The data is in, I’m a distracted driver.

Image source

Anti-texting sign in Nashville, TN (Image source)

I have a confession to make, and it’s not easy. I’ve been driving like a jerk. I just found out and I feel horrible about it.

I don’t speed. I don’t tailgate. I don’t run red lights. At least, not that I’m aware of. The problem is I’m distracted by my phone… a lot…  and I didn’t realize just how bad it is until I analyzed some data about myself. I wanted to believe the data was wrong, but after triple-checking and turning the data over numerous ways, it was clear.

23% of the time I’m in my car I’m doing something on my phone.

How I figured it out.

RescueTime’s Android app gives me a record of the time I spend doing things on my phone, and I had recently been working on an integration with Automatic (a mobile app and device that plugs into a car’s diagnostic port and gives data about driving time). I was hoping to find some interesting stats showing how the time I spent driving compared to my time on the computer (“do I spend more time driving or doing software development?”, for example).

It occurred to me that I could also cross-reference the time I spent in the car with my other activities to see if there was any overlap. This would show me the time I spent doing things on my phone while my car was running. I knew that I occasionally check my phone while at a stoplight, and I sometimes make calls when I’m behind the wheel (hands-free through my car’s bluetooth, of course). But I figured that time was minimal, and looking at the data should validate that. At worst, I thought I’d see something that I could use to humblebrag about how, while I might not be perfect, I was certainly a hell of a lot better about it than the people I have a habit of judging mercilessly whenever they weave into my lane while obviously doing something on their phone (an unfortunately common thing in my neighborhood).

Snapshot: Driving time vs time doing something other than driving.

Snapshot: one day’s driving time vs time doing something else, while driving.

I was totally unprepared for the results I saw. It looked really bad. My immediate reaction was that my math was wrong, or that some bug that was over-reporting my time. But it certainly couldn’t be correct, could it? After some more analysis I was able to find a couple patterns that I could legitimately exclude (I tend to spend a minute or so futzing with my music app at the very beginning of trips looking for a song I want to listen to, for example). Maybe it wouldn’t end up being that bad.

After multiple passes through the numbers looking for false positives, I still ended up with 23% of my time for the month of April was distracted. Nearly a quarter of the time my car’s ignition is on, I’m doing something on my phone. There’s still SOME noise in there that’s impossible to untangle with the data I have (time spent at stop lights, trips where I’m actually a passenger in the car, etc), but the overall numbers are uncomfortably high.

Some of the things that just couldn’t wait until I was done driving. Ugh, there’s even a website called “distractify” on there.

Some of the things that just couldn’t wait until I was done driving. Ugh, there’s even a website called “distractify” on there.

It’s dangerous, and embarrassingly hypocritical

Bouncing back and forth between all those different activities puts me in a state where I’m paying less attention to everything, and when one of those activities is operating a moving vehicle, that can be really bad. Driving while texting is equivalent to driving after drinking four beers, and distracted driving is responsible for upwards of 25% of all accidents in the United States. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’ve been putting people around me at risk, needlessly.

That realization stings extra because it’s something I already agreed was a problem… when other people do it. As a pedestrian, I’ve dodged my share of distracted drivers and I’m rarely shy about letting them know exactly how I feel about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with friends about how “drivers around here are just the worst! None of them can keep their dumb jerk eyes on the road!” Oof. I’m surprised by the disconnect. Why did it never occur to me that I’m doing the thing that I get mad at others for doing? Maybe it’s that checking my phone has become an unconscious habit and I’m not even aware of it, like this 2012 study discovered? Or perhaps I just assume the things I do on my phone are ok, because of course they’ll just take a couple of seconds and won’t add up to much. Obviously, there are some flaws with that thinking, as it only takes a couple of seconds for something to go terribly wrong. But the more glaring issue here is that it’s clearly rarely “just a couple seconds.” 

So what now? How do I fix this?

