The modern computer is an incredible marvel of communication technology. It gives you access to loads of websites and applications, all competing for your attention. It can be a great productivity enhancement, as long as it’s not distracting you from your goals.
Without a doubt, the personal computer has revolutionized the modern workspace, in addition to almost every other part of modern life.
Nonetheless, with great technological power comes great responsibility; the temptation to browse endlessly can create a void where time that could’ve been spent working is otherwise wasted.
The best program designed to tackle this universal procrastination problem is RescueTime. Funded by Y Combinator and launched in 2007 by CEO Joe Hruska, RescueTime is an application designed to recover lost time by promoting self-awareness through frequent measurements of online behavior.
By seeing, showing, and suggesting improvements about how and where time is spent online, users receive objective feedback regarding their work and waste habits.
There are many programs to help improve productivity online, but RescueTime is the industry standard.
- Free version (Mac and PC) provides core program needed to analyze, interpret, and adapt levels of personal productivity.
- Runs 24/7 in the background (needs about 6.5 MB of RAM) and can be manually adjusted to measure working hours.
- No data entry required on user’s end.
- Automatically creates a series of visual graphs, charts, and percentages for easy digestion.
- Privacy: RescueTime doesn’t save or mine data. Discontinuing service automatically deletes all personal information.
- Paid version has customizable features to measure group activity, gauge time spent offline, provide comprehensive alerts, and block distracting websites.
Technical Specifications – How Does it Work?
A third-party, client-side software application is downloaded from RescueTime and installed on Mac or PC. From there, the application runs in the background and measures which application or web site is actively being used.
This data is actively processed using cloud server technology, allowing for near instant data analysis and retrieval without the need for a personal server or database.
In short, there are 2 components involved:
- Locally downloaded RescueTime application
- Online profile to view and customize statistical data gathered using the app
How is “Productivity” Measured?
There is no blanket definition for “productivity,” since everyone produces in their own way. For example, it might be productive for a sports writer to watch football all afternoon, but very unproductive for a web marketer to do the same.
RescueTime recognizes that “productivity” is a relative term and therefore, provides fully customizable features to tailor how it is measured.
When creating your profile, choosing “three most productive” and “three most distracting” activities give RescueTime a general outline to immediately begin measuring productivity. For accuracy reasons, it is highly recommended to fine-tune these choices later.
Once RescueTime knows what is relatively productive for you, it starts aggregating data and applying value measurements. These value measurements are known as the “productivity pulse.”
Productivity is given a “pulse” or percentage determined by a variety of categories and subcategories.
Categories (exhaustive list)
The categories list is limited to 12 different overarching productive activities.
- Communication & Scheduling
- Social Networking
- Design & Composition
- News & Opinion
- Reference & Learning
- Software Development
The sub-categories list, however, can be infinitely modified to add or subtract new activities.
Remember, it is very important to customize and personalize categories and subcategories as much as possible.
RescueTime values categories and subcategories on a 5 point, color-coded range.
Problems such as inaccurate productivity scores can arise when activities are scaled inappropriately.
For example, “Social Networking” such as Facebook and Twitter can be generalized as very distracting, but the subcategory “Professional networking” like LinkedIn can be a productive activity, but may be automatically set to neutral or distracting. It is best to manually adjust what is appropriately productive for you.
Additionally, Twitter might be used for work, but Facebook is a guilty pleasure. Simply “Add a new sub-category” called Twitter under the category “Social Networking,” and designate it as very productive.
You can figure out exactly what websites and applications go into your productivity pulse by clicking “more details” next to the desired category.
RescueTime wasn’t created with the goal to reach 100% productivity in your online and offline life. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; being productive 100% of the time is both unrealistic and unhealthy. People still need leisure time or else they run the risk of getting burnt out!
Therefore, a good score to aim for on your productivity pulse is around 75%. 75 is a good score because it is a humanely efficient percentage that accounts for certain variables such as time spent inactive, leisure time, and time offline.
The average user score across RescueTime’s database generally hovers around 67%, whereas the very people who created RescueTime report an average productivity of 79%. Even the developers admit, “the productivity score doesn’t tell you anything about what you actually produce.
It simply gives you an interesting baseline of where your attention is.” In other words, these percentages should not necessarily be used as a strict prescription for improvement, but rather as an intuitive reference for understanding personal patterns and tendencies.
Free vs. Paid
While the free, or “Lite” version of RescueTime provides more services than any other free efficiency tracking software, the paid, or “premium” version goes above and beyond.
In addition to more detailed reporting capabilities and faster processing, there are two very impressive features that come with the premium subscription. One is the ability to track time spent away from the computer, and the other is Focused Time, the additional software that provides an easy and effective way to block distracting websites.
Tracking Time Offline
Since time spent offline can still be productive, RescueTime Premium gives users the chance to get an even more accurate percentage by reporting how their time is spent when they return to the computer.
This additional feature measures the time you were away from the computer, and gives users the opportunity to accurately report how/where their time was spent. If any of the options provided aren’t accurate, users can choose “more options” where they can manually adjust and edit a graphical representation of the day.
If users don’t want their time spent away from the computer to be analyzed, the option “Don’t log this time” is available.
When you need to buckle down and avoid distracting websites, Focused Time provides a helpful boost.
Focused Time works by temporarily blocking websites that fall under the user’s “Very Distracting” category. Customization is key, since what’s distracting for one might not be distracting to others. Specific websites can be added or deleted from the Focused Time interface to fit anyone’s needs.
RescueTime Team Edition
RescueTime can even be utilized for entire businesses and groups of workers looking to improve how and where time is spent. With RescueTime Team Edition, a manager is given important insights about his or her employees’ habits, making it easier to spot organizational problems.
For example, managers can figure out if workers are spending too much time on email, figure out which applications are used and underused, and determine at what time of day workers are most productive.
The Team Edition can operate in Restricted Mode which only informs managers of their employees’ work habits. In Open Mode, employees can see their own data and how it compares with other members of the team.
While this kind of transparency might seem intrusive, it can work wonders for team competition, reduce resentment, identify unmotivated employees and promote unity. For these reasons, Team Edition works best for teams that share a high level of trust.
In business, time is money; the Team Edition promotes a greater sense of workplace transparency and employee engagement to benefit the bottom line.
One of the things that helps RescueTime get ahead of the competition is its dedication to protecting privacy and personal data. RescueTime does not sell, rent, or share personal information without explicit consent from the user.
Furthermore, the user has complete control and authority over the information collected and analyzed; you are able to delete all or some of your data at any time. If you choose to delete your account, all of the data associated with the account is automatically removed from the RescueTime database.
If you’re not seeing data on your dashboard or reports, there’s a few reasons this could be happening:
- Not enough time has passed to accrue data.
- The longer RescueTime is running for, the more aggregate data will be analyzed. Reports can be generated in as quickly as 30 minutes, but more time will provide more accurate reports.
- Network connection failure.
- An Internet connection is needed to run RescueTime; any interference with connectivity will stop the program from working.
- Logged in to multiple accounts.
- While RescueTime can be utilized across entire teams of people, an individual user cannot have their account running on two computers at once. Make sure that only one account is open per person at a time.
Boost Your Productivity with RescueTime
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More Info About Rescue Time
You might still have some questions:
- How can I use this to better manage my business?
- What’s a good way to balance productivity and team moral?
- Are there better options than Rescue Time?
Here’s an article about using Rescue time for team management and an alternative solution.