Experiment: The Best Working Environment Is...?
The task was to monitor (albeit in a more comical than accurate way) how productive I am within certain environments, however because my time is valuable I could not justify copy-writing material and judging productivity on the quantity of content written - I needed to be doing something worthwhile. Therefore I would be monitoring my performance while developing a website.
The problem with this is that websites have varying levels of complexity and the lines of code written is not necessarily a good measurement (as some code will be deleted, copied, pasted etc, not forgetting that 30 lines of meaningful code will be classified the same as 10 or so IF statements), and this in turn got me thinking which measurement would be best. Speaking to a friend (BlackDragon), he commented that recording keystrokes may be a good idea. Lines of code get deleted but the number of keys pressed is a reasonable indication of how busy I have been.
Measuring my Productivity
Finding an application that monitors your key-strokes without a risk of malicious use was a mission in itself, finally settling on WhatPulse. This will monitor my keystrokes and mouse clicks sufficiently.
Ok, I have the concept of what I wish to test, the means in which I will measure productivity and a rough task to be doing (the website was largely straight forward coding so had very little difference to copy-writing apart from that I wasn't entirely wasting my time). My most common environments are:
- Listening to music
- Watching TV
It was decided to test the following environments (each within a 30 minute window):
Music - listening to my music of choice (metal, largely high tempo metalcore and the like) and a separate environment of listening to relaxing classical music.
TV - watching DVD's of South Park, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Scrubs, Friends, Dilbert, Frasier, Futurama and BlackAdder.
Control - it is important to have a control, so the control would be silence.
The 30 minute window allowed for easier maths and all of the TV shows to finish comfortably. So, that's the experiment set up then... I'm to develop a website with various distractions, each on for 30 minutes and the results are recorded.
Yes, this was a daft idea but it has also had surprising results! See the graph below for the actual results:
The graph shows each of the environments correlating to their respective "average key-strokes per minute".
Clearly the big shock for me is that I was entirely wrong, Seinfeld is not the best working environment for me, in fact it was one of the worst! Now all I can think is how much better university would have gone had I spent less time watching Seinfeld and more South Park. It's interesting to see that the control environment was still more beneficial than most of the others, albeit the most boring, whereas South Park was a surprising result clearly motivating me more than most. It was less surprising to see the results of the Music environments, with the up-tempo metalcore having epically higher gains than the snooze-inducing classical.
Specifically, listening to metal caused an impressive 40% improvement whereas Scrubs was 46% lower than the control environment. Clearly results would vary from person to person because it would be impossible to claim that because Futurama performed well for me that it would for everyone else too (my girlfriend for example requires silence to concentrate fully).
While the results are less transferable to other individuals, a valid point is raised. I assumed Seinfeld was the best environment for me and I was mistaken. Seinfeld reduced my productivity in this experiment by 28% (from the control) and that is quite a drop...
So ask yourself this - do you have a favoured working environment? If so, maybe you should actually test it because can you really afford to lose 40% of for productivity purely for the pleasure of having Scrubs instead of the Simpsons?
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