It feels really bad to learn something like this, but there is a silver lining here. I was able to discover this about myself by looking at rows on a spreadsheet, rather than after crashing into something (or someone). I feel lucky, and hope it will be a wake up call. Now I can take action to change my behavior. Even better, I have metrics I can use to prove to myself I’ve changed. Here are a few things I’m doing to respond to it.

I turned off non-essential notifications on my phone

Push notifications are one of the most sure-fire ways to take me out of the moment and pull my attention elsewhere. I really don’t like them when I’m working, and do my best to silence them. But it’s easy for me to convince myself that I need them, or I’ll miss something important. Really though, there’s very little real benefit to 90% of the beeps and buzzes that come out of my phone. I’ve gone through all my apps and turned off all notifications except for things that are actually really important. This will also help me at work, when the notifications will pull me away when I’m trying to concentrate on something.

I’m trying to drive less

This might not be the most practical choice (especially since I moved to the suburbs a few months ago), but the easiest way to combat my fidgety nature while driving is simply to remove the car from the equation altogether. I’m trying to walk more (where having my head buried in my phone can still be dangerous, but much less so), or ride a bike, where my hands are occupied.

I’m talking to people about it

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really have much to compare my data to. I have no clue if I’m an extreme outlier here or not. Rather than keep it all in my head, I’m telling people about what I’ve learned, and hoping that I can get some better context around it. I’ve also built some reporting into RescueTime so others can look at similar data for themselves. I hope that with more people having a data-driven conversation, we can all start to come up with smarter ways of dealing with it.

If you’re interested in tracking this data about yourself, all you need is a RescueTime account (the free one will work just fine), an Android phone with the RescueTime app installed, and an Automatic Adapter (which costs $100, but you can get 20% off with this link).

Don’t judge me too harshly, ok? Please?

This was sort of a hard post to write (“Hey! Look at me! I’m awful!” posts generally are), but hopefully it helps people be a little more thoughtful about their time behind the wheel. If you have any thoughts or experiences with your own driving time, please feel free to share in the comments.


New integration with Automatic: Track your driving time like your computer time

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Today we’re launching a new integration with Automatic that will make it possible to track your driving time just like you would any other application or website. There are SO many interesting questions that can be answered here, like: “How does your commute relate to your time at work?”, “Do you tend to log most time in the car around rush hour?”, “If so, does shifting your time one way or the other help you spend less time in traffic?”

What is Automatic?

Automatic is a mobile app and small adapter that works by plugging into your car’s diagnostic port. It fits on nearly all newer cars and gives you information about gas milage, check engine notifications, and your driving efficiency. Read more about how it works over on the Automatic web site.

How Automatic works with RescueTime

After setting up Automatic and connecting it to your RescueTime account, all future trips will be logged in RescueTime as “Driving”. These will fit into your existing RescueTime reports just like any other application or website, and you can categorize them however you like. You will also unlock a special driving report that will give you details about when you drive, how it relates to the other time you log, and what other activities you might be logging while you are driving (be careful out there!).

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Some of the things you can do with this integration:

  • See the overall amount of time you spend driving per day, week, or month.
  • Set an alert letting you know when you’ve been in a car for more than 2 hours in a day (reminding you to go for a walk to balance things out)
  • See how much time you spend working vs. driving to work.
  • See how much time you spend driving compared to other categories of activity. How do you feel about the balance?
  • See activities that are logged while you are driving. If you have the RescueTime Android app installed, this will give you a valuable look into how distracted you may be while driving.
  • If you are a RescueTime premium subscriber, you can categorize your individual trips, allowing you to separate out your commute from the rest of your driving time, for example.

How to link your accounts

Once you have Automatic set up in your car, visit our integration page and link your account. You can unlink it at any time if you decide you want to stop logging your driving time.

If you don’t currently have an Automatic car adapter, you can get one for a 20% discount here.

We’re really excited to open up this new data stream into our reports, and can’t wait to see what insights it generates. I hope you enjoy it! Please let us know what you think!


