is Not for Everyone

The 80% rule (watch the video, to see what it's all about) is true for everyone. And I believe that the approach of doing 80% and continually improving in small increments can work for everyone.


This may not be the thing you need to focus on, right now.

How can you know? It simply depends on your current work ethic. If you have a strong work ethic and you tend to work too much (as many entrepreneurs do), then applying the 80% rule will help you make more progress, faster.

But if your main problem is that you are unmotivated, lack discipline and generally struggle with getting yourself to do anything, then it's a different story. You shouldn't take this advice to mean that you need to reduce how hard or how much you work by 20%, no matter what.

Also, this percentage doesn't relate to the number of hours you put in. If you're currently sitting in front of a screen for 10 hours a day, but you spend most of that time on social media and with low-level busywork, switching to 8 hours a day isn't going to magically help you make more progress.

Fully Focused 80%

It seems like a contradiction, at first. I'm telling you to only put in an 80% effort, but to work with deliberate, distraction-free focus. I'm telling you to try less hard and steadily improve at the same time.

How can those go together?

It comes down to two things: ego and shipping.

You need to focus on shipping as discussed in this podcast series. Getting something done and published/released is a higher priority than making it perfect. And it's a higher priority than doing your best.

Now, upon reading this, your ego may be protesting. If you don't give your best, if you don't make it perfect, won't that make you look bad? What will other people think? What if you create a piece of work and that piece of work isn't a reflection of the very best you can do, won't people think that you are worse than you really are? That's unacceptable!

Impressing other people and managing your public or social image is not as important as shipping. It's not as important as getting on with it and investing in steady, long term growth.

You need to start getting more attached to the distant goal of becoming a badass in the future and less attached to the immediate goal of seeming like a badass, even though you aren't one yet.

Your Perspective

I'd love to hear about your perspective on this. I've created a lot of content recently that explores solutions to the deepest and most common issues I see entrepreneurs struggle with. I'm trying to get a message out there that makes a difference. But I know that if you're stuck in a procrastination-by-perfectionism loop or if you struggle to get any work done at all, it's very difficult to change.

There are two things you can do, to help me on my quest to get entrepreneurs unstuck:

  1. Do you know someone who could benefit from the message in this post? Send them a message with a link to it.
  2. Leave a comment below, telling me your perspective on this. What situation are you in? Have you tried applying the strategies from the posts and podcast episodes here? What works for you and what doesn't?

Looking forward to learning from you.

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Tim Lester says:

    Great video. I am going to 80% this week on everything and let see how it goes.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tim! Would love to know how it went, once your one week experiment is done.

  • Another words, perfect is the enemy of good.

  • Michael Schneider says:

    Thanks Shane, good advice. The question is how do you measure % with effort? It is very subjective. 80% good job, by of who’s expectation do you measure by? For one it will seem like you did an amazing job and the other will find it lacking…
    While i realise that we need to measure to our own expectation, we do business to meet others needs.
    I find it hard to measure. Some days i am lasy and some i am motivated. I think, No matter how well you did something, if you do the job well, then leave it alone, and come back to it a week later, you realise there is always so much more you can do to make it better…
    I did get the message though, Thanks :)

    • Yes, that’s very true. With creative work, it’s very common that what you do will always fall short of your own expectations, no matter how good you get.

      The way I see it, the 80% is more about your mindset than about getting an exact measurement of 80%. The “I want to do only my best” mindset is what gets you stuck, because, as you point out, you will always see ways in which what you did could have been better.

      The 80% mindset takes “it’s not good enough yet” away as an excuse. The most important thing is that you can focus on shipping and moving forward and don’t get stuck in procrastination by perfectionism.

  • Jeff Berry says:

    Great blog post. I have set Sept. 25, 2017 as the start date for setting up speaking at Chambers of Commerce here in Monterey area, and for searching out customers that need help with bad websites, etc.

