Getting the most out of RescueTime for your Quantified Self projects

I’m pretty sad that I’ll be missing the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference this weekend. From what I can tell of the lineup, it’s going to be a great conference that’s full of insights, sharing ideas, and learning about all the amazing ways that people are looking internally to understand themselves better. Seriously, if you’re there, I’m jealous. Have a fantastic time. If not, and you’ve never been to a quantified self event, consider checking out a nearby meetup.

Not to mention Amsterdam looks absolutely amazing.

I suspect many people will come away from the conference energized and inspired for some new tracking projects, so I wanted to offer up a few tips for how to effectively make use of the data in your RescueTime account. Of course, we try to make the default reports as informative as possible, but here are some power-user moves that should help you dig a little deeper.

A number of these are premium features, but if you are on the free plan and would like to try them out, you can click here to upgrade at a 25% discount until the end of May.

1. Export your data to a spreadsheet.

export to csv

Most of the reports can be exported to a .csv file  (premium version only). This lets you bring them into your spreadsheet program / database / visualization engine of choice to do some further analysis or compare with other data sets. I used this extensively for a project I did last year comparing my sleep and physical activity levels to my time spent in email and software development.

Just look for the green “Export / Share” button underneath the graphs on the reports.

2. Use time filters to compare your time in different periods

Time filters

One of the most straightforward explorations you can do is to see how your computer time looks like when you’re working vs. when you’re not. That’s pretty easy to do with time filters in RescueTime. You can restrict your time in a given period to specific days (“weekends” for example), or specific times of day (“After lunch”).

You can find the time filter controls on the date picker widget that is available on most reports. There are a few default time filters available for people on the free version of RescueTime. The premium version of RescueTime allows you to customize the filters and create new ones.

Some ideas to explore:

  • How do my weekends differ from my weekdays?
  • What types of activities do I spend more time on in the morning? what about the afternoon?

3. Use the RescueTime Data API

If you are comfortable with a scripting environment, you can request data from RescueTime programatically as JSON or CSV data. This can be great if you have already written another tool to consume data from another service.

The API is available to people on both the free and premium version of RescueTime, and will allow you to get the same data that you can find from most of the reports on the website.

Check out the API documentation to learn more.

4. If you are trying to use your data for behavior change, have a look at our integration with Beeminder.com

beeminder-chart

Beeminder is an interesting service. They allow you to state a goal that you’d like to stick to (“Less than 30 minutes a day on Reddit.com”, for example), and they will track your progress for you and give you daily updates on how you are doing. But if you fail to stick to your goals, you will “derail”, and getting back on track will cost you money. It’s a form of commitment device and it can be a really helpful incentive if you have a habit that you would really like to break.

You can read more about Beeminder and RescueTime here.

5. To find correlations between your RescueTime data and other sources, use Zenobase

time-on_computer_vs_steps

Zenobase.com is an analysis tool for personal time-series data. In other words, anything about you that can be expressed as data points that occurred at distinct points in time. I’m going to be honest, it has a learning curve, but once you get over it, you can do some really interesting things with it. You can do simple exploration of your data in ways that other services may not offer (for example, in RescueTime there’s not a way to see a histogram of the time you spend per day, normalized to the nearest hour). You can also mash up several data sets and look for correlations.

Use RescueTime alerts and Zapier to automatically log milestones about your time in an online spreadsheet

zapier-spreadsheet-1

RescueTime’s alerts are highly configurable and can let you know when you have spent more than a specified amount of time in a productivity level (example: “all productive time”), a category (example: “design and composition”), a specific application (example: “microsoft word”) or a website (example: “mail.google.com”).

These alerts are delivered by an email or popup on your desktop, but they can also be used to log when the threshold for that activity was reached. You can connect your RescueTime account with Zapier.com and whenever an alert is triggered, you can insert a row in a Google Spreadsheet, or mark down the timestamp as an event on a calendar. Zapier has interfaces for a lot of applications, so you aren’t limited to spreadsheets or calendars. There are many other places you can log your alert data as well.

Check out our integrations page to learn more.

Good luck with your tracking projects!

I hope these tips are helpful. If you’re looking for some more inspiration on things you can do by tracking your time, check out these talks from past Quantified Self events. If you come up with some interesting insights based on your RescueTime data, let us know. I’d love to hear about them!


2 Comments on “Getting the most out of RescueTime for your Quantified Self projects”

  1. Salman says:

    is everyting you have mentioned available in free account or an upgrade is required ?

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      It’s mixed, and I tried to note the premium features in the post. The API, some of the time filtering, and the integrations with Zenobase and Beeminder are all available with the free version. The other parts are premium only, but we’re running a 25% off promo until the end of the month if you wanted to try the premium version out.