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?


Using personal data to find work/life balance

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Belle Beth Cooper. She is the co-founder of Exist, a kick-ass personal analytics platform that we recently launched an integration with. If you have ever wanted to examine the relationships between your RescueTime productivity stats and other data points such as mood, sleep or fitness, Exist is a great option.

Balance
I love the word balance. It implies that you have enough of everything. You’re not wanting for anything, or drowning in anything. When we talk about work/life balance, it means you’re getting enough work done, but you’re also spending enough time resting, relaxing, and attending to your family, hobbies, and interests outside work.

For those of us whose work tends to blend into our lives it’s even more important to find this balance. For my co-founder Josh and I, we find ourselves working in some form or another every single day. Which means if we’re not working we tend to feel a nagging sensation that we should be, because it’s become our default state.

Not to mention the ever-growing mountain of side projects and volunteer activities we want to take on, and new skills we want to learn.

I’ve always been keen to fill up every day with learning and practising new skills, but I’ve never been great at making sure I get enough exercise. Maybe you have a particular area of work or life that gets neglected. My ongoing imbalance was the impetus for me to start tracking my activity and other areas of my life.

I started out with a simple activity tracker on my phone, and graduated to wearing a Fitbit all day, every day. I use apps like RescueTime to track what I do each day, and put as much of this data into Exist as I can.

Exist is designed to help you find meaning in the data you track. There are three big reasons it’s helpful for finding that balance between work and “life” activities: it uncovers hidden correlations and trends, it has built-in mood tracking, and it creates personalised goals based on your data.

Data insights

Tracking data about my own activities causes me to ask myself questions like “Am I improving?” and “Have I been doing x more or less this month?”. Exist helps me answer these questions by surfacing insights into my data. For example, I recently had this insight on my dashboard:

Walking less this week

8,545 average steps, 1% decrease

Walking less isn’t something I want to make a habit of, but thankfully I only dropped by 1% in the past week. And knowing that my overall average steps is around 8,000 per day, I’m pretty happy with that average from last week.

I also noticed these sleep-related insights recently:

Sleep insights

For some people, going to bed later and getting less sleep would be a bad thing but those sleep numbers are pretty good for me. I have a tendency to oversleep some days, just because I don’t have a set time I have to start work, and it tends to set my day up badly. Knowing this, I’m putting in a conscious effort to not stay in bed too long in the mornings, and these insights show that it’s working.

Averages

Seeing what my average is for each type of data can be illuminating, too. Exist breaks down averages by day of the week, as well as showing my overall average for each data point.

Exist averages

(Note: I used a Jawbone UP between my Fitbit Force breaking and the Fitbit Charge being released, which doesn’t track floors. I haven’t been wearing my Fitbit Charge long enough to increase my floors average yet)

It’s good to see, for instance, that my average mood is 4/5. It’s also pretty obvious, looking at this chart, that I tend to rate my mood higher on weekends.

I can also see that I tend to walk more on Fridays, and that my average steps is just over 8,000 per day.

My productivity tends to dip on weekends, and jumps up most on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This makes sense, since Monday is our catch up day at Hello Code, so Tuesday is when I start to really get stuck into my work for the week.

I like knowing these averages, because it helps me calibrate my own goals. If you’ve ever used a fitness tracker or a pedometer app on your phone, you’ve probably been confronted with a suggested (or enforced) 10,000 steps per day goal. Although this might be suggested as a healthy amount of exercise for adults, it’s ridiculous to expect someone who walks 3,000 steps per day on average to suddenly jump up to 10,000.

8,000 steps per day has been my average for the past six months or so. I know this is the amount of exercise I get without trying too hard, so if I want to increase my activity levels I’ll know to start by aiming for around 8,500 steps.

Correlations

Seeing the correlations between different data points is one of the most surprising and useful parts of Exist. Although correlation doesn’t imply causation (i.e. just because two things are related doesn’t mean one causes the other), correlations can still give us useful clues into our existing behaviour and how different things affect us.

I’m especially interested in what affects my productivity (tracked with RescueTime) – both negatively and positively. I’d like to learn from my correlations so I can set myself up for the best chance of being productive each day.

Here are some of my current productivity correlations:

You are somewhat less likely (35%) to be productive when you walk more.

This is a fairly obvious one. The more I’m exercising, the more time I’m spending away from my desk. If I had a treadmill desk I might be able to turn this correlation around…

You are somewhat more likely (26%) to have a better day when you're productive.

I’m pleased to see that I have a better day when I’m productive. I’d be in a tricky position if being productive put me in a bad mood!

You are slightly less likely (22%) to be productive when it's warmer overnight.

Although I don’t work at night, a warm overnight temperature usually means less sleep (or lower quality sleep), which doesn’t bode well for a productive day. It also means it’s likely that the next day will be warm, which makes me uncomfortable and less likely to get work done.

I can also see from my correlations what affects my mood, and when I’m more likely to exercise:

You are somewhat less likely (22%) to have a good day when you climb more floors.

Lots of floors climbed could either be walking up and down hills (yuck) or staying home all day where I go up and down stairs a lot.

