(Laura’s note: Another “maternity leave” guest post from one of my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)
I’ve been working with members of the Millennial Generation (those born approximately 1980 to 1995) for about 10 years now, and one of my biggest observations is that they always seem to be busy.
High school and college students are shuttling between classes, sports, clubs, jobs and social engagements. Young professionals are working full-time and starting businesses on the side. And, of course, they’re accomplishing all of this while texting, IM-ing and playing video games all at the same time.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But not by much. Millennials (also know as Generation Y) are living in a world with more communication tools, more career options, more entertainment choices and more stress than ever before.
Is all this busyness all that bad? I don’t believe it is. I’ve noticed some plusses and minuses to Millennials’ constant busyness that can help people of all generations trying to navigate our increasingly busy world.
Pro: Millennials create pockets of productivity.
I recently read a comment from Patricia Lynn, a speaker at the 2011 National Association of Realtors conference, who said to the audience, “Hold up your smart phones. These are the office of the future.”
She’s probably right. We all use our smart phones to be more productive, but Millennials are most attached to their phones (according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of Millennials sleep with their cell phone within reach). This means they make productive use of any spare minutes.
“I’m constantly on my Android when I’m on the go,” says Tammy Tibbetts, a 25-year-old New Yorker who works a full time job as the social media manager for a magazine and runs a nonprofit, She’s the First, after hours.
“I compose emails when I’m walking down the street, when I’m underground on the subway — I send them, and then when I’m above ground with reception, off they go. If you took my phone away from me, or as happened recently, my virtual keyboard jammed up, I would lose half my productivity.”
Con: Productivity isn’t always productive.
For some Millennials, constant productivity means doing a lot but accomplishing little. Interestingly, they’re often conscious of this. “I think people our age are better at multitasking in the sense that we are able to keep track of several different mediums at once, like watching TV while simultaneously writing a paper, answering texts and talking with friends,” Emily Hankinson, a senior at University of Pittsburgh, told me over email.
“However, I don’t think we are as good at this as we convince ourselves. [Multitasking] leads to us just doing several things badly and it can affect our schoolwork and relationships if we’re not careful.” Emily’s multitasking worked in my favor in this case: she answered my email query in about three seconds.
Pro: Millennials seize the day.
Perhaps because their parents showered them in self-esteem, or perhaps because they witnessed the horrors of 9/11 at a young age and learned that life can be too short, Millennials tend to have a carpe diem philosophy (even if many weren’t born when Dead Poets Society first came out). They want it all, and they want it now.
While detractors call this “entitlement,” I sometimes admire Millennials’ belief that “paying one’s dues” is a waste of time. Millennials want to explore multiple careers, relationships, religions and more before committing to any one path too soon. For a generation with a life expectancy of 100 or more, why not live big in your 20s?
Con: Try making plans with a Millennial.
According to Professor Joan Ball, Instructor of Marketing in the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University, “I’ve observed a tendency among Millennials to put off committing to solid plans. I’ve asked my students about it and they seem to prefer keeping their options open for as long as possible before settling on firm dates and times for both school-related events and even plans for the weekend.
“I often wonder if what appears on the surface to be a desire for flexibility might actually be rooted in a conscious or unconscious resistance to firm commitment in any form…That said, it is possible that Gen X and Boomers might have taken the same approach if they’d had today’s communication tools available to them at the same life stage.”
I believe that Joan’s final comment is telling — the tools we have can often dictate the way we treat time. I know I’ve become less firm in making plans because of email, texting and shared calendar applications. And on the flip side, I now never forget anyone’s birthday thanks to the upper right hand corner of Facebook.
Do you think there are pros and cons to the way Millennials treat their time? Do you think Generation Y is all that different from the rest of us? I’d love to know — please share your thoughts!
Lindsey Pollak is the author of Getting From College to Career and speaks frequently to universities, corporations and conferences about Generation Y career issues. Follow her on Twitter at @lindseypollak.