Standing desks increase productivity (but you have to do it right)

sitting-smoking

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

It’s an increasingly common and playfully snarky phrase coined by Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. For anyone who’s slogged through a long, sloop-shouldered day at a desk, the dangers of sitting are intuitively easy to believe. Standing desks are becoming an iconic symbol of personal wellness in the workplace. However, it’s worth understanding the pros and cons of life on foot before throwing out the office chair.

Why stand?

Levine and like-minded researchers are inspiring a growing revolution of students and workers to stand up and shake free from the dangerous shackles of our chairs. In a 2014 interview with the L.A. Times, Levine addressed many of the dangers associated with sitting, ending with a statement that we are quite literally “sitting ourselves to death” with our modern, sedentary lifestyle.

Health concerns aren’t the only driving factor behind the move to standing desks, however. A recent study of school-aged children shows that standing students are both more attentive and more engaged in the classroom. Researchers at Texas A&M gave groups of students standing desks for a year. The results showed that students at standing desks were 12 percent more engaged than their seated counterparts. If you’re looking to eliminate distractions and increase productivity, wringing an extra 7 minutes out of each hour sounds like a pretty good place to start!

So … now my feet hurt

It might seem like any suitably tall counter or tabletop can replace traditional desks. Do we just throw out our chairs and soldier on without them? That’s a possibility and will probably work for some, but we’re seeing that a more balanced, less all-in approach might be warranted.

Standing still is not a cure-all replacement for sitting still. Our bodies are complex physical structures capable of and designed for a dynamic range of movement. The sedentary aspect of standing or sitting for too long creates stresses on the body that accumulate over time. Those physical strains can result in fatigue, and – if not managed properly – potential injury.

Additionally, not all activities are particularly well suited for standing. A February article from the U.S. News and World Report looks at situations where the move to a standing desk provided frustration rather than increased productivity. Certain fine motor skill tasks are more difficult to perform when not seated. In these situations, a standing desk might still be a good idea, but maybe only for breaks or associated support tasks like email and phone calls. For some high-concentration or physically precise jobs, the chair may simply remain a necessary evil.

Which desk is the right desk?

Standing desks can be easy and affordable to make, but if the Cadillac approach is more your style, there are fancy motorized options with programmable settings, notifications, and even fitness data tracking(Around the RescueTime offices we’ve used everything from a $1000+ GeekDesk to a pile of creatively stacked computer boxes.)

Treadmill or walking desks are also becoming increasingly common and commercial options are available. However, as with standing desks, budget options are also completely legitimate. For reference, here’s the total overall investment in my own walking desk:

$50 treadmill from Craigslist, $9 in beer for the buddy that helped me move it, $16 for a  pre-fab shelf from the local DYI store.

$50 treadmill from Craigslist, $9 in beer for the buddy that helped me move it, $16 for a pre-fab shelf from the local DYI store.

Voilà! A walking workstation for less that a hundred bucks.

Despite the potential benefits and relative ease of making the switch, it’s probably a good idea to figure out if a standing desk is right for you before committing big bucks and lots of office floor space to a pricey option. Here are some ways RescueTime can help:

  1. Measure your productivity during work for one week sitting and one week standing, and see if there is a noticeable difference. If you end up being more productive with a hacked together standing desk setup, it probably makes sense to invest in a more permanent setup.
  2. Set a RescueTime alert to prompt movement between sitting and standing, or to step away to stretch for a few minutes after each hour of work. This may help you to avoid investing in an adjustable desk only to have it languish in a sitting position all the time.

Have you had a good or bad experience with a standing desk? Please share your tips in the comments!


Two new integration updates for GitHub and Gyroscope

We’re launching some new integrations this week, giving you new ways to keep track of your time and tell interesting stories with your data.

integration-example-gyroscope-report

A weekly report from Gyroscope

Log highlights for your code commits directly through GitHub

github-iconSeveral weeks ago, we launched support for logging your code commits from your Git projects. It’s been pretty popular, and we’ve logged thousands of commit messages since launching the feature. We did, however, get some feedback that the setup could be simplified. Today we’re launching an alternative way to log commits for your projects that are hosted on GitHub. Instead of configuring and installing a post-commit hook, you can just connect your RescueTime account to GitHub and select the projects you would like to track. From then on, whenever you push code to GitHub for those projects, all your commit messages will be logged.

