The New (Micro) Leisure: Redefining Downtime In a Connected World

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 21, 2015

We used to think of leisure as a grand, sweeping concept. Two times a year we went on our one-week vacation where we can turn off and truly relax. We took our lunch breaks and our long weekends. But in today’s always-on world, with the heavy adoption of mobile technology and an omnipresent social profile, how has leisure changed? How has the way we work and, more importantly, the way we play changed?

To find out, we commissioned a study on the effects of mobile technology on leisure time in the hopes of understanding why our free time no longer feels free. Working in conjunction with our partners at Whitman Insight Strategies, we aimed to find out how Millennials today define leisure and how they find balance among competing priorities.

The first thing that we discovered was the profound paradox on our perception of leisure. Millennials are extremely conflicted about technology’s impact on their leisure time. For example, while 60% of our Millennial respondents believe that their mobile phones enhance their free time, 48% of them also worry about spending too much time on their phone. There is now also a constant multi-tasking layer on top of their everyday lives. Millennials want to be in the now, but they are also constantly thinking about and making plans for the future. This constant push-pull of competing priorities creates a new set of considerations for them when engaging with the people around them and their mobile devices.



This multitasking is blending our definition of play and work. While 51% of Millennials agree that smartphones provide a means to reduce stress during a busy workday, 78% also agree that checking work emails is a top disruptor of their leisure time. The smartphone has truly blurred the lines between our home lives and our work lives. A few years ago, companies attempted to develop firewalls, means of blocking leisure channels such as Facebook at work. Now, following the mobile revolution, there is no firewall big enough to keep our personal lives at home.

In this new world, no longer can we relieve stress a week at a time, a long weekend at a time, or even a lunch break at a time. Millennials are turning off and on every other minute of every day and are looking for relaxation that is ephemeral and bite-sized. We define this as Micro-Leisure, and it is more available than ever before thanks to mobile technology.

Here are a few tips for how to use the tenants of micro-leisure to connect with Millennial audiences:

Think Bite Size: Brands need to be able to connect with Millennials during micro-leisure moments or risk losing them altogether. For example, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, 61% of Millennial’s report getting their political news from Facebook vs. 37% from local television. Content needs to fit into the tight time frame that they have to digest it. How can your brand engage with this target during these moments in time? Snapchat is a platform keen on targeting these moments. With the launch of their new Discover platform, the user can now find easily digestible cliff notes from long form vendors like CNN.

Design for the Finger: Our study found that Millennials rarely go 15 minutes without checking their phones. Brands that aren’t designing for the mobile flick risk missing out entirely on mobile audiences, and creative needs to adjust to form accordingly. Apps like Snapchat, Meerkat and Persicope are urging advertisers to frame their video ads vertically rather than in traditional wide screen formats. Start all video briefs under a no sound assumption, because mobile and social environments are often perused with a phone that is on vibrate or silent.

Timing is Everything: When your marketing calendar is not broken into a year but must instead intersect with all parts of a Millennial’s day, you must consider what timing will work best for your brand. One Millennial respondent noted that nighttime is when they feel they should be most constructive, so they reserve the evening hours for scanning social feeds for news content. Equinox’s well-timed early morning work-out posts intercept would-be athletes as they mindlessly peruse their Instagram feeds in the early morning, giving them that extra boost that they need to head to the gym. Brands need to understand and take advantage of these key inflection points throughout the day instead of relying on traditional definitions of downtime.  

Leisure has fundamentally changed. We are no longer operating in a world where we take long breaks. The coffee break happens not just once a day but minute by minute. As brands progress, we need to figure out how to co-opt these moments and operate in this new paradigm.

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