Dichotomies are popular partly because they’re catchy and partly because they’re so easy on the brain. Black vs. white, capitalism vs. socialism, introversion vs. extroversion, right vs. wrong. Sometimes I wish things were actually this simple, but most of the time I don’t because these comparisons don’t allow any wiggle room or tolerance for difference or adjustment.
So when we talk about quantity vs. quality, both of these attributes contribute to overall well being and success (I’ll save defining “success” for another time). Is one more important than the other? I would argue that for many people, one is weaker than the other, and therefore we need to expend more effort and awareness on whichever side is more personally difficult. Let’s look at some definitions.
- Music: number of hours spent practicing and learning new music. Also preparing music for a performance or audition deadline.
- Writing: butt in chair principle; number of hours spent writing and revising, or a daily word count goal. Also would include having a submission goal of how many markets you submit to per period of time.
- Interpersonal: amount of time spent both thinking about what your relationship (and loved one) needs and implementing that, whether by spending more time talking, doing activities, writing emails, cleaning the house, or what-have-you.
- Running a business: amount of time spent both on finding and implementing strategies in advertising, marketing, getting your name out there, as well as time spent providing your core service or product and planning special events. Focused on goals either financial or quantity-based.
These are all great goals, concrete goals, measurable goals. They require self discipline and commitment to achieve on a regular basis. Unfortunately, sometimes quantity is not enough. Standing in the practice room day after day for sixty minute practice sessions that go exactly the same way every time is not usually going to lead to improvement or make a great singer. Being so obsessed with word count that you can’t afford the time to stop and think how you can use your words more effectively does not make a better writer. Trying really hard to be a better spouse without being willing to take some personal risks isn’t always effective.
But what happens if we don’t focus on quantity? Our brilliance is often derailed by lack of organization or dedication. Projects don’t get finished or maybe don’t even get started. Businesses fail due to lack of exposure or avoidance of hard financial numbers. The people we love may feel neglected or friends might characterize you as a flake. We might sound great when singing but our inability to learn music on time and behave professionally holds us back.
- Music: choosing one or more technical suggestions to work through during that day’s practice session. Being willing to try new things even if they feel weird and don’t work right away. Working on what your teacher brought up during your last lesson and then giving her feedback as to how it’s going in practice.
- Writing: choosing subjects/stories that are close to your heart and therefore dangerous. Taking the time to revise as much as a story needs. Doing the necessary preparation work (whether that be research, outlining, note taking, character profiles, etc.) that you personally need to write your best story. Focusing on a particular aspect of craft while writing, even if it slows the work down.
- Interpersonal: prioritizing by finding out what makes the most difference to the other person in the relationship. Getting to the root of any issues between you. Attempting to see that person without your usual bias and love them unconditionally. Being honest and open about hard things as well as good ones.
- Running a business: Providing individualized service to your clients. Prioritizing the goal of improving your product or your abilities. Remembering the people factor in business. Not cutting every single corner for cost reasons if the quality detriment is high enough. Focusing on goals of service and satisfied customers.
What happens if we don’t focus on quality? We work hard for many years and get “stuck” in the same spot, like we’re running in place. We crank out large volumes of work lacking the spark that will lead to publishing that novel or winning that part during auditions. Our relationships coast along but don’t necessarily deepen. The business tends to get a higher than average turnover of clients or customers. We rush to complete a task without thinking of the meaning behind the task and making sure we do it to their best of our abilities.
Now for me, quality is a lot harder than quantity. Quantity is easy for somebody like me who has determination, self discipline, and organizational skills in spades. Quality, on the other hand, is a bit more mystical because it depends on stuff you can’t measure in numbers. It depends on taking risks. It doesn’t always conform to plan. It could end in spectacular failure instead of middling mediocrity. So for me, I need to put a lot more focus on quality to get myself in balance.
What about you? What do you need to focus on, quantity or quality?