Maximize Time and Money with the Minimum Effective Dose

Why to Aim for the Smallest Dose that will Produce the Desired Outcome

Unlike my last two posts on how to save 46% on a hotel booking and how to save 40 hours per year by having your smartphone read to you, this post is a bit more abstract. That said, the principal I discuss here has much wider application. It will save you even more money and time than the previous two posts if properly understood and applied. This post is about the minimum effective dose.

Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss popularized the term in his book The 4-Hour Body. There, he defines the minimum effective dose simply as “the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome.”

To illustrate the concept, Ferris takes the example of boiling water. Under standard conditions, water boils at 212°F, 100°C. Any increase in temperature beyond that amount is wasted energy if your desired outcome is to boil water. At 212°F, water boils. Period. Expending additional energy won’t make the water “more boiled.”

The concept of the minimum effective dose (MED) is easy to understand, it has wide-ranging application, and it is a major key to having more time and money for what matters most. But it can often be difficult to live.

Applying the Minimum Effective Dose to Time and Money

Take, for instance, exercise. Whether your aim is health or looking fit, your goal really should be to find the minimum dose that will enable you to realize your goal.

But in my experience, many people strive to adopt a workout plan with workout lengths that far surpasses the MED. Oftentimes, they are unable to sustain such long workouts over the weeks and months. They end up doing nothing at all, thereby falling far short—infinitely short—of the MED. They overdose on a maximum effective dose, as it were.

Or, from a monetary perspective instead of a time perspective, consider the amount folks will often pay for upgrades that make no real-world difference. Take processor upgrades when purchasing a computer, for example. Sure, the most expensive processor might perform best in certain benchmark tests. But if those tests don’t translate into any real-world, noticeable difference for you, then what do they matter? Choose the processor that delivers the minimum effective dose needed for real-world computing, and apply the money you save to a different purchase that actually makes a perceptible difference in your life.

The Minimum Effective Dose and What Matters Most

If exercise or a laptop were all that mattered in life, then going “all-in” on them would make sense. But most of us would agree that they are instrumental goods. They exist to support us in pursuing something greater. The health that comes from exercise, for instance, enables us to live longer and more vibrantly with and for those we love.

What we should go “all-in” for in life is what matters most. And that is why when it comes to most everything else, we should pursue the minimum effective dose.

Two Objections

Before I close, I’d like to anticipate two objections.

First, I can imagine someone saying that in the case of boiling water, it is clear what the minimum effective dose is. With exercise or, sheesh, the purchase of this or that processor, how are we to know what the MED is? Fair enough, but. . . .

  1. Such things can be researched. And in the case of exercise, at least, where literally hundreds or thousands of hours of your life might depend on the answer, it is well worth the time spent researching.
  2. And more fundamentally, what is critical is not so much the exact MED in any particular case but rather that you are committed to pursuing the MED in every case. If you are committed to striving for the MED, you will be very well served, often even if the particular MED you determine in any concrete situation is imperfect. Boiling water 3° hotter than necessary isn’t the end of the world.

Lastly, I can imagine someone objecting that pursing the minimum effective dose sounds an awful lot like laziness or “settling.” But it’s not, and this is a critical point. That’s because the MED is about being effective. It is right there in the name: minimum effective dose. We’re not talking about the least you can do to get by. We’re talking about the minimum you must do to be effective.

Far from “settling,” aiming for the minimum effective dose actually enables us to pursue the most important things in life because we have conserved, in all our other dealings, the time and money to do so.

Question: Is there an area of your life where you’ve saved time or money by aiming for the minimum effective dose? You can leave a comment by clicking here. I’d love to hear your example. And if you liked this post, sign up here so that you never miss a future post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Maximize Time and Money with the Minimum Effective Dose

  1. I was recently just thinking to myself Geesh I am expending lots of energy grocery shopping with my 3 kids (trying to get the best sales) I bet there is a more effective way of doing this so I have more time and energy and ultimately am a more efficient mother and household manager. Thanks for the reminder that it’s worth pursuing.

    • Thanks, Kate. That gives me an idea for a post I should write on several ways to save time and money grocery shopping.

      A quick tip that I learned recently is to grab items from the bottom or top rows. The products at eye level are typically more expensive. The products near the floor (where you have to bend down) or up high (where it can be tough to reach) are typically less expensive. With three kids in tow, you might not have time for more advanced frugality, but I’d bet this trick would get you 80% of the savings in 20% of the time.