How A '15% Buffer' Can Improve Your Work-Life Balance

With working from home arrangements being more mainstream than ever, you might have thought that millennials and Gen Z scored themselves a greater work-life balance than past generations. But according to recent data cited by Apollo Technical, nearly half of Americans believe they are "workaholics," which doesn't exactly scream "balance."


Working from home makes it easier to maintain a healthy work-life relationship in some ways, namely via the lack of commute and being able to do housework on your lunch break. However, flexible work arrangements also blur the lines between working hours and free time, so you may find yourself working a lot more because there's no clear "sign off" point. If you do struggle with your work-life balance, whether you're working from home or not, the 15% buffer rule can help you to get on top of things.

The hack simply involves putting less effort into work than you usually would, so you have space to be more relaxed as you complete your tasks. Surprisingly, this actually makes you more productive, prevents burnout, and helps tip the balance more evenly between work and leisure.


The 15% buffer

According to the 15% buffer rule, outlined by Fast Company, you should operate at 85% at all times, rather than at 100%. It's up to you to decide what 100% looks like, and then reduce it. For example, if 100% of your effort is working seven days a week, that would be about the equivalent of taking one day off a week.


When you take a day off as part of this rule, you actually have to take it off. That doesn't mean working from home, catching up on emails, or doing data entry with the TV on in the background. A day off should involve rest and leisure only — no work allowed. Working seven days a week might mean that you're getting more work done, but the quality of that work won't be as high as what you'd achieve by working 15% less. The idea behind this theory is that your brain simply performs better when you have more time to relax and recharge. 

The importance of rest and relaxation

This hack works for two reasons. Putting in less effort frees up space and time in your life, which is crucial for work-life balance. But it also improves your mood and emotional wellbeing, because overworking yourself leads to anxiety, tension, and fatigue. This second element is also integral to your overall productivity. You can't produce results if you're constantly in a state of stress or exhaustion.


The Muse cites research that found that elite violinists — who are able to outperform average musicians — combine focused practice sessions with eight hours of sleep a night, plus afternoon naps. Being in this well-rested and relaxed state allows them to properly apply the skills they gain in practice when push comes to shove.

Getting enough sleep has also been proven to improve the performance of athletes, by allowing their bodies to recover from physical activity and improve their cognitive ability, per Sleep Foundation. Whatever line of work you're in, you can't perform at your best unless you give yourself time to rest and recharge.

Adjust your goals

Though the 15% buffer relies on numbers, not everything can be measured so accurately. If your job doesn't work around set hours, you might not be able to simply plan ahead how much time to reduce your schedule by. But you can also apply this rule by adjusting your goals to require less effort on your part, keeping in mind that you don't want to put in 100% (via Coffee and Junk).


For example, if you're writing an email to send out to your work colleagues, you might usually decide that you have to write the best email that ever existed and spend too much time and effort executing it. Instead, adopt the attitude that a "good enough" email will be good enough. It doesn't need to be absolutely perfect or original; it just needs to get the message across. Therefore, you don't need to put in 100% effort into it.

Applying the 15% buffer often begins with reframing the expectations you have of yourself in your mind. Identify those tasks that can still produce results without extreme effort from you. Not everything you do needs to be absolutely amazing.

Other ways to improve work-life balance

If the idea of giving 100% has been ingrained in you, it can feel odd to adopt the 15% buffer rule into your life. But there are also other ways to improve your work-life balance, if reducing your effort is not something you're ready for.


For those who do work from home, it's important to have a designated work space. If you work and sleep in the same room, it can be hard to switch off from your work at night, or get in the right frame of mind for work in the morning. Alternatively, try to have clear times when you stop working. It's easy to run back to your laptop and send one more email an hour after you've clocked off, but that's just allowing work to bleed into your free time. Even if your work equipment is at home, pretend that it's at the office and you don't have access to it during your free time.

Improving your work-life balance can also come down to speaking with your boss. If they are lumping a lot more work on you than fits your job description, or matches your compensation, it's time to discuss how that's affecting your life. Try to come up with actionable solutions, such as delegating tasks to other workers or eliminating useless steps in the process.


Once you have a healthy work-life balance, your productivity will increase. When that happens, everyone's a winner.