How to conduct sampling for personal productivity

Personal productivity interest is something that touches the life of each individual, whether a freelancer, a team-player or a company manager. In order to succeed as an individual in a fast moving society, confronted with complex financial and economical obstacles, personal productivity is a key ingredient. When people think about personal productivity, they often associate it with time management, work efficiency, or with the idea of maintaining a work-life balance.

Once daily tasks compromise the balance between working activities and personal time, it is obvious that the equilibrium must be restored. This is when the work structure evaluation becomes critical. Without a proper analysis at this stage, the solutions applied, even if correct, might not be the most effective ones.

Work sampling is a powerful tool used to capture random snap-shots of individual activities. Being a statistical proven technique, once the data are collected for a determined period of time, the results are then extrapolated to describe a global view of the individual's daily schedule. The snap-shots are collected through self reported logs, set at random intervals within the software, keeping all statistical calculations in the backstage.

Work sampling methodology is a highly adaptable technique, which begins with the mission statement. This step consists of understanding the objective of the work measurement process by answering the following questions:
  • Why is the analysis performed? Individuals turn to work measurement techniques either when they consider they pass through a low productivity period, or when they are unable to measure personal productivity levels. The scope of structuring activities through work sampling methodology is to help the individual achieve exactly this objective to measure and understand productivity indicators.
  • What is the object of the analysis? In the case of individual assessment, the evaluation of work structure can go beyond working hours. By using work sampling software, the individual has the possibility to adjust the analyzed time frame according to personal needs, declaring the days of week and interval hours that will be included in the analysis scope.
  • Which is the targeted activity and what is its estimated magnitude? The most common activity grouping is in direct and indirect work. The individual can target to understand the magnitude of indirect work in daily tasks or can collect data regarding the percentage of direct activities in total working time. Sometimes, the targeted activity can be even a sub-activity, like commuting time, which is an indirect component. Researchers recommend analyzing an activity item that occupies a considerable percentage in the daily schedule, limiting in this way the number of randomized snap-shots that need to be gathered.
  • When will the analysis begin? When choosing the start date of the study, the individual must take into account that it is advisable to perform the study in a normal load period, avoiding holidays, vacations or special events. Also, an equal number of sub-cycles should be included in the analysis, for example day shifts vs. night shifts, week days vs. week-end days, etc.

Before entering the data collection phase, the individual decides upon the final parameters of the study. In this stage, preferred values for the average period of time between the randomized self-reported logs can be inserted. The individual can also provide significant input regarding the list of activities that will appear for each snap-shot registration.

Once all parameters are established and inserted in the I-Phone application, the data collection phase can begin. The responsibility of the user will be to choose from the activity list, the certain activity that is performed at each random evaluation point.

When the data collection phase is completed, the application provides a centralized report containing the number of appearances for each activity comprised by the list, with the calculated percentage for each task. The ratio of the number of observations per activity to the total number of observations yields also an estimation of the time spent in each activity.

A visual representation of the hourly evolution can also be created. The objective of building this type of graph is to spot peak periods of activities, and to support or to deny perceptions that were not backed-up before by data (e.g. administrative tasks are performed at the beginning of the schedule).

After the report is finalized, the individual can reflect upon the results and decide on the next solutions to be implemented. Work sampling methodology can be used as well as an audit tool, designed to access the impact of the implemented solutions. In this case, the study will be repeated in the same conditions as the initial analysis, with the declared objective of comparing results.

Please visit the Articles about sampling section for more details regarding the work sampling methodology.