Learn more on the GitHub integration page

The original post-commit hook method is still available, and should be used for projects that are not hosted on GitHub, or for projects that you do not have admin rights on the repository.

Use Gryroscope to see beautiful reports for all your different data streams

Gryroscope is a new lifelogging aggregator that combines several streams of data into beautiful reports. Combine your Tweets, Foursquare checkins, Fitness trackers, and RescueTime productivity data. Each week you’ll get a gorgeous infographic report summarizing all your activities.

Learn more on the Gyroscope integration page

More integrations coming soon

We’re working on some more integrations and hope to have new things to share soon. Keep checking back on our integrations page for the latest and greatest.

Do you have any other services you’d like to see RescueTime work more closely with? If so let us know in the comments.


Tracking my data proved that I’m actually kicking ass (even when it feels like I’m not)

megan-post-header

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Megan Seling, Culture Editor at the alt-weekly newspaper The Nashville Scene. It’s a world of constant tight deadlines and moving pieces – exactly the type of environment where it’s easy to lose track of the time. We asked her to share some ways that RescueTime helps her make it through the day. You can follow Megan on Twitter at @mseling.

I don’t track my personal data well. Okay, scratch that — I don’t really track my personal data at all. I am a writer, and for a very long time I believed the only legitimate measure of my productivity (read: evidence I wasn’t a worthless human being) was based on the number of blog posts, articles, or cookbooks that I actually published.

That’s not true, of course. The time spent writing those words means something, too. But because so much of my career has been spent at a fast-paced weekly newspapers with even faster-paced blogs, I spent nearly my entire adult life believing the lie that the amount of time I spent on the blog post or article or interview didn’t matter and that there was only one measurement of true productivity: If my byline didn’t go up, my day was a waste. Using RescueTime over the last few years has absolutely changed my perspective on how I view my own productivity, though, and it has taught me to trust and appreciate the writing process.

When I first got RescueTime, there were days I wouldn’t publish a single word yet I’d have a productivity pulse in the 80s or 90s, thanks to hours spent banging my head into a keyboard. I was shocked. Wait, even though all I did was write, delete, write some more without any grand finale, my day wasn’t a complete waste? All those hours of typing, revising, and deciding ultimately to “sleep on it” was worth something? Lookatmego! It might’ve taken me a couple days (or weeks) to finish a story, but at least I had evidence that it was being worked on. (Related: I so regret not using RescueTime when I wrote a cookbook in 2011 because now that it’s all over I have no idea how I did it — all I remember is staring blankly at my Twitter timeline for hours on end while wishing the book would just write itself.)

But the productivity pulse can only account for so much. What about the days I had a low productivity pulse but felt busier than ever? What about the days I listened to the same record over and over and over again, trying to sort out exactly what about the guitar tone is so great (or annoying) so I could finish that album review that was three days late? What about all the meetings that were mostly just a bunch of smart people telling each other jokes for an hour until something sounded good enough to stick on paper? What about the days I was on assignment, hanging out in the kitchen with a punk rock pastry chef, learning her secrets and asking her about all the different kinds of sugar she uses for each dessert? Okay, now I’m just bragging. But really, with so much of my actual job being away from a computer, my productivity pulse wasn’t always a reliable representation of my work, either.

But now RescueTime is making it easier for me to recognize that work, too. They’ve always had the option to log time spent offline, but I never cared enough to actually do it — I never considered that time real work. The new Highlights feature has, once again, changed that. No matter how productive (or how unproductive) I am, the Highlights feature pops up on my screen a few times a day (I control how often) and it prompts me to log a few of the things I’ve gotten done so far.

Screenshot 2015-03-28 at 10.46.58 PM

December was all a blur, but thanks to Highlights I have evidence that I got things done amidst the craziness.

So right now, after every two hours of productive time, I get a pop up that alerts me of all the ass I’ve been kicking and then it reminds me to make a note of the other productive points in the day that may not have been picked up by Rescuetime. Like meetings, in-person interviews and reviewing things like movies and restaurants. It’s finally okay to not have a day that fits into a pretty little easily-defined productivity package. (This was especially helpful when I was doing a lot of freelance writing — being able to easily log offline work and log which work I got done on which assignment gave me hard evidence to better judge what kind of rate I should charge in order to make enough money without working 24/7.)

And, yes, how many things I publish any given day is still very important — Highlights can log those too, thanks to RescueTime’s integration with Zapier. Everytime my byline goes up, whether it’s a blog post or a story, it automatically gets listed among the other Highlights that show up in my weekly email.

I’m still not all that great at tracking my personal data — I’m the kind of person who will “forget” to wear their FitBit if I’m feeling especially lazy and don’t want to record an embarrassingly low number of steps that day — but even if I still can’t (or don’t want to) account for every second of the day, I now have indisputable evidence that it wasn’t a complete waste and I can stop being so hard on myself, even if I do still spend too much time on Twitter (some of it is for work, I swear!).

 

Full disclosure: I’m married to RescueTime’s Robby Macdonell (VP of Product Development) and I wrote this because he bribed me with pie. (Just kidding, of course, but he does make a really good key lime pie.)

 


Here are other examples of people using data to understand and optimize their days:

How I Used RescueTime to Baseline My Activity in 2014 and Set Goals for 2015
In an excellent, in-depth analysis, Author Jamie Todd Rubin looks back at how he spent his time in 2014 and uses it to create strategies to optimize his time moving forward.

The big mistake nearly every designer makes
Digital strategist Marie Poulin writes about building in “margin” into her schedule – critical time that’s held in reserve for the inevitable unplanned. Room to breathe, essentially. It’s easier said than done, and she takes a structured, analytical approach to fit it into her schedule.


Tip: Use RescueTime alerts to block distracting websites when you need to focus!

Middle of last year we rolled out a feature allowing alerts to start a FocusTime session.  Not to brag much, but it is an awesome feature that you may want to try if you are a premium user.  Sometimes those distracting activities are too tempting, “what just happened on …“, and the thought of focusing with, “let me start FocusTime” doesn’t really cross your mind, or if it does it may be followed by, “in just a moment.”

Here are some alert recipes that will trigger after set periods of Very Distracting time, allowing yourself a moment while keeping strict about your own productivity goals.

Alert Recipe: Triggers 30 minute FocusTime session first thing of the day

Alert Recipe: 10 distracted minutes triggers a 15 minute FocusTime session

Alert Recipe: 20 distracted minutes triggers a 30 minute FocusTime session

Alert Recipe: 1 hour of distracted time triggers FocusTime session until midnight

You can start with these or create your own custom alerts that can even be set on a time filter of set hours/days that you want to be productive so they don’t trigger when you desire the enjoyment from these distractions, say the weekend.


Making Games in a Weekend

Ludum Dare is an event held three times a year, where thousands of developers come together to create games, by themselves or in small collaborative teams, in 48 hours.  You did read that correctly, their games are created in 48 hours rather than the many months or years it would usually take.

I created a game small flash game, Precise Shot, during the 31st Ludum Dare event and with RescueTime data I was able to learn a few things about that weekend.

  • Sleeping was the single most time consuming activity: 15 hours 29 minutes.
  • Six hours of development efforts on the second day didn’t make it into the final game.
  • 76 minutes spent on twitter, composing 41 tweets.
  • The final hour was spent on the art, sounds and counting effects for the results screen.

Check out the results in more detail below: (click the image to make it larger)

precise_shot_time_graphic

What are some things you have learned since using RescueTime?