The Power of the Minimum Effective Dose

It’s easy for me to overdo things. I know, shocker. What can I say? I like getting things done. But the problem is that when I overdo, I underperform.

The Power of the Minimum Effective Dose

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For people driven to achieve, it’s a common trap. Even if we pare things down to the essentials, we can plow so deep into those that we’re just wasting our efforts—even while we think we’re making headway.

Instead of being satisfied with an effective level of engagement, we go over the top. It might be exciting at first, but it’s not sustainable and will actually set us back.

I’m all for playing full out, but if you play full out on everything at all times, you’ll just burn out. Or lose heart.

  • We want to boost sales but wear out our audience.
  • We want to lose weight but overdo it at the gym.
  • We want to build our platforms but flame out from overposting.
  • We want to improve our pace but get injured from overtraining.

So we quit, and I’m sure we can all think of other examples from our lives where we’ve done that. All our productivity was really counter productivity. We need to get to the bare essential of the bare essential.

In his book, The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss uses the concept of the minimum effective dose, the MED. He defines it as “the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome.”

He applies the MED primarily to fitness, but it’s a useful concept in a lot of other areas. It’s a good way to fight back the temptation to overdo something.

“Anything beyond the MED is wasteful,” he says, offering this example:

To boil water, the MED is 212oF (100oC) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it “more boiled.” Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.

It’s a good example because we’ve all boiled water. We know what the minimum effective dose looks like and how pointless it is to try for more.

The problem is that we also know at exactly what temperature water boils. Our work, fitness, and other areas of life don’t have set levels so we have to experiment to find them. But it’s worth it.

Ask yourself, “What’s one activity you could reduce by half and still get the desired results?”

I used to recommend blogging five times a week. For some time now I’ve blogged two to three times a week and have seen the same level of reader growth. By cutting back the frequency I freed myself up to do other things.

Your MED is probably different than mine. But your MED might also be less than what you’re doing right now. Wouldn’t you like to save that time and energy for something else?

To make progress on the things that matter most, we can’t afford losing ground by trying to do too much—even if we’re trying to do the right things.

Question: Go back to the question above: What’s one activity you could reduce by half and still get desires results? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Darlene Pawlik

    Thanks, Michael. I really love it, when you write things that will take some time to think about. Leaders need mental challenges. This will challenge me for today. As I go about my day doing my job, I will consider the things that I can reduce to a minimum and still bee effective in my leadership roles.

  • Melodie

    Just what I needed today as I head back to work–year #26 of teaching English to 7th graders. I will make a little sign with that MED acronym on it and have it on my desk. Thanks, Michael! I enjoy learning from your posts so much since I found them last spring.

    • Just Trixie

      26 years teaching English to 7th graders ….. Thank you!

  • Ogutu Ochieng

    Michael this is quite correct. Aristotle teaches us that a good life is a life of moderation. The psalmist, in psalms 25 reminds us that “Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbor’s house, Lest he be weary of thee, and hate thee”. Same thing. MED.

  • Scott

    I agree with the concept and like the acronym MED. I have been using this analogy for many years, in the advertising/media world. The question has always been… how much budget to break through the clutter, yet not over spend to get the results or lost? If a bold idea is developed it will take less media to reach people and with social media today, a bold idea gets results. But it has to be bold with an effective message and not bold for outrageous sake. Thank you Michael for developing bold ideas and reaching us with a consistent message. Godspeed

  • Chandler Crawford

    Finding the MED is difficult when you are starting out. It’s easy to get wrapped around metrics and “finding your voice”. The thing I had to remember is that my family will always take priority over my work. I love doing what I’m doing, but if I start neglecting things with them I’m exceeding my MED. I’m lucky to have a wife who will tell me when this is true, but it is also usually pretty evident in my own mood.

    I could easily reduct the amount of time I spend checking email by half. And with this article as a reminder, I’ll work on that this week. Thanks, Michael!

    • Joel J. Miller

      It is difficult to find the MED, and it can change over time as your desired results change.

      • Chandler Crawford

        Very true. And if your desired results aren’t changing then you’re most likely in a rut.

  • Chris

    Hi Michael, as a follower of 2 to 3 blogs that I consider important to my life and work, I find that I get burned out reading and attempting to assimilate what I read if I receive the posts everyday from a single blog. Chris

  • Yaasha Moriah

    Perfect timing. I really needed this. I’m at the burnout stage at this point in trying to get my platform off the ground, and I realize that more is not necessarily better. Ecclesiastes 10:10 – “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.” I like what you add: “When I overdo, I underperform.” Thank you!

    • Joel J. Miller

      Great verse.

  • Steve Woodruff

    I regularly fall into the MCD (Maximum Conceivable Dose) trap, as an over-striver. Trying to scale back to MED, which, in my case, also involves moving from fear to faith.

    • Joel J. Miller

      I like that acronym, MCD. That decision to place our trust outside our own abilities is not easy.

  • Nancy Heidger Benavides

    Great Reminder, Michael! There is a fine line between positively exceeding customer expectations and underwhelming them with over delivery of content.

  • JB Dow

    I like the concept but I think I naturally gravitate to just under the ideal amount of activity which prevents the results I want!

