Leaders: what’s your “minimum effective dose”?

More than a hundred years of research shows that every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. ~Sara Robinson

A hundred years of research; you would think we’d catch-on eventually. Christine Carter referenced this quote from Robinson in her book Sweet Spot as she explains her prescription to fend off the desire to work, at anything, more than is really necessary. She uses an analogy from health care. “The ‘minimum effective dose’ (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being.”

I’m clearly not a physician, but I assume that if I have some form of disease or illness and I’m prescribed a MED, if I up the dose to one more pill per day than I’ve been prescribed, I’m probably not going to be “more well.” In fact, I may even have an adverse reaction.

Carter challenges us to apply this “minimum effective dose” concept to everything we do. What’s the minimum amount of time really necessary to adequately answer all of the emails sitting in your inbox? What amount of time and energy is really necessary to create an effective presentation?

The MED concept can address a number of “ailments.” Maybe your ailment is busyness. You’ve convinced yourself that to be an effective leader you need to always be “busy.” Or another ailment for many leaders could be “perfectionism.” After all, you’re a leader, what’s wrong with doing things really, really well? Here’s Carter’s response: “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” Ouch!

The point here is not to do substandard work. The point is that spending time, effort, and energy to be “more than effective” while not making the end product any better or more perfect is wasted time, effort, and energy.

Another analogy frequently cited is boiling water. Water boils at 212 degrees. If you turn the temperature up higher, it’s still just boiling water. You will have wasted resources and energy, without any additional return.

Years ago I recall reading a short book about the history of Microsoft. One of the main points I still remember. The chapter was entitled something like “80% is good enough.” Apparently, Bill Gates’ philosophy was that when a product was 80% ready, it was time to launch. If they waited until it was perfect, chances are a competitor would have beaten them to market. So for Microsoft, 80% was the MED for a new product launch.

MEDs can sometimes be tough to swallow. But they are nearly always in our best interest and for our ultimate health. What “MEDs” do you need to model, as a leader, for your team?

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