We all know trying to be the best at everything is a strategy that often results in failure. While cutting certain tasks out of our lives completely may not be an option, Christine Carter, sociologist and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove At Home And Work says we can not only find more hours in the day but can improve our effectiveness in the tasks on our plate by following what those in the pharmaceutical industry call the "minimum effective dose." "Doctors are always trying to prescribe the least amount of pharmaceuticals for their patients that will still be effective," says Carter.
"We live in this more-is-better culture—more work, more friends on Facebook, more stuff—but in reality, more is often toxic for us," says Carter, who cites higher levels of stress as proof that the more-is-better culture isn’t really working for us anymore. "Less might actually be more effective," she says.
Carter started her search for her minimum effective dose with what she called her biggest timewaster—email. She looked at how little time she could get away with using email while still being effective at her job. Rather than leaving her inbox open all day, she decided to check email strategically once in the morning and once more at 3pm. While we often assume that people expect a response within 10 seconds of sending an email, in reality a response within the same day will suffice most people. Carter also eliminated back-and-forth communications on email. "If I need to have a conversation with someone, I’ll pick up the phone," she says.
Meetings were another area Carter searched for her minimum effective dose. "I work in an institution that can be very meeting heavy," she says. After realizing she was spending a large part of her working hours in inefficient meetings, Carter decided to find her minimum effective dose and told her team she needed to spend more time doing research rather than attending all of the meetings.
Carter even found her minimum effective dose in her writing. "I had to look at how many times a week I needed to post a new blog post in order to still maintain my traffic and be effective in marketing my writing," she says. Surprisingly, as she cut back, her blog traffic actually increased and her newsletter subscriptions went up. "I didn’t just maintain my effectiveness; my effectiveness actually increased," she says.
While searching for the minimum effective dose may seem to type-A perfectionists like slacking off, Carter says it’s very strategic slacking off in order to increase the quality and quantity of your work. "When we’re less stressed, we’re less exhausted and we’re able to assess a much more powerful part of our brain," she says.
How can you find your minimum effective dose?
Write down all the categories of things that take up your time in your personal and professional life—such as meetings, making dinner, helping kids with homework, email, etc. Then write down the things you wish you were doing that you’re not doing right now.
Go through the list of activities and indicate whether it’s one that brings you joy and you wish you could do more of or if it's something you dread and wish you could do less of. "You don’t want to minimize the things in your life that are actually bringing you joy. That’s not an appropriate place to find the minimum effective dose," says Carter.
Once you’ve identified the things that drag you down, consider whether you can change the amount of time and energy you put into each of these things, finding your minimum effective dose.