Lately I've been getting interested in "quantified self" metrics. I've been tracking basic health metrics like weight, sleep, caffeine/alcohol consumption, and several other subjective health and mood ratings over time for a while now. The data nerd in me likes trying to tease out the relationships in this data to eke out a little more productivity each day. When the gathering and analysis time are factored in I may not gain much productivity, but I still enjoy measuring my progress and seeing how the numbers plot.
I'm looking for great proxy metrics for productivity.
The problem I'm running into is that abstract notions like "productivity" are more difficult to quantify in a meaningful way. I am seeking proxy metrics that are simple, objective, and unobtrusive.
Both passive timetracking (RescueTime) and active timetracking (Beeminder/TagTime) miss the point as far as I'm concerned. I tried both for a while before realizing that time spent working is not a proxy for intellectual productivity. Measuring time spent working is a sure path to maximizing how much I'm staying busy, which is not a goal of mine.
Another proxy measure I've experimented with is to track "pages of technical material read per day." This data is interesting to know for its own sake, but as a proxy for overall daily productivity it has a few flaws:
Doesn't reflect the whole picture: Technical reading (and associated notetaking) is only one small part of my job. I alot ~1-2 hours per day to this task, but it doesn't measure my effectiveness in other areas.
Distorts my priorities: Using this as my productivity metric causes me to prioritize it over other tasks, even when reading another technical paper is not my Most Important Task for the day and I might be better off working on other things.
Not objective: "Pages" itself is a subjective measure. A page in Science is not the same as a page in Nature or any other journal. All these subjective questions come up that have to be handled each time. How are figures counted? What about math? Do I deserve any kind of bonus if the paper was especially arduous? I've developed rules of thumb that I generally follow for these, but I don't like that my metric is so subjective.
Recording error: It's sometimes inconvenient to record the measurements, since reading dense technical papers is something I prefer to do with hardcopies for easier highlighting. After reading, perhaps later that day, I like to sit down at the computer and write up a summary of what I learned and what I think about a particular paper, but by then my recollection of how much I read is a bit fuzzy. If I were more vigilant this wouldn't be a source of error, but if I'm being honest I must concede that I am probably not 100% accurate in recording pages read after the fact.
Am I being a producer or a consumer?
It occurs to me that perhaps I am asking the wrong question. Maybe I shouldn't be asking "Was I productive today?" Maybe to get quantitative I need to drill down and get a better definition of productivity.
For me, being highly productive means producing information of value. What do I do when I am producing? Well, as a knowledge worker that usually means typing. I could be typing emails, or notes, or papers, or comments, documentation, code... any number of things.
Contrast this with my favorite timewasters, which are mostly passive: reading news, stack exchange, checking facebook, etc etc. All these activities are passive (except for the occasional overlong question or answer on SE).
This dichotomy in my typing intensity suggests a very simple, precise, objective, unobtrusive measure of daily productivity!
Maybe you're all wondering: Is there a question in this question? There is!
Do you have any experience tracking daily keys typed as a proxy for productivity?
I'd really like to hear about your experiences and any potential flaws in this as a measure of productivity for the average knowledge worker. But most of all I want to know....
What tools have you used to track this information?
This is really the heart of what I'm asking since "key tracking" or similar google queries seem fraught with danger. I don't want to install keylogging malware in my quest for efficiency, so if you know of any reputable open source projects that offer typing statistics I'd be very glad to know about them.