Discover more from Engineering Enablement
The Impact of Self-Reflection on Productivity
Self-reflection causes developers to better structure their day, leading to an increase in productivity.
This is the latest issue of my newsletter. Each week I cover the latest research and perspectives on developer productivity.
This week I read Cultivating a Team Mindset about Productivity with a Nudge by University of Zurich researchers Thomas Fritz, Alexander Lill, André Meyer, Gail C. Murphy, and Lauren Howe. This study investigated the effects of regularly nudging individuals to think about team productivity.
Previously, these researchers found that regular self-reflection positively impacted individual productivity. Specifically, they identified that it helped developers set clear goals for improving their own work habits, and then make progress towards those goals. This new study differs in two ways: it looks at both “nudging” and “self-reflection.” It also focuses on the balance between individual and team productivity, unlike the prior study which was focused on the individual.
My summary of the paper
Developers are constantly faced with the choice to spend time on their own work or help their teammates. Ideally teams can find a good balance, however recent studies have shown that the shift to hybrid work has exacerbated the tendency of software developers to prioritize individual work over team collaboration.
The researchers, inspired by prior work showing the value of self-reflection and nudging, sought to understand whether nudging individuals to think about their contribution to team productivity could improve the way they spend their time.
This study was conducted in two phases: a baseline phase, and an intervention phase. In the baseline phase, researchers collected hourly self-reports and daily diaries from developers. This provided data on developers’ workdays, their productivity and well-being, and their team interactions. In the intervention phase, researchers added what they call a team nudge to the daily diary, where they asked developers “How did your team help you to be productive today?”
Here are the key findings from the study:
1. The impact of nudging and self-reflection on work patterns: Developers were regularly prompted to think about the tasks they’d worked on, how much they had helped their team, and how their team had helped them. The researchers sought to understand whether this would lead to developers spending more time on activities that contribute to team activity than they were previously.
Surprisingly, developers ended up spending more time on their own tasks during each day, and an equivalent amount of time helping others. The open text feedback from surveys suggests a potential reason: the self-reflection and nudge led developers to better structure and optimize their day and work habits.
2. Perceived productivity improved: Comparing the data before and after the team nudges shows a statistically significant increase in developers’ perceptions of their own productivity. This is likely associated with the previous finding: being reminded to reflect on their work caused developers to better organize their day, leading to an increase in productivity.
3. Increased awareness for the team’s work: While developers did not spend more time on team collaboration activities, the nudges did make developers more aware of the value of their teammates’ work.
It’s interesting that when developers reflected on their work and team contributions, it made them more aware of the value of their teams’ work—but it did not increase the amount of time they spent on activities that help their colleagues. Instead, self-reflection prompted developers to reorganize their day to allocate more time to their own tasks. They also continued to allocate the same amount of time to tasks that help the team. This suggests that there’s value in self-reflection for improving productivity at the individual level. It also suggests that developers might feel they are already dedicating an appropriate amount of time to helping heir colleagues.
One aspect that I appreciate about this research on self-reflection is that it offers a straightforward approach to improving productivity at the individual level. Leaders might consider promoting regular self-reflecting as a strategy for developers to feel more control over the structure of their workday, which may also improve productivity.
That’s it for this week! If you’re interested in reading a guide for running an internal survey to identify problems impacting developer productivity, send me a connection request with the note “guide.”
Subscribe here if you haven’t already: