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

Ben Holtz
Collin Green
ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2023) (to appear)

Abstract

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.