Can knowing how we spend our time make us more productive? RescueTime says yes. RescueTime is an Internet tool that tracks what users do all day so they can learn where they’re wasting time, get better at self-management, and make changes that (ideally) amp up productivity. Greatist tried out RescueTime to give you the inside scoop.
How it Works
RescueTime's premise is simple: Sign up (Greatist used a free trial of the Pro version), install the monitoring device on the computer, establish some preferences and categories (Should it monitor activity 24/7? Just during business hours? Should it block certain websites?) and wait for the data to start collecting. The device monitors the websites and computer programs users visit and also prompts users to categorize time spent away from the computer. If the mouse hasn’t moved in a few minutes, a window pops up asking “What were you doing since ___?”, with the option to select “meeting,” “phone call,” “other work,” or “don’t log this time.”
Once the tool has some data to work with, users can visit a customized dashboard to start learning how they spend their time. The dashboard for the Pro version is jam-packed with info, including bar graphs comparing time spent on various activities; maps of users’ productivity by day, week, month, or year; graphs showing when during the day a user is most or least productive; and an Efficiency Summary that tells users the exact percentage of time they’ve spent being productive. There are lots of similar products out there, but RescueTime won our vote for its positive reviews
RescueTime and I got off to a rocky start. I successfully installed the program (or so the website told me) and, per the instructions, waited several hours to check back on my stats so the download had time to gather some data. Much to my chagrin, when I checked back I discovered the installation hadn’t collected any data past the first two minutes of my activity (I was apparently productive for only one minute and 37 seconds the first day!). After three re-installation attempts, I didn’t have any more problems, but the damage had already been done: That first “workless” day brought my averages for the week way down. since the data is cumulative, this meant I'd be working from incorrect data for all the weekly summaries. Frustrating, for sure.
Still, RescueTime had some useful tricks up its sleeve. It was certainly eye-opening to learn that all those minutes on Gmail are adding up to more than an hour each day. The software helped me learn that it was time to change my emailing routines. And it was a nice boost to my self-esteem to see that, aside from the email issue, I’m actually pretty darn productive at work, with nearly all my time (five-plus hours/day) spent researching and writing. (RescueTime’s average user spends two hours a day being productive. Take that!) If nothing else, seeing where I was productive motivated me to keep being productive.
The daily and weekly tallies — and thus the productivity percentages — were basically rendered meaningless through a combination of technological failure and my own failure to start the tracker the moment I set to work: I had to manually re-start the program every day, so if I forgot until, say, 11:30 (which I did, twice), several hours of productive work had already gone uncounted. Also, the tool doesn’t provide any tips for what to do with the information a user gleans. OK, so I’m spending a lot of time on Gmail, but what do I do about it? It would be awesome if the tool provided actionable advice for becoming more productive.
RescueTime is useful for tracking exactly how much time users spend on certain activities, which empowers us to decide if that’s how we want to spend our time. At $72 a year for the Pro version (and no cost for the “Lite” option), RescueTime isn't a massive investment. But unless a person is way off task on a regular basis, users really only need a week or so to get a sense of how they’re using and misusing their time. It's hard to say what works for other people, so check out RescueTime's free version or the two-week free trial of Pro (be warned: you have to give a credit card number for the trail, so remember to opt out if you decide not to use it). If knowledge is power, than RescueTime could be one key to more productivity.
Have you tried any productivity apps to save time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or reach Laura at @literaturebites.