    When I rode on the dirt (motorcycles), we would say, “A wreck a day keeps the doctor away.” Because if you weren’t pushing yourself and making mistakes to get better, then you were more likely to really hurt yourself as a poor rider!

  • Thanks for the kick in the pants Shane!

    I have 32 blog posts in draft form, some of which are 9 months old, that I haven’t published because ‘they are not good enough’.

    Well, I published one tonight thanks to you and will do so every day for the next month until they are all published!

    Love the new podcast. Thanks for all you do!

    • Yes, that’s great! I bet those posts are all much better than you think they are. Great that you’re taking action, Ken!

  • Eric Ruth says:

    I go pretty far back with you, Shane. The days before Thrive. Been a fan from the beginning. It’s really cool watching how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, in such a short period. I’ve told my customers for quite some time that you are the go-to expert for me in all things technology. Then your marketing began to influence my thinking more and more. And now your personal/business development ideas hit me right between the eyes also.

    This is the most profound and insightful explanation of my own primary problem, and that of so many others I know, I’ve ever seen. “80%: Let go of the ego and ship!” I’m writing that on a big card and putting it everywhere. I’ve experienced exponential growth before, and now with this explanation, I finally understand why, and how to do it again. The path forward is clear. Thank you brother!

    • Hey Eric,

      Thank you so much for sticking with me for all these years. That really means a lot to me. And I’m happy to know that my content has served you well in this time. :)

  • Kevin Barham says:

    I love this idea Shane – Thank you. I heard someone say recently that in order to make progress when struggling with perfectionism, you have to accept that ‘Good is good enough’.
    I have to get a lot of videos created and I am going to apply the 80% rule to achieving this.
    Thanks for a great post.

  • Absolutely (I want to swear) brilliant ! Post! Thank you so much for posting this Shane. I appreciate your time taken to do this :) It does make me feel so stupid, how easy you make it, to shoot content that is truly valuable and of the highest quality. Most other content providers would charge for this information… Just reading the below comments is proof of how you effect other peoples businesses and lives. Now you have generously shared this content (its like the 80% rule in a new light) we can now benefit from it. Many thanks!

    • Hey Andy, swearing is definitely allowed on this site. :D

      That I make it “so easy” to create content like this is the pudding wherein the proof lies. The reason it’s easy for me is because this is like the 1,000th video I’ve made and I’ve only been able to make that many videos because I haven’t let perfectionism slow me down.

  • Lewis Evans says:

    I always remember your ‘failure to ship’ video that has guided my actions for some time now. Very similar to what you are saying in this video. Not only is it sound advice to break my perfectionist obsession, but it is also very practical. These days, I find there is so much coming at me, that it would be extremely counter-productive to aim for 100% all the time. I would simply not get a lot of important things done!

    • Thank you for your comment, Lewis. It’s very encouraging for me to know that my content has been useful to you like this.

  • Shane, thank you for another great advice.
    I am launching new e-commerce store this week.
    There is a lot of things on TO DO list for this project.
    I am going to apply 80% rule and see how it works.

  • Jonas Troyer says:

    Fantastic principle! I’ve been doing that for a while I just hadn’t realized it! Watching the video made me think of Gary V and the one thing I don’t like about him. He’s a per cent teacher. I love 80% much better.

  • Yes absolutely right, Shane! And from one perfectionist to another, I totally get this. Been trying to apply this lately on videos, FB live, copy, etc. and be happy with imperfect output. Thanks for this message!

  • dana lavoie says:

    just fantastic! I just wanted to stop and thank you so much for sharing so many great tips – for web design, for being an effective entrepreneur – I value your content and emails – they’re RIGHT on track for what Im looking for – (and of course i use thrive everything for my site and LOVE it)

  • Terry Tuinder says:

    Hi Shane,

    Thanks again for an encouraging word. I am going to try this principle to get my YouTube channel up and running. I think I am trying to produce things perfectly and therefore have very little to show for it.