You are somewhat less likely (27%) to walk more on days after you've gone to bed later.

You are somewhat more likely (24%) to be walking when it's raining or snowing.

I don’t purposely go out walking in the rain, but I guess it just happens to catch me often.

Mood tracking

Exist has built-in mood tracking that works via a simple email. Every night at 9pm you get an email you can reply to including a rating for your day from 1-5 (1 being terrible, 5 being perfect) and a note about what happened.

Exist mood email

Mood tracking is a really simple way to make sure you reflect on what happens each day and how you feel. We’re adding mood tracking to our mobile apps (currently in beta testing) to make it even easier: each night at 9pm you’ll get a notification that will take you to a simple form with five numbered buttons and a box to type your note into.

Exist mobile apps

Although I tend to dread the effort of thinking back over my day and choosing a rating for it, I’ve found mood tracking to be so useful that I’ve kept it up for over a year now. As I go about my day, I tend to be more mindful of how things affect me because I always have in mind that I’ll be rating my day later and making a note about what happened.

My favourite part of mood tracking is that in the nightly emails we’ve added a feature called “Looking back” that shows you the mood entry you made on this day one year ago, or a random old entry if you don’t have one from exactly a year ago. It’s fun to open the email wondering how I felt and what I was doing this time last year, and to reflect on the notes I left to myself.

looking back

This reflective feature also makes me more mindful each night of what I enter as my note. Knowing that I’m essentially leaving a note to my future self each day helps me think about what was most important about my day, and what I’d want to know about it on this day in the future.

I also love comparing my old mood notes with my partner Josh to see what he wrote on the same day. We’ll often find we both mentioned something fun we did together, or the weather or some big news that was happening at the time.

Using averages as goals

We dropped goals from Exist a few months ago. One of the problems we’ve always had personally when tracking our behaviour, especially exercise, is working to hit a particular goal every day and losing motivation to do so after a while.

These days we use averages as goals. It works like this: if today is Monday, we create your steps goal for today by finding the average of your steps for every Monday in the past 90 days. We do this for productivity goals, too. So if you’ve been working late on Friday nights in the past few weeks, your RescueTime data will reflect that and your productivity goal will be higher on Fridays.

Averages as goals

And here’s why it’s awesome:

I don’t need to waste any time setting goals. Exist does it for me, and each goal is personalised to me.

This also means I’m competing against myself. Every goal is created from averages of my own data, so I’m only ever competing against “past me”, rather than aiming for a goal set by someone else.

And lastly, it’s always up-to-date. When I moved house recently my average steps per day dropped as my situation changed, and after a few weeks my averages started to reflect that. Because we only use averages based on the last 90 days of your data, your goals will always reflect what your activity has been like recently.

This affects each daily goal, as well. If you play in a sports team on Wednesday nights and get lots of steps those days, your Wednesday average will be higher than other days. Exist will create a goal for you, then, that will be higher on Wednesdays than it will on other days. This makes sure your goal is always as appropriate as it’s based on your existing behaviour.

I tend to get number fatigue really easily, so aiming for a set goal every day didn’t motivate me for long at all. One thing I really enjoy about having a new goal created for me each day is that I need to check Exist to see what my goal is. The simple act of checking my goal is a good reminder to be more active or productive.


With just RescueTime, mood tracking, and an activity tracking device or app, you can get a lot of useful data. Exist connects to other service like Twitter and last.fm as well, but just a few data points are enough to start seeing insights and correlations that will help you improve your work/life balance.

You can try it yourself with a 14-day free trial (note: we start you off with a set goal and switch to averages as goals once we’ve collected enough data).


February updates: Smarter website categorization, video tracking, email preferences, and more!

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We’ve pushed a bunch of new improvements out this month. We’ve been able to boost performance, add new features, and address some of our most long-standing support requests. Happy slightly-late Valentine’s day, everybody! :)

Subdomain categorization / scoring

We often see some form of this question in our support forums:

I see a lot of subdomains in my uncategorized time report. Can I create a rule somewhere to auto-categorize any site that matches the pattern “*.example.com”?

Many sites have subdomains that all show up as separate activities in RescueTime. It’s a pain to have to categorize all of them, and that’s a problem because it leads to a LOT of websites being uncategorized. Having a lot of uncategorized time really reduces the value of your reports. We just changed our categorization logic so all subdomains automatically inherit from their root domain. This instantly makes our default categorizations a LOT better across the board. You can still override the defaults just like before, should you find a sub-domain that doesn’t fit the domain default.

This is a huge help for things like…

  • Reference sites: *.stackexchange.com, *.about.com
  • Local classified sites: *.craigslist.com, *.backpage.com
  • Major blog platforms: *.tumblr.com, *.wordpress.com, *.blogspot.com
  • Local development servers: *.localhost, *.localhost:8080

MUCH more accurate video logging

video logging

Another common support request is better handling for video. RescueTime uses mouse and keyboard interaction to determine if you have left the computer, and stops logging after a period of no activity. This has an obvious flaw when it comes to video, or any other hands-free application or website. We added some special handling for known video websites and applications, so your logs will be much more complete and meaningful.