  • TheMikeJThomas

    I implemented the MED process in several areas of my life over the past two years. I even experimented with the kettlebell exercise suggested by Tim Ferriss…and it is effective.
    I was so intrigued by the MED process that I applied it to the Bible. I met so many people who had given up reading the Bible because it was so long and confusing. So, I decided to craft and concentrate the Bible into an easy format allowing the reader to discover the big story of the Bible quickly. The finished product is The 3-Hour Bible.

    • Classically Trained


    • Brian Del Turco

      We too have tapped some of concepts and principles Ferris writes about, the kettlebell exercise being one of them. Concepts in other fields or pursuits are transferable to other areas.

  • Micah Bales

    It’s probably hard to appreciate this advice until you’ve already had some rounds of burnout, or at least come really close. This is an important principle for long-term endurance.

  • Vicki Cato

    I noticed this week that I was so focused on writing blog posts and my novel that I did little else. In evaluating my week, I realized my work and home life were out of balance. Your post explained in precise terms my problem. I’ve been overdoing. Thank for helping me see the “bare essentials.”

  • Carlene Byron

    I’ve used a similar concept two ways. One was when I worked in a startup where there was way too much for everyone to do. I inverted the 20-80 principle: if 20% of the work accomplished 80% of the outcome, then which parts of the job were only worth a “B-“? Because I could complete 4 “B-” projects in less time than one “A+”. I saved the big effort for things that got big value. Then, I’ve always carried my mother’s motto in the back of my head: “If the floor’s not clean enough to eat off, don’t eat off it.” Another good reminder to target effort where it counts.

    • Joel J. Miller

      The line from your mom is priceless. It’s always worth questioning external standards to see if they square with our desired outcomes. If not, maybe that external standard shouldn’t apply.

    • Classically Trained

      thanks for sharing that fantastic saying from your mom!

  • Gene M. Kelly Jr.

    Kind of like taking a baby aspirin daily.

  • Eric Wentworth

    I feel I have to review sites, blogs, etc. to stay on top of the subjects I write about or to find new tools and resources I can share with my readers. This takes up an hour or two of my day. Your post reminded me that I need to find a better system to get the information I want in less time. My goal is to cut the time in half devoted to this task without diminishing its effectiveness.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Great goal. Michael sometimes talks about using a timer to avoid “task creep.” I wonder if that might help.

      • Eric Wentworth

        Thanks. I’ll give it a try. Might be hard to break away from something that is of interest though.

      • Eric Wentworth

        I’m a fan of Michael Hyatt…his advice on “task creep” is spot-on. I now have pre-set time limits on certain tasks so that they don’t consume my day with non-productive “work.”

  • Greg Faxon

    On a larger scale, it’s worth noting that the things I can cut in half are all work related – none are related to time spent with the people I care about.

  • Kari Scare

    MED seems to be key in finding one’s balance. Also, knowing that it changes over time, that we must often discover a new normal, helps in finding our MED and our balance. I’ve done it with exercise, with food, and really with most areas of life. Awareness of MED but also awareness of not settling for less either can help an individual tremendously, especially if he/she stays away from comparisons with others. MED and balance and normal are relatively unique.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    I used to “over-run” when training for my first marathon. Now that I’ve run 13 of them (and crossed the finish line each time), I’ve definitely learned how to train smarter, not harder. In fact, sprinting for short distances actually makes you a fitter athlete instead of just going at the same pace every time. Surprisingly, people who incorporate sprints into their training have faster marathon finish line times. It shocks your body into something called HIIT training (high intensity interval training) and meets the criteria for MED. It’s something I embrace in my fitness conditioning on a regular basis now. Thanks for the great article!

  • kimanzi constable

    Great advice Michael. I cut back my blogging as well and have seen growth. It’s also freed up more time to write in other places.

  • Classically Trained

    As a professional who works in healthcare, (as well as blogging, writing, etc) I am very familiar with the MED concept. Effectiveness really is important, even more so than efficiency – “the worst use of time is to do very well what need not be done at all…”

    I’ve scaled back from two blogs to one, and from 3 posts a week to two. I find that I create better ideas when I have a bit more space to think.

  • TakeActionWAHM

    I had that same “must blog 5 days a week” mentality for a long time, and it just burned me out. I became a blogger because I wanted to be home with my family, but maintaining that pace meant that even though I was home, I still wasn’t available to them. I’ve cut back to 2-3 days a week, and it leaves me much more time to not only be with my family, but also to market my blog more effectively. My readership is growing faster than ever.

  • Dale Schultz

    Skimming social media.

  • Chad Haynes

    Genius concept eloquently explained. I used to think that saying you were overdoing something was just an excuse or weakness, but explained this way I realize now that you really CAN overdo something, and at a certain point the extra effort you’re putting in is simply at your own detriment.

  • PaulVandermill

    Hi Michael,
    I used to overwork myself whether it be in academic pursuits or on the job. Burnout and I are old friends. Your words of wisdom are much appreciated. Cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of burnout can be difficult. At some point, without balance, we do more harm than good. Please experiment and do find the MED. MED, that’s going to stick!