How Gen Y navigates time — and life

(Laura’s note: Another “maternity leave” guest post from one of my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)

by Lindsey Pollak

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.

8 thoughts on “How Gen Y navigates time — and life

  1. According to her definition, I am a Millenial (born in 1981) but I don’t really see a lot of myself in this. Maybe it’s because I am kind of neurotic but I don’t really like having “loose plans” to hang out or whatever. I prefer to make concrete plans to meet up at such and such restaurant on a certain day, etc.
    I am, however, more lax about meeting up on time with friends than I was say 10 years ago. Now that everyone has a cell phone, it’s no big deal (or inconvenience really) when you call and say you are 15 minutes or a half hour late. I also don’t bother to find directions when going to someone’s house- I just drive to the general area, and then call them if I can’t find the house.
    And, perhaps I am just a bit lazy, but I am not really that busy either. I work full-time, workout with a sports team once a week, and take my kids to one weekly activity, but the rest of the evenings/weekends are pretty open. I guess in high school/college I ran around a lot more to different activities, but now with the responsibility of having a home to run and children raise I don’t feel like I have the energy (or interest).

    1. @Sarah- I, too, find the lack of plan-making frustrating. By some definitions I’m in the millennial crew as well. I’ve lived my entire adult life with email and cellphones, which is a pretty good definition of the break point. But I like plans! I think I like plans because there are psychological benefits to them. You know what’s coming and get the anticipatory pleasure from it. Then again, no generational definition fits everyone. After all, I was able to get married at 25, so I clearly don’t mind commitment.

      1. I married at 25 too. As I look at the Facebook profiles of similar friends from high school (mostly single), I’m glad I did. Carpe diem!

        1. I married at 22, earlier than most, but not all of my friends. By now I would say the majority are married. I would not describe my acquaintances/friends as commitment-shy, not the girls at least!
          Laura, I agree about the psychological benefit of plans. It’s also easier for me to do something I dislike if I have mentally prepared for it ahead of time (like a DIY project on the house).

  2. I think texting and emailing all the time is NOT GOOD. Reading books, exercise, enjoying sex, time with children … I think being distracted or doing too many things at one time or working too much is not a prescription for happiness just business. I think it is important to be efficient and productive, but not crazy wacko no fun. You have to plan fun as you get older but you also have to learn to be in the moment. I hate watching TV when I’m trying to talk to someone and I hate someone talking to me when I’m watching the only show
    I hate having to watch my kid and be engaged with my clients at the same time. Do we do it yes b/c it is the reality of modern life but this doesn’t mean it is the ideal. In my 20s knowing what I know now I’d have taken more risks, but also enjoyed ever moment more, read more books, etc. In my 30s as my children are little I’d like to enjoy them in these very very long days and short years and try to maintain friends and some sense of professional life within reason. You can’t be all things to all minutes of the day and the idea that you can I think it breeds unhappiness. One of my great pleasures of the day is to drink my one cup of coffee with organic milk alone without interruptions. I enjoy it more and it makes me happy. I might check email or watch a bit of tv while I’m enjoying that cup of coffee but I do enjoy it more when it is just that.. me and the coffee…

  3. Being born in 1987, I DEFINITELY fit the mold for Gen Y go-getters. Right now, I’m working full time, writing two books, working as an Examiner and trying to find a part-time job! I text, email, and bluetooth all at the same time! Having that carpe diem attitude is a direct result of being more aware of opportunities and people who already “did” it. I figure, if they can do it, why can’t I? *gives typical Gen Y shrug*

  4. I’m so glad to see someone finally writing about the Gen-Y people in a positive light. I’m a tail-end Boomer with a Gen-Y kid. I’ve met so many of his friends and had the pleasure to work with many Gen-Y people and I think they are some of the most amazing people I know. Yes the downside of what you write about is also true, but considering what they’re doing, I’m ok with that.
    Thanks for saying good things about this group in our population!

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