Quantity or Quality?

Published: June 25, 2024

More and more, I see my friends and colleagues managing multiple priorities simultaneously. I have a coworker with one conference call on an earbud while participating on another meeting on a Zoom screen. She toggles back and forth, depending on which conversation becomes the most urgent or requires her most focused engagement. The science suggests that at no time is she actually giving full attention to either meeting.

It’s the myth of multitasking. You can do it but it has a price. The Russian proverb, “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll not catch either one” is a commentary on prioritization. The metaphor suggests that the fullest level of accomplishment requires the most complete devotion of focus. Of course, there are plenty of lesser forms of accomplishment that can be enjoyed with partial engagement.

In an episode of Adventures of Superman (‘The Atomic Captive’) aired on March 3, 1958, Superman must attend to two global crises at the same time, requiring him to bilocate. While he was successful at becoming two people in two places, the cost was about half of his strength. He was no longer ‘super.’ Imagine having to stop the detonation of a nuclear bomb in one hemisphere while simultaneously disarming the evildoer with the secret code on another side of the planet as a mere man?

Many years ago, I nearly overheard the entire plot of a movie I had not yet seen while sitting in a public area. As soon as I realized that the storyline was about to be revealed, I wondered whether it was humanly possible to not listen to a conversation that was unfolding loudly at close range. So, I focused on the traffic noise and the music piping through the ceiling speakers until the narrator finished spoiling the punchline. Unfortunately, the cost of my success in not hearing a word he said was cognitive depletion. I was exhausted.

What does full engagement feel like to give or receive? The giver takes in the environment using all of their senses and becomes mindful. Past regrets and future worries disappear. The present moment flourishes in all colors. The receiver feels like they matter. They have been illuminated by becoming the center of someone else’s universe. How you show up matters.

We live in a busy and fast-paced world. The risk is the willingness to sacrifice strength and wellness to cover increasingly more ground. Sometimes the cost of quantity is quality.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.