"Research done by the Free University of Bozen-Bolzanohas in Italy concluded that happy software developers are better at solving analytical problems. 'Even simple and short activities', the researchers note, 'may impact the affective states of software developers.'
Many large software companies have been providing various perks to developers, hoping that they will become more productive. Based on a study of 42 students from the Faculty of Computer Science, this research seems to validate that practice. Its findings suggest that 'the happiest software developers are more productive in analytical problem solving performance.' This is in contradiction to previous studies, most of which concluding that negative affective states foster analytic problem-solving performance.
A lot of work and study environments do almost nothing to promote a productive mental state. But surely this affects every other task and subject.
I bet most everyone here could name five things that help them work better on mentally-demanding tasks. Two or three of these may be rendered almost impossible by the way the office they work in is designed and laid out. These factors won't always be the same thing for each person, but strong trends would emerge if you asked ten people.
These factors could then be tested quite easily, if you had the time and volunteers. You could do puzzles and assignments of different kinds. Some of this research has been done, but surprisingly little from what I can see, especially given how important it is.
What are your top five? Mine top five are:- Sticking to the same task for at least an hour at a time (if there's that much work in it).- Having a short break from concentrating after no more than an hour and a half, to refresh.- Being distracted for even a minute when you're in the zone can set you back five or ten minutes due to lost momentum and clarity. This might be reading a website, or someone talking to you. Being interrupted a minute out of every ten therefore leads to no work being done.- I can listen to something at the same time as working, but not watch or discuss something.- Get enough sleep
My five...Quiet environmentturn off email phone and messagingCoffee a short walk awayFreecell for a micro break without leaving my work zoneConsiderate cow-orkers
Physical (assembly line, etc) productivity has been extensively studied, going back well over a hundred years, here's a bibliography starting with Taylor,
http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/ obo-9780199846740/obo-9780199846740-0027.xml [oxfordbibliographies.com]
I've seen a confounding result too (sorry, can't remember the reference)--when workers were studied (at least in the early days), they responded to the additional attention by increasing their productivity. This led to a number of false positives in terms of modifying the work environment for higher efficiency. Once the study and the researchers left the factory with an updated production process, productivity returned to the original level.
At a later date, workers were wise to researchers with clipboard and stopwatch. They might sandbag (slow down) to give a false baseline for the study.
Are there any parallels to the present time, with respect to mental/analytical work?
You make a good point. Motivation is one factor that's hard to test and control, and goes beyond environmental/procedural considerations.
This is a whole other kettle of fish, but I think progressive mutualisation is probably a good way to motivate people (ie a small proportion of an employee's salary is paid in equity. Over time it reaches some reasonable maximum level of ownership per-employee. So over time more productive work means more profit). If the balance was right it would probably work out more profitable for the original investors as well, due to increased productivity and loyalty of the workers.
I think that's the Hawthorne Effect [wikipedia.org], where workers improve their performance in response to any change in their environment (positive or negative), simply because they know they're being studied.
A sort of Heisenberg principle for social experiments...
(Though it seems that some of Hawthorne's initial results may have had other explanations.)
Bingo, this section of the Hawthorne entry was particularly interesting, Interpretation and Criticism [wikipedia.org].