Percentile Feedback Update

July 19, 2011

In March I discovered that looking at a graph of my productivity (for the current day, with a percentile attached) was a big help. My “efficiency” — the time spent working that day divided by the time available to work — jumped as soon as the new feedback started (as this graph shows). The percentile score, which I can get at any moment during the day, indicates how my current efficiency score ranks according to scores from previous days within one hour of the same time. For example, a score of 50 at 1 p.m. means that half of the previous days’ scores from noon to 2 p.m. were better, half worse. The time available to work starts when I get up. For example, if I got up at 4 a.m., at 6 a.m. there were 2 hours available to work. The measurement period usually stops at dinner time or in the early evening.

This graph shows the results so far. It shows efficiency scores at the end of each day. (Now and then I take a day off.) One interesting fact is I’ve kept doing it. The data collection isn’t automated; I shift to R to collect it, typing “work.start” or “work.stop” or “work.switch” when I start, stop, or switch tasks. This is the third or fourth time I’ve tried some sort of work tracking system and the first time I have persisted this long. Another interesting fact is the slow improvement, shown by the positive slopes of the fitted lines. Apparently I am slowly developing better work habits.

The behavioral engineering is more complicated than you might think. My daily activities naturally divide into three categories: 1. things I want to do but have to push myself to do. This helps with that, obviously. 2. things I don’t want to do a lot of but have to push myself away from (e.g., web surfing). 3. things I want to do and have no trouble doing. But the recording system is binary. What do I do with activities in the third category? Eventually I decided to put the short-duration examples (e.g., standing on one foot, lasts 10 minutes) in the first category (counts as work), keeping the long-duration examples (e.g., walking, might last one hour) in the second category (doesn’t count as work).

Before I started this I thought of a dozen reasons why it wouldn’t work, but it has. In line with my belief that it is better to do than to think.

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