Tracking Productivity with RescueTime

See where every minute is spent

Some honorable mentions this month include:

  • Charity Navigator - When you donate your money, you want to make sure it’s used in a meaningful way. Charity Navigator helps with this. By vetting nonprofit organizations and transparently showing ratings and paperwork, you can decide for yourself whether a certain org is worth donating to. Free.

  • Affirm - Affirm is a lender that doesn’t come with all the headache of banks. Partnered with many stores and shops worldwide, you can pay over time by directly select them as an option during checkout or taking out a pre-approved amount with a simple credit check. Freemium (based on your interest rate).

  • CamelCamelCamel - If you’re not in a rush to buy something, you’ll usually want to wait for the best prices. CamelCamelCamel is a price tracker for Amazon products. It will alert you when certain items in your shopping list drop below a certain price based on your settings. Grab products at their cheapest! Free.

Each month, I cover three “honorable mentions” or tools that are fantastic but don’t necessarily require a full article review. And now, on to the main show.


How much time do you waste? Do you know?

There’s no better way to find out than by tracking your time. After all, “What gets measured gets improved” (Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management).

Most of us are vaguely aware of our activities, but the mind can often obscure the passage of time. Like me, you’ve probably had moments where you lost track of time. It’s totally normal.

But it’s not helpful, especially when you have goals you want to accomplish. That innocent website browsing or those “cell phone breaks” could be taking up more time than you think.

This is certainly a problem I struggled with for a long time. At first, I justified it because I had occasional bursts of productivity. But after years of doing this without any real progress, I realized I was just making excuses.

So I started using RescueTime.

With accuracy down to the second, it will log the time you spend on every website, app, and software you own.

Much to my surprise, I found out I had been wasting at least 2 hours per day browsing the Internet. But I never realized it because I only used my phone in increments of maybe 5 minutes at a time.

On top of showing my daily usage, it has strong reporting capabilities, allowing you to visualize trends across weeks, months, and years to help you get an eagle’s eye view of your habits.

There’s a “Lite” plan, which is free. Then if you decide you really like it, then for only $12/month, you can take your time management to the next level.

Try RescueTime


What’s in the app?

The Dashboard

When you first log in, you’re taken to the Daily Dashboard. This dashboard can be adjusted to zoom out to display weekly, monthly, and yearly stats.

As you can see, I’m a digital denizen. My day job involves software development and sales, and my side projects and passion work involve computers and digital multimedia.

Learning where all of my time goes is crucial, and I imagine it’s only going to become increasingly important for others as more of the world moves online.

In addition to displaying your basic stats, you can also set goals for yourself, and RescueTime will report on that as well:


Reports

Beyond the Dashboards, which are already pretty useful by themselves, the Reports tab helps you drill down. You have granular time tracking in specific websites and applications, all the way down to the second (if you click into it):

I hate to admit it, but multiple items above are actually video games. I thought I had some idea of how much I play. But I never would’ve guessed > 300 hours. That’s the power of using a tool like this — it pays attention even when you aren’t.

RescueTime can track and categorize your activities and websites, so you can start to see trends, both by the week and even by the time of day.


Categorization

RescueTime has primary categories with subcategories of activities, labeled on a scale from very productive to very distracting. For the most part, this categorization happens automatically, and you don’t have to worry about doing any manual work.

But occasionally, you might visit websites or open applications RescueTime doesn’t know about, and it’s easy to assign categories/subcategories to set the proper value.

RescueTime locks you into 12 main categories, but in each of the main categories, you have the ability to add your own sub-categories for specific activities that don’t neatly fit into one of the default provided ones. For the most part, it meets most users’ needs.


FocusTime

Another nifty feature of RescueTime is its FocusTime—a deliberate, focused work session initiated by the user, which actively blocks distracting websites. If you try to visit a distracting website, it redirects to a RescueTime page with a nice quote:

There are tons of great features around focus as well—for example, there are calendar integrations for Google and Microsoft calendars. Adding ‘#focustime’ to any event will automatically turn on Do Not Disturb.


Year In Review

One last phenomenal feature I want to mention is the “Year in Review.” When you reach the end of the year, RescueTime generates reports showing your entire year. You have to see the visualizations to believe it.

The first year I used RescueTime, I was blown away by the immense level of detail. The granularity and the visualizations of my time were not only beautiful, but they were instrumental in helping me see the big picture of how my time was spent.

Try RescueTime


Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Strong visualizations, graphs, and metrics. As you can see in the many screenshots above, RescueTime has excellent designers and data scientists on their team. The graphs not only look good, but they’re actually presented in a way that’s useful.

  • Granular timelines and flexible scopes. As mentioned above, zooming out to see the big picture can be helpful. You can review and strategize at the weekly, monthly, and yearly timeframes.

  • Accurate tracking on all of the major platforms and browsers. With mobile apps, browser plugins, and native apps for all major operating systems, you can track all of your activity, everywhere. See where your strengths and weaknesses are.

Cons

  • Can’t block native apps. This is one of my main complaints with RescueTime. As of right now, its FocusTime capability only blocks distracting websites, but cannot block distracting apps — this last feature would bring the app from 4.5 stars to solid 5 stars in my opinion.

  • Can’t create new categories. RescueTime is opinionated about the main categories. This is another main complaint I have — being able to define myself the main categories would allow me to completely customize my experience. For now, I’m making do with adding custom subcategories as best as I can in the main categories.

Overall, RescueTime is an application I would highly recommend for people looking to track their time and comprehensively view their habits at an eagle’s eye view.

RescueTime has been instrumental in helping me block, uninstall, and kill distractions before they get seriously out of hand.

I’m unfortunately going to be uninstalling a few video games soon…

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