Multitasking millennials are costing us billions

Listening to music while reading online? STOP IT.
Listening to music while reading online? STOP IT.Shutterstock/ImageFlow

Are you listening to music while reading this article? Are you supposedly working at the same time? Are you planning to skim read and drop off by the second paragraph?

Well, STOP IT.

One of the major problems with millennials is that we are notorious multitaskers and are terrible at focusing on individual projects, costing the economy as a result.

Multitasking is basically switching between tasks frequently. You might think you’re doing two things at once, but you’re actually not. Even if you think you’re listening to a meeting and checking your e-mail at the same time – something I’m guilty of doing – you’re actually reading a couple lines of your e-mail, then listening, then reading again. And the continuous switch is horrible for productivity.


Regular multitasking is correlated with low emotional intelligence and can lower your IQ by as much as 15 points. Yet, according to a recent Time magazine study, millennials switch their attention between media platforms an estimated 27 times per nonworking hour. A study by consulting firm Deloitte found that all age groups check their phones about 46 times a day.

Stepping back, millennials also switch jobs way too often. According to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” Survey, 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. And that turnover creates global losses of $450 billion, according to new research from Bryan College.

I talked to one of the researchers, Andy Kerns, to find out more about how to fix this problem. According to him, the common thread is impulsivity. You get a release of dopamine when you check Facebook or e-mails, so you do it all the time. That new job is cool, so you take it.

The novelty keeps the bad habits going.


Fifty years ago, researchers at Stanford conducted the Marshmallow Experiments, where they gave kids one marshmallow that they could eat immediately. But, if they waited, they’d get a second marshmallow when the researcher returned. Years later, the researchers found that kids who waited performed better academically, had better health and social relationships, had better attention spans, earned more money, and were happier. By contrast, those who didn’t were likelier to be unhealthy and have serious behavioral problems.

According to Kerns, in today’s world, your Facebook, e-mail feed, and the urge to take that new job are marshmallows. They’re testing our patience. And we’re coming up short.

So how do you fix this?

First, employers should cut the workweek to 25 to 32 hours, according to Bryan College’s research, and encourage yoga and meditation. According to data from Salary.com, 89 percent of respondents said they waste time at work, with 52 percent saying they waste an hour or more a day.

Employers should encourage focused working, turning off distractions, and checking e-mail less. Employers waste lots of money in low productivity and increased stress every year, so it’s in their benefit to address concerns of lack of focus and multitasking.

Second, you can fix this problem yourself. Get up in the morning and work on a small, but necessary, task. If you practice focusing and refrain from multitasking, it gets easier over time to focus for long periods.

Practice mindfulness. After every two hours of work, take a 12-minute break and take a walk or meditate. Get apps like FocusBooster, TrackTime, or Freedom that will shut off your social media accounts or track the amount of time you’re spending on things. If you have to check e-mails continuously, try to check them only once an hour. Delay the gratification of social media marshmallows. Look at nonwork-related social media three times a day at most. Try to meet people in your office in your free time instead of browsing the Internet.


With a little bit of focus, you can read articles faster, get your work done faster, and be happier and more productive in the long term. Now, get back to work!

Isvari Mohan can be reached at voice@isvari.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM. But don’t try while you are doing something else.