Photo © Robert Kneschke -

Assessing well-being and motivation through smartphones

A LIVES team of psychologists based at the University of Zürich is conducting a survey using a measurement burst approach to analyze work life balance. A hundred people have to answer questions on a smartphone seven times a day for one minute.

Members of NCCR LIVES IP7, "Professional trajectories: Impact of individual characteristics and resources, and cultural background", Prof. Alexandra M. Freund, Prof. Bettina S. Wiese and Dr. Michaela Knecht are interested in analyzing how people manage their multiple goals in different domains of everyday life like work, family and leisure.

“We investigate inter-individual differences in intra-individual variability on some key variables in managing multiple goals in adulthood, such as motivation and psychological as well as physiological well-being”, says Michaela Knecht. In order to look into the processes that help managing multiple goals, the team uses a combination of a longitudinal design spanning one year and an intense time-sampling method. “The frequent assessment of selected key-variables in everyday life over a shorter period is called a measurement burst.  This allows studying psychological processes in depth and as they occur in the natural environment of a person’s life”, explains Alexandra Freund.

Mixed methods

The study started in March 2012 with an online survey with men and women aged 30-55, having a job and living with their partner and/or children. In addition to questionnaires assessing personality constructs, motivational variables, various facets of the interplay between work, family and leisure goals, and subjective well being, participants name two important personal goals in the different life domains. For examples "assume more responsibilities", “spend more time with my child", or "do more physical exercise"… A shorter version of this 45-minute questionnaire is then repeated twice every 6 months to allow a longitudinal perspective. This part of the research is still in need of additional participants to complete its planned sample of 300 people.

Among them, a hundred participants are invited to participate in the measurement burst phase using smartphone, which consists of three weeks of intensive questioning, seven times a day for about one minute. Participants receive random alerts at different times of the day. They must then go to the application where they find an individualized questionnaire regarding their personal goals, whose answers are recorded directly on a server. From there the researchers will be able to investigate the dynamics of goal conflict and facilitation in everyday life.

“This mixed methods approach gives us the possibility to combine data from different psychological levels of measurement such as stable self-management preferences (e.g., setting priorities) and everyday experiences of successful goal pursuit in different life domains ”, says Bettina Wiese.


To compose the sample, the team sent letters to companies such as insurance, banking or research institutes that take work-life balance seriously in the Zürich area. Participants are also able to apply on the University of Zürich’s website. They are provided with a smartphone for the duration of the study and receive 180 CHF for their participation.

How do people combine the multiple tasks they face, how do they reach their objectives, where are the difficulties? These are some of the issues this study should help to understand, bearing in mind NCCR LIVES’s aim of overcoming vulnerability.