Google Research

Using Logs Data to Identify When Software Engineers Experience Flow or Focused Work

ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2023) (to appear)


Beyond self-report data, we lack reliable and non-intrusive methods for identifying flow. However, taking a step back and acknowledging that flow occurs during periods of focus gives us the opportunity to make progress towards measuring flow by isolating focused work. Here, we take a mixed-methods approach to design a logs based metric that leverages machine learning and a comprehensive collection of logs data to identify periods of related actions (indicating focus), and validate this metric against self-reported time in focus or flow using diary data and quarterly survey data. Our results indicate that we can determine when software engineers at a large technology company experience focused work which includes instances of flow. This metric speaks to engineering work, but can be leveraged in other domains to non-disruptively measure when people experience focus. Future research can build upon this work to identify signals associated with other facets of flow.

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