How to use a diary study experiment to improve your own UX & BA journey

I’m a big fan of continuous improvement everywhere – at home, at work, or for myself. When I have the feeling that things are going out of control, I love to try new things or apply techniques from my toolbox. Needless to say, with my new job as a BA within a UX team, it happens often 🙂

I recently came across an old article about the ultradian rhythm – the rhythm by which the body goes not only during sleep but also across all day. The article was explaining that your productivity throughout the day was conditioned by this rhythm. Therefore, getting a better understanding of your own ultradian rhythm was a good step toward better productivity. It didn’t take long for me to identify a new opportunity for continuous improvement!

From a time study to a diary study

A few years ago, I did a small (and incomplete) diary study of my own usage of time to understand why I was feeling overwhelmed. Every 15 minutes throughout the day, I documented what I was doing for over 3 weeks. In the end, I discovered that I was losing almost 2 hours a day. This was enough to imagine how I could use it for something more meaningful to me!

After reading about ultradian rhythm, I thought it would be a good opportunity to match both experiments. Moreover, I could also get a better understanding of how the current pandemic period impacted my productivity. Working 100% of the time from home while homeschooling kids would make an interesting diary study!

However, I would not limit myself to a simple time/task tracking. This time, I would track more dimensions to better understand my own ultradian rhythm.

Building my own diary study

For those of you who are not familiar with the diary study technique, here’s how the Nielson Norman Group (NNG) defines it:

A diary study is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behaviors, activities, and experiences over time. In a diary study, data is self-reported by participants longitudinally — that is, over an extended period of time that can range from a few days to even a month or longer.

As you can see, a diary study is not only about tasks & time – it’s about behaviors and experiences. In order to conduct a more precise study with myself, I needed to find a way to capture more context in my experiment. The approach proposed for the ultradian rhythm paved the way for me.

Components of my study

I set up my diary study using the following parameters. I could have tracked other elements, but considering the tracking frequency, I feared that it would be too much.

  1. Period of time: I decided to conduct the experiment for 4 weeks. I considered I would get good coverage of my productivity for everything I usually do. I also chose to track a little bit more than my usual working period (one hour more before & after), to see if I could benefit from changing my schedule.
  2. Frequency: I determined I would need details about my tasks to do a better analysis. However, I didn’t want tracking to be disturbing in my work. For me, a good middle ground would be a 30-minutes interval.
  3. Activity: I learned from my previous experiment that tracking activities should be flexible to accommodate the unexpected. Therefore, I didn’t limit myself on this dimension.
  4. Behaviours: based on recommendations from the article, I tracked different behaviours using a 0 to 10 scale: energy, focus, creativity, motivation. Not only is this easy to use (every 30 minutes), it gives some quantitative data to analyze afterwards.


First, I wanted to get a better view of what I’m doing a as BA in a team of UX experts, which will be done by tracking my activities. This would allow me to identify if I’m working on the right things, and what I could improve to stay on my career path.

Tracking behaviours would also help me to understand my most productive moments during the day. A key assumption behind this is that they would be different when I work from home (vs when I’m at the office). Identifying peaks & dips would help me to implement strategies to be more effective.

What about your projects?

To be honest, I never had the chance to use a diary study in a real-life project. However, I can really see the value of this technique to better understand users beyond their activities. For some types of users, it might even make things easier. The key challenge is to motivate your users to engage in such an invasive experiment. In my case, this was the easy part since I was the only participant 🙂

You can conduct such studies using many different apps & tools. With a good approach, you could get priceless insights for your projects!

My diary study template & my results!

Ready to analyze my results!

I’m almost in the middle of my experiment on the date I’m posting this article. This is why I don’t have any results to share with you right now. However, I’m sharing with you my template to perform the same experiment on your side. In an upcoming post, I will publish insights from my experiment.

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Have you ever conducted a diary study with your users? Or maybe with yourself? Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments below!

Hero image by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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Eric Provost

Making sense out of chaos as a BA & UX specialist

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