ProTip: Use Gmail to pipe your RescueTime alerts to IFTTT

ifttt-banner

We’re big fans of IFTTT (If This Then That), the awesome web utility that glues all your online services together via recipes that you create. You can use it to do all sort of things, such as:

  • Save articles that show up in a Google Alert for your name to Evernote
  • Backup pictures you post to Facebook in your Dropbox account
  • Update your Twitter profile picture when your Facebook profile pic changes
  • Text yourself the weather every morning
  • Save your Foursquare checkins to Google Calendar

One of our users recently asked us about integrating RescueTime with IFTTT, and I think it’s a fantastic idea.

RescueTime Pro users can send themselves alert notifications by email or via a popup on their computer. Wouldn’t it be great if we could let those alerts act as triggers for events in other applications? Imagine the possibilities.

We’re exploring what would be involved in an official integration, but in the meantime, you can use Gmail to bridge your RescueTime alerts with IFTTT actions. Here’s an example based on our user’s suggestion of piping the timestamps of the alert notification to a spreadsheet so he can track the time of day he triggers the alert. For this example, you’ll need a Gmail account, an IFTTT.com account, and a RescueTime Pro account.

If you’d like to jump past the step-by-step, I’ve shared the completed recipe on IFTTT.com here.

Step One: Create a RescueTime alert, make sure it’s set to notify you by email.

alert-setup

If you’re a RescueTime Pro user, you can create alerts for time spent in any category or productivity level. We have one around the office for “More than 5 hours of Productive Time”. You have two options for how to be notified, either by popup or by email. You should make sure the “by email” box is checked. (whether you want to leave the popup notification checked is up to you.)

If you’d like to sign up for a RescueTime Pro account, you can do so here.

Now, let’s head over to IFTTT.com and create a recipe

Step Two: For the trigger, choose the Gmail channel, and select the “New email from search” trigger

ifttt-trigger

In the “search for:” field, put the following:

subject:”RescueTime alert for All Productive Time” from:noreply@rescuetime.com”

Note: You’ll have to tweak the subject line to match whatever type of alert you created. If you’ve received an alert in your email already, it would be a good idea to try that search string out in Gmail first and make sure you’re getting results from it..

Step Three: Choose an action

Here’s the really fun part where you get to be creative. Choose an action from the list of action channels. For the spreadsheet example, you can do something like this:

ifttt-spreadsheet-action-1

Now, when my alert triggers each day, I get a line that looks like this appended to a spreadsheet in my Google Drive.

ifttt-spreadsheet-basic

That’s it! Er, almost.

One minor annoyance is that the “DeliveredAt” timestamps that IFTTT uses are in the format “January 17, 2013 at 05:48PM”. Google Spreadsheets have a hard time parsing that into a useful date or time, so it’s a bit difficult to do much with, like create a chart. Nothing that can’t be fixed by a couple spreadsheet functions, though.

You can extract a parseable date with: =VALUE(LEFT(A2, FIND(" at", A2, 1)-1))

You can extract a parseable time with: =VALUE(RIGHT(A2, 7))

Now, you have two columns you can use as the X and Y axis in a chart, like so:

ifttt-spreadsheet-chart

I’m curious, how many of you use IFTTT? What types of things actions would you like to take based on your RescueTime data?

update: One of our users just pointed out that the formula above was broken because of WordPress converting the straight quotes to curly quotes. I’ve fixed that and hopefully everything works correctly now. Thanks Eddie!


7 Comments on “ProTip: Use Gmail to pipe your RescueTime alerts to IFTTT”

  1. Eddie says:

    Is it possible to enable alerts for time spent NOT doing something? I want to stay committed to accomplishing a specific task each day (e.g. writing for 1 hour), but I want to be alerted at the end of the day if I do NOT accomplish that task. Currently, I can only set alerts after I HAVE spent X amount of time in any category.

    I plan to link this to IFTTT to provide me with positive motivation and accountability.

    Thanks!

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      That’s a good idea. Right now the only way we trigger alerts is when you’ve crossed a threshold, so unfortunately no. We’re thinking about changing that, though. We’d need to think through some of the details about what “alert you at the end of the day” means. We’d want those alerts to be timely, but not come in at a time when you’re unlikely to care about them (say, at 12:01 am).

  2. Chris B says:

    I cannot get your functions to parse the timestamp. Both give me parse errors in a Google Drive spreadsheet.

  3. Chris B says:

    I cannot get =VALUE(LEFT(A2, FIND(” at”, A2, 1)-1)) to parse the timestamp correctly.

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      Hi Chris. Admittedly, that function is a little bit of a hack to deal with IFTTT’s non-machine readable timestamps. Are you getting values that look like “February 09, 2013 at 07:16PM” dumped into your spreadsheet from IFTTT? If so, then that format should work. The cell coordinates (A2) should match the cell with the time stamp in it.

      Oh, and you also should make sure the column that you’ve got that function in is formated for a date display (which you can do by selecting the column and then using the “format” menu at the top). I just noticed that if I run that function on an unformatted column it returns a five digit number that probably relates to the date somehow, but it’s not obvious to me how.

      Hopefully that helps? If not, here’s the documentation for Google Drive’s spreadsheet functions: https://support.google.com/drive/bin/static.py?hl=en&topic=25273&page=table.cs

      That’s what I used to figure that out. Maybe there’s just a small tweak that will make things start working for you?

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      Eddie (commenter above) just noticed that the quotes in that formula got converted to curly quotes by our blog platform, so that’s probably causing the problems you were running into. I’ve updated the post so it displays straight quotes. Sorry about that!

  4. Chris B says:

    Sorry for the double post, after I logged in, it did not display my original post.
    My date column is from IFTTT in the above format (February 13, 2013 at 08:19AM). My spreadsheet essentially is the same as yours and I even selected the “Date Time” format from Google Drive. I didn’t know if there was another piece I was missing, but I will keep researching. Thanks for the quick response!