Being Effective & Efficient: Finding the MED

In my previous post I introduced the concept known as the minimum effective dose (MED), which is the minimum amount of input required to achieve the desired outcome. In this post I’d like to take a deeper look into the concept to see how it can be applied in our lives in general, with the hopes that you’ll be able to turn this into a useful tool.

Even though the term MED only contains the word ‘effective’, the concept actually applies both being effective & efficient. Working towards a desired outcome is what makes you effective. Optimising towards that outcome i.e applying the minimal input, is what makes you efficient. If the MED is the space in which you’re operating optimally, how do you find it? Well, I think there are 5 components involved in finding the MED:

Step 1: Craft your goal
Step 2: Research the established principles
Step 3: Follow up with questions
Step 4: Collect data
Step 5: Continue to track progress and adjust your approach as you see fit

Craft your goal

The first part is really simple. What is your desired outcome? What do you want from this? Here is where you define success for yourself in this particular endeavour. At this stage, you’re setting the course before you set off.

Research Established Principles

The next important piece to the puzzle is being knowledgeable about what it is you’re trying to accomplish. By doing your research, you can learn about the established principles that exist for this thing — whatever it is. Starting from a basis of core knowledge sets yourself in a good direction for the other steps.

For Arthur Jones, who founded the MED in the fitness world, he leveraged the core principles of fitness and biology to develop the minimum effective load. This approach focuses on finding a balance in training because if you overshoot it you risk overtraining. Meanwhile, it’s also called ‘effective’ for a reason, because if you undershoot it you aren’t effectively training — you’re undertraining. A simpler way to define the correct criteria for training in this way is ‘what would be the least amount of work you can do and still set PRs on a regular basis’. So for you, do you understand the established principles of what you’re trying to accomplish? For the fitness people, setting PRs seems to be the gold-standard — what is that for you? This is where you might re-define your desired outcome as you obtain more clarity.

Follow up with questions

After the first 2 stages, you throw in some follow-up questions which help you frame how you’re going to optimize your strategy. From Michael Hyatt’s blog, he suggests the following question “What’s one activity you could reduce by half and still get the desired results” and then he provides the example of cutting down his blogging from 5 times a week to 2 times a week. After setting yourself up with follow up questions a picture should start to emerge. This stage is all about coming up with possible ideas you want to implement that could potentially improve how to get your desired results. Asking these sorts of questions is what reframes your strategy towards the MED.

As James Clear explains in his book ‘Atomic Habits, the most important habit is the habit of forming habits. This underlying phenomenon is blind to us while we are going through the process of forming habits, but it still exists — acting as an important tether to the rewards from making habits. The same is true for the process of finding the MED, the act of using questions that refine how you achieve your desired outcomes slowly becomes a part of you. It eventually becomes a way you naturally think and behave automatically.

Collect Data

A common problem whenever we try to achieve something, and we set out some sort of plan to accomplish something, is that our estimations are off. This is where data collecting comes in. In the case of the MED, when crafting our strategies without any data input we are vulnerable to reducing too much of the work we put in. In other words, we risk doing too little.

For Michael Hyatt, he uses data to inform him that he is not over-reducing when he shifts from blogging 5 times a week to 2 times a week. Using analytics, he can see that he has the same level of reader growth, so why not stick to 2 times a week and free up some time to do other important things in his life?

You have to be collecting data to inform your opinion about what works best for you. For this, you need to create your own data set, and that will involve tracking and experimenting. It sounds daunting but it’s pretty much just trying things out — testing things out over time, seeing what happens and keeping track of the results. The easiest way to do this is by relying on some form of habit for collecting data; that way it’s an automatic process that occurs without any cognitive expenditure. Building habits like daily journaling is really useful for this, because when you have that as a habit then it’s easy to slot in the things you’re tinkering with into that habit — and there you have a natural data collecting process.

“REMEMBER: It’s impossible to evaluate or even understand anything that you cannot measure.” Arthur Jones

Continue to track progress and adjust your approach as you see fit

After you collect data, conclusions about whether the adjustment worked or not should reveal itself. You should continue looking at your data, and with your understanding of the principles come up with your conclusions about how you need to amend your strategy. If the initial solution didn’t work, perhaps generate a new one? Perhaps the data you’ve collected has shown you a new path? Perhaps the initial solution works perfectly? It’s a continual process of updating and re-directing yourself.

It’s important to reinforce that the MED is just a compass rather than a set point. In most situations you won’t have the extensive empirical data needed to develop a perfect answer for everything you do, so often the MED will be an ever-elusive goal — something you’re continually striving towards. And strive you shall, as we all aspire to find the best results in whatever we do.


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