Protip: Keeping track of “sometimes productive” sites…

One of our users just wrote in a feature request:

“…sometimes overall efficiency as measured between “productive” and “unproductive” applications/websites is a poor measure. For example I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia because I’m learning something useful for my job. I also spend a lot of time on Wikipedia because I wiki-walk out of curiosity wayyy off the beaten path that I should be on for work. I start out with finding a definition for a term I didn’t know, and I end up in quantum mechanics 3 hours later. There needs to be some sort of “distraction-checker” or a way to teach rescue time what’s related to the intended task, so you can stay on it, and know when you’re deviating from it.”

Which was echoed in a different context by another user:

“One example of this would be StackOverflow, which I visit often but reach in one of two ways: either I follow a link from Hacker News to a joke question, which is unproductive, or I follow a link from Google to a question pertaining to what I’m working on, which is productive.”

RescueTime currently doesn’t have any real way of understanding the context of your visit to a site. But these are legitimate points. Sometimes, a site can be both productive and a time-waster, depending on what the user is doing there. It would be great to understand when you’re throwing time away on these sites.

Here’s a partial solution that uses the current capabilities of RescueTime. It’s not perfect, but will help you at least get an understanding of how much time you spend on sites like these.

How to understand time spent in sites that are sometimes productive, but sometimes distracting as well.

NOTE: part of this solution relies on some features only available to RescueTime Pro users, but you should still be able to get some value out of it as a RescueTime Lite user.

Take a few sites that you find both productive and unproductive, depending on your context. For this example, I’m going to use Wikipedia and StackOverflow, because they were given in our users’ examples, and they share the same characteristic of “Places you can do research but you can also get sucked into for longer than you’d like”.

Step one: Go to your manage categories page ( and create a new category in the “Reference & Learning” bucket. Call it something like “maybe distracting” and set it’s productivity level to something appropriate. I’m leaving mine at 1 because it’s sometimes productive, but not always”

Step two: Now, go to your activities page ( and look for Wikipedia and StackOverflow. Add those to the new category you just created.

Step three: You should now have a category page you can go to to see how much time you are spending on those sites. You can click the “by day” tab to see a more granular view of how you might be getting carried away with those sites. You can even add the graph to your RescueTime dashboard so you can refer to it easily.

Step four (RescueTime Pro only): If you are a RescueTime Pro user, you can set an alert by going to and clicking “add an alert”. Set it to alert you if you spend more than an hour per day on sites in the “Maybe distracting” category.

That way, you’ll get a little nudge when you’ve been on  these sites longer than you think you should in a given day. Sure, there will be some days that you are legitimately doing research for a long time, but a trick like this can help you understand your patterns and make adjustments where you feel they are needed.

It’s a little bit of up-front work, but hopefully will help you get a better handle on those sites that fall into a productivity grey area.

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Robby Macdonell

CEO at RescueTime