Too Busy? Tame Time Management by Taking the Minimum Effective Dose

Too Busy? Tame Time Management by Taking the Minimum Effective Dose
iStock/MmeEmil

You wouldn’t take ten pills for a migraine if two would cure it – and you can apply this same approach to time management. Free up your schedule and give yourself more time by finding your minimum effective dose.

What Is the Minimum Effective Dose?

Originally coined by Nautilus fitness creator Arthur Jones, the idea of the minimum effective dose was then popularized by the book “The Four Hour Body,” by Tim Ferriss. They applied the concept to fitness and exercise, with Ferriss defining the minimum effective dose as “the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome.” Anything beyond the minimum effective dose is a waste – of resources, energy, and/or time. Why do 50 pushups when 40 will do?

Ferriss provides this example to make his point:

“To boil water, the MED [minimum effective dose] is 212°F (100°C) 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.”

Time Management and the Minimum Effective Dose

Besides fitness, the minimum effective dose is a smart time management strategy that can also be applied to almost every item on your to-do list. It’s especially helpful for perfectionists, high achievers, and anyone who tends to overdo things. Constantly exceeding the minimum effective dose becomes counter-productive and often leads to burnout.

Determine Your Minimum Effective Dose

Everyone’s minimum effective dose is different for different things. Some people will be happy vacuuming their house once a month (or year). For me, it was once a week. But I’ve realized that my minimum effective dose for vacuuming is really 8-10 days – not seven. Imagine all the time I will save in the next few decades vacuuming every ten days instead of every week.

Ask yourself this: What is the minimum amount of time that I could spend on this task and still feel happy about its effectiveness?

Save Time and Do More By Doing Less

You can apply the minimum effective dose to many areas of your life to find the sweet spot of time management. Just remember: effectiveness is the key to the minimum effective dose. If you drop your dose below the point where it’s effective, the strategy falls apart.

  • Fitness: What is the least amount of time you can spend exercising and still get results? How often do you have to go to yoga class to feel balanced and relaxed? How many minutes of meditation does it take? If you normally run two miles a day, can you run one mile instead without affecting your health?
  • Cleaning: How often do you really need to clean different areas of your home to be happy with it? Are you sticking to a schedule based on your needs, or based on the words of your mother or Martha Stewart? What would happen if you cleaned a little less?
  • Online: What is the fewest number of times you could check your email every day and still feel “on top” of things? What would happen if you respond to new messages twice a day instead of immediately? Could you check Facebook two times a day instead of twenty?
  • Finances: If you look at your bank statement daily, would every other day be okay? Could you organize receipts and invoices twice a month vs. once a week?
  • Work: What would happen if you spent 10 minutes less on a project than you normally would? Could you email 20 contacts instead of 25? Host a 10-minute meeting instead of a half-hour?
  • Food: Could you cut your number of trips to the grocery store in half and be okay? What if you made one side dish for dinner instead of two? Could you eat the same thing three times in a row instead of twice?

What can you spend less time doing today than you usually do? When you start looking at your to-do list in terms of the minimum effective dose, you’ll find free time where you never expected it.

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Shilo Urban

Shilo first became interested in conscious living when she found herself working simultaneously at a mom-and-pop natural food store and a farm for endangered livestock breeds on the coast of Maine. After residing in Austin, New Zealand, Paris, Seattle, and Los Angeles, she now lives in Fort Worth, Texas where she works as a freelance writer. Her passions include international travel and wiener dogs.