Retrospective on a quantitative productivity logging attempt

post by femtogrammar · 2019-03-22T02:31:42.598Z · score: 26 (12 votes) · LW · GW · 4 comments

I have a productivity scale I've used to log productivity data for several years. It's a subjective rating system from 1 to 10, and looks something like

1. can’t do anything, even reading. Worktime 0%.
2. can force myself to read or work, but I can barely parse anything. Worktime 5%.
5. I don’t want to work and am easily distracted, but I’m getting stuff done. 50%
6. Some mild distractions, but I can stick to a pomodoro timer. Worktime 60%.
10. Insane art-level hyperfocus. Worktime 100%.

At the end of each workday I would record how well I thought I'd done by this scale.

I'd been dissatisfied with this for a while – there was no way my brain was accurately tracking what percentage of time I was working, these descriptions are not well defined, don't cleanly map to some level of productivity. I can't prevent internal mapping drift, where my standards slowly rise or fall, such that a day I mark as productivity=4 this week is actually much more productive than a day I marked at 4 several years ago.

I'm invested in having good measurements, because I've been iterating on antidepressants and ADD meds for years, and having data on which ones are working on what metrics (I also track mood, exercise, sleep, social time) would be very useful for having a better life.

So I wrote a small Python script that tracked how much time I spent working at my job. Every time I took a break or went back to work, I'd mark it. If I noticed I'd started working during breaktime or zoning out during worktime, I'd 'revert' however many minutes I thought it had been to be of the other type. I also had 'dead' time where I wasn't getting anything done for reasons unrelated to my productivity, which I used to mark meetings or lunch breaks. At the end of the session, it would spit out a summary of how much time I'd spent working vs resting. This was a much more accurate, quantitative way of measuring what I wanted, or so I thought. I used it for a month and a week before I stopped.

Here's why I quit it.

I considered the idea of rating work periods every time I ended one, so that after spending an hour laboriously shoving sentences against my eyeballs, I'd indicate to the program that "taking break now; also, that last work period was only 10% of a real work period". But that goes right back to the problem of subjectively rated work, plus adds to the already-painful overhead I described in point 1.

That was an interesting lesson to learn. In the future, when I'm trying to measure something, I'll try to ask myself


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Natália Mendonça · 2019-03-23T03:53:51.767Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Who are you and how is it that we don't we know each other yet?

comment by femtogrammar · 2019-03-24T22:07:11.922Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, I looked you up on Facebook and apparently you sent me a friend request god-knows-when (which I presumably ignored because I didn't know you), which I have just accepted.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-03-22T15:30:28.690Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's somewhat a matter of personal taste, but like you I've found such attempts to quantify my life dissatisfying, although I know others who get a lot out of such attempts. I general fall in the direction of not bothering to measure hard to measure things if I don't have to, and when I'm reluctantly forced to do it I try to use very gross measurements to match the poor precision possible in such cases. Having the precision of the measurement match the level of precision you can achieve helps avoid getting confused by the numbers and thinking you have more information than you do.

comment by Styrke · 2019-04-08T19:56:15.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you can use TagTime to track your productivity and avoid some of the problems you've encountered with other tools.