You can now have a MUCH more accurate record when you binge watch the new season of House of Cards in a couple weeks!

For this first version, we’re supporting: VLC, Quicktime, Windows Media Player, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. We have plans to expand this list in the future.

Choice of delivery date for the weekly summary report

Your "Start of the Week" day will determine when your weekly summary arrives.

Your “Start of the Week” day will determine when your weekly summary arrives.

In your preferences section, you can set your preferred day to start your week. Some people prefer it to be Sunday, others Monday. But regardless of your preference, we used to send out all weekly summary emails on Sundays. We’ve just split the summary emails out into two different batches for each preferred week-start date.

Track your Github commits as Highlight events

commit-highlights-example

We recently added API support for RescueTime Premium’s Highlight Event logging. We’re working on several ways to automatically get highlight information into RescueTime, and we just added support for Git commits via a post-commit hook you can add to your Git projects.

Read this blog post to learn more.

Day-timer windows now show the elapsed time in the window title

day-timer-tabs

You can open a day-timer window for any category, productivity level, application, or website and track where your time is going throughout the day. The only problem is the timer windows take up a lot of space. One of our users recently made a suggestion in our forums to add the elapsed time into the title bar, then the timers can be placed in a tab. It’s an amazing reduction in screen real-estate and lets you keep your stats right in front of you as you work. (Thanks Michael!)

RescueTime for Android can receive alerts as push notifications

We released an updated version of RescueTime for Android that features better reports and the ability to receive push notifications for your alerts. We are going to be doing a lot of work on our mobile apps over the next few months, so expect this to just get better and better.

Lots and lots of performance improvements and bug fixes

In addition to the features above, we made several major performance improvements to make everything faster and more reliable.

We also fixed an early front runner for the prestigious “most ridiculous bug of 2015″ award: FocusTime was broken on OS X if you were using Firefox AND had the Caps Lock key on. (our reaction when we discovered it)

I hope these updates help make your RescueTime experience better. We’ve got a lot more on the way so stay tuned!


Keep track of your Git commits using RescueTime Highlight Events

I spend a significant chunk of my work day writing code. Some of that is building new features, some of it is fixing bugs, and still more of it is going back to refactor something I sloppily threw together earlier. I’m doing a lot of different things, and it’s often hard to remember them all.

Luckily, Git forces me to leave a log message about what I’ve changed with each commit. It’s a good audit trail. If anything ever goes wrong, we can usually roll back through the Git commit logs and easily figure out the likely culprit.

But commit messages represent something more than just a way to make code rollbacks easier. They’re also a pretty useful document of how I spent my time. Reviewing the contents of git log is pretty clunky, so we just added a way to easily import your git commit messages into RescueTime Premium as highlight events.

commit-highlights-example

Adding commit logs to my Highlights stream helps me understand my software development time better. Was I working on the right things? Did the amount of time I spent coding that day really make sense compared to what I actually checked in? When I get really busy, work becomes a blur, so it’s nice to have an easy list to review at the end of the week and remind me that, yes, I actually did accomplish some stuff. :)

They’re also really useful alongside the rest of my highlight events, so I can see how all my activities are lining up and if I’m neglecting anything. I use different labels to group commits for different projects, so I can see how often I’m committing code for the RescueTime web site, the browser extension, or any of our other projects.

How to log your own Git commits as RescueTime Highlights:

  1. Make sure you have RescueTime Premium. You will need it to post highlights.
  2. Go to our Git integration page and generate a post-commit hook file. You can customize the highlight label (‘code commit’ vs. ‘website project commit’, vs. etc…), and choose whether or not to ignore commit messages less than 20 characters. I do this so I can skip over commit messages like “oops, typo”.
  3. Save the generated file in your Git project’s .git/hooks directory
  4. Give the file executable permissions (chmod +x post-commit)
My commit history on my RescueTime dashboard

My commit history on my RescueTime dashboard

That’s it! All future commits will automatically be logged as highlight events in RescueTime and will show up on your dashboard and the weekly email reports. It’s just one more way you can save yourself some typing and still keep a rich record of your accomplishments.

What do you think?


Updated Again: Samsung and LG’s build of Android 5 (Lollipop) for the G3 and S5 (some) missing core OS libraries

Update 2015-02-23: It appears the Android 5 build on the Samsung S5 in certain markets is also broken in this way. Vote with your wallets, people. Or retweet our rant.

Just a short post to rant about LG.

Our European users, where LG is first rolling out their Android 5 update for the G3, have reported an issue with RescueTime. It turns out the issue is actually with LG’s Android 5 build.

It appears that LG has pushed out a variant build of Android 5 missing an entire library that is part of the SDK specification for build level 21 (Android 5), the “android.app.usage” API.

Android 5 removed the old system level features RescueTime used to make the product work, but replaced those features with better, more robust, and safer features in the app usage API.

For some reason, LG has managed to produce a build that apparently selectively rips out this part of Android. I haven’t read the fine print, but I wonder if this violates Google’s more recent licensing of Android that attempts to reduce fragmentation.

How are developers supposed to build apps for the Play Store, if manufacturers break the core SDK like this?