    I am going to do a series of short videos that will get me used to being before the camera and working through the editing process.

    Thanks for your insights. I will see if I can break my perfectionism and just do it.


    • Thanks for your comment, Terry! I wish you all the best with your YouTube experiment. I’m sure using this approach will help you reach your goals faster.

  • Always great and usable content. Familiar with the rule; however, execution and discipline remains my greatest obstacle. A great functional change starts when I return in 2 weeks from my 88-day Greek vacation and relaunch my social-powered marketing business. Thanks for a great platform and this extra counseling and mentoring.

  • Very well spoken Shane! This sounds a bit like the 20-Mile-March principle: 80% on a consistent basis trumps everything else.

    • That’s exactly right, yes. The 20 mile march is definitely a version of this same philosophy and one that has influenced my thinking a lot over the past years.

  • Alexandru from Romania says:

    Let’s remind ourselves of Pareto’s Principle (the 80/20 principle) and contemplate it deeply, to understand it’s true meaning and purpose…

    Good resources that come to mind are Sir David R. Hawkins’ Map of Consciousness, Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory (AQAL), Franz Bardon, Gurdjieff… and lots of NLP…

  • David Caughill says:

    Great thoughts Shane! As a software guy, I’m deep into the world of agile methodology and there is so much that resonates in that philosophy with what you are saying here. Especially the concept of iterating imperfectly but often. Rapid, incremental course corrections toward an end goal always trump a ‘big bang’ delivery of ‘perfection’. Thanks for the post!

    • Yes, exactly. And I find that applying this same approach to personal goals and skill development is really effective.

  • Amit Mitbawkar says:

    Hi Shane, I am big fan of yours considering the valuable content you provide. Can you please tell me the name of the brand of stabiliser you use for holding the camera so still?

    • Hi Amit,

      Thanks! It’s a Feyiu Tech G4 with a phone mount. It’s the only one I’ve ever used, so I don’t know how it compares to other stabilizers. Sure gets the job done, though. :)

  • Another great video Shane!
    I’ve been sharing this on other forums, it’s something that needs to be more widely understood. Thank you!

    P.S. Looking forward to more podcasts and videos! :)

  • Dave Karow says:

    Very useful stuff. An especially important detail you shared: your goal is to iterate often and to improve each time you iterate. Faster, shorter cycles (by letting go of making it perfect) AND the intention to learn a new trick/get smarter or better in even the smallest way leads to massive growth and more impact. “Lowering your standards” becomes the clever hack not just to produce more but ultimately to achieve at a higher standard sooner. Love it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave! The analogy to lean development with shorter cycles is a fitting one. It’s also worth noting that the balance can be difficult to strike, between not going too far into perfectionism and also not delivering crap. But I find that most people err on the side of perfectionism.

  • Procrastination-by-perfectionism?
    I think that’s my case, Sean. In the world of digital marketing there are so many things to learn, and one thinks that it should be perfect in everything, copy, email marketing, graphic design, everything we need to know to sell a digital product, but you are right, you have to take action, little by little one learns and just taking action every day will guide us to be close to perfection.
    Very happy to buy thrives architect, I wanted to learn how to design web pages and it turns out that it has been beyond that, thrives university has been a surprise, activegrowth is teaching me a lot.
    Thank you, Sean.

  • Interesting principle Shane, it sounds really reasonable. I’ll try and let you know..

  • I think I’m a perfectionist. I’ve been trying to write a novel for 6 years. I am going to try this and see if I can make progress. Also, on my blog, I need to try this because I haven’t been able to write because I’m always worried what people will think.

    • Yes, it looks like you’re the right candidate for this. I wish you all the best on your imperfect creation journey! :)

  • Conny Graf says:

    I get what you are saying, but as a perfectionist, the first question that comes up for me is: how do I know I am at 80% of my best? LOL

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