Let’s take a look at a few different habits, and the role technology plays in creating and changing them.
Keep the two types of behavioral changes in mind for both of these scenarios.
For roles like developers, time management tends to be a deeply ingrained habit. Every dev has their own tips and tricks for managing time, and for most devs, they’ve been using those tips and tricks for a long time.
Changing how you manage your time is not easy. It’s an example of the first type of behavioral change: Changes to behaviors that were learned through experience.
Technology is less likely to be able to shape a habit like this one because the rewards for these types of behaviors tend to be intrinsic—for example, for managing your time well, the reward is a sense of productivity and accomplishment, something that’s pretty difficult for an app to offer you.
It’s also difficult for an app to offer rewards that are greater than those intrinsic rewards you’re already getting (plus other rewards, like the sense of comfort that comes with doing things in a familiar way).
In other words, the best way to change your habits with regard to how you manage your time may not be to introduce a new system or strategy. It’s to look at your existing habits in a new way in order to learn from your own experience.
That’s why, in this case, habits should drive the software versus software designed to try to drive a change in habit.
Most development teams, for instance, hate the idea of management introducing a new time tracking system to their workflow. In part, because the introduction of the new system will force them to change their existing habits without offering any substantive reward that would motivate such a change.
Let’s say you just visited your local farmer’s market and came home with more than just fresh produce—you adopted a living houseplant to help brighten up your apartment. The problem with houseplants, though, is that they require regular care to survive and thrive, and if you’re not in the habit of caring for a houseplant, you’re going to need to be.
So, technology to the rescue!
There are tons of ways tech can help you create the right habits you need to keep your new plant babies happy. It could be as low tech as setting smartphone alarms to remind you to water the plants or move them to sunnier windows throughout the day. Or you could download a plant care app, complete with an encyclopedia of knowledge about the exact needs of different plants, and push notifications to let you know exactly what to do and when.
In this case, the technology is creating new habits.
The rewards start off simply: Notifications on your phone screen when it’s time to do some plant care will give your brain that dopamine kick that encourages it to continue an activity.
Over time, as that reward loses its power, your motivation for continuing your new habit will likely become more intrinsic: You gain happiness from seeing your plant grow and bloom. At that point, once the habit has been created, you can remove the technology, but you’ll likely continue to care for your plant because your behavior has been successfully changed.
Developers have an interesting role in this whole discussion, because they exist on both sides of it.
For example, how much does software define the way developers do their jobs? What aspects of a dev’s workflow are just “done that way” because it’s the way the tools allow them to be done, even if the workflow could be better? And what’s the cost of doing work that’s driven by the tools that are available, rather than creating tools that allow us to do work the way we want to?
On the other hand, should developers be considering their roles in creating software that shapes habits in other people? What about the ethical implications of creating programs we know trigger addictive responses in their users?
When software is used for creating positive habits, like a better exercise routine or better plant care, it’s easy to overlook the potential negatives of habit-forming software. But anything habit-forming can be abused, and software is no exception to that.
As technology becomes more and more intertwined with our daily lives and our habits, these are the questions that developers should consider. From the ethics of software creation all the way to simpler questions, like how technology affects workflows, these issues are only going to become more complex as technology grows.
7pace Timetracker is the only integrated, professional time management solution for teams using Azure DevOps.