RescueTime for Work and Life – A Request for Ideas

RescueTime was initially imagined as a way to capture and evaluate data from the computerized workplace – essentially an online-activity meter. The core logging functions of RescueTime are meant to provide a precise measure of active time spent on the computer, with an eye towards maximizing productivity and efficiency. Our application retains this functionality, but it has been expanding its boundaries as the product develops and user demand dictates. It has become evident that users desire a broader spectrum of time-recording functionality with RescueTime, one that can include various activities spent outside of or away from work. Accompanying this demand is an increase among users in the use of measurement tools for these various life activities. There has been increasingly broad adoption of devices and applications recording various aspects of personal life, such as calendars and and health monitors (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.), and the wish for a way to include these details in RescueTime metrics. There are some engineering and future planning decisions that we face here at RescueTime as a result of these two, possibly competing viewpoints – work, in isolation from the rest of life, and work, incorporated into a holistic picture of a person’s activities.

Here are two examples of situations where we are faced with development decisions.

1. Logging active vs. passive device usage
RescueTime works by recording the window titles of whatever application, document, or webpage currently has focus on a computer or mobile device. This recording is of active use, defined as regular keyboard or mouse input. After five minutes without such input, RescueTime times out and stops logging until there is input again. The result is a very precise record of “active” computer use, meant to capture user activity. But what if someone wants to record activities usually considered not to be work – watching videos, for example? Currently, RescueTime does not record extended use of most video players, but users generally expect it to and are surprised when it does not.

• Should RescueTime record all computer usage as inclusively as possible or retain a focus on work only?
• How should it include other non-work activities?

2. Offline time activity support
For Premium users, RescueTime does have the means to provide details about time spent away from the computer or not otherwise registered by the application. There are two options here – a time-away popup that asks users to categorize the time spent since the computer went idle, and the Enter Offline Time page, where users can select specific spans of non-categorized time and allocate them as desired.

• Are there ways that this functionality could be improved to better include life activities?

Users have suggested several ideas here: more options in the time-away popup; integration of calendar data from an external source; the ability to create new top-level categories to accommodate these types of activities.

• What can RescueTime do to better serve users here?

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16 comments

  1. First off, you should make it clear how you want people to respond to these very good questions.

    • Should RescueTime record all computer usage as inclusively as possible or retain a focus on work only?

    Yes. The divide between work and other aspects of life are continuing to blur. We all want balance. So making it so it’s even easier to say what’s productive or not is useful. Having the ability to see what and how much you spent your time on something is super useful.

    The current way you’re doing productivity though is not that useful. 50 vs 68 means little when I’m always over 50. Not sure about the solution, but the current 5 levels of productivity seems simple but still is not telling you a lot in that raw number of 50 or 68.

    The bar graphs are super useful, so maybe the five levels is the best you can do. I wonder if there are other visuals. I thought about a pie chart and was even going to email you, but then realized how the bar graph and just a % # is better

    • How should it include other non-work activities?

    How ever the user wants. You have to make it easy for the user to define what they find as productive.

    • Are there ways that this functionality could be improved to better include life activities?

    I’m a premium user and I’ve used offline. Your html5 mobile site is amazing. Thank you. I still have not made this feature a consistent habit, but I want to. I’m not sure about the answer here other than keep on making it easier to add and categorize offline activities. It’s really hard to group these if they occur more than once and so each instance is its own activity as opposed to my use of gmail. This should work better.

    • What can RescueTime do to better serve users here?

    Here’s why I am so excited to respond to these questions. The next step is to yes integrate with everything and make Rescuetime even more like ifttt. That would be killer. If when I ended a phone call it trigger rescuetime to open a window on my phone to quickly log my activity, and even better if it opened up a timer that I set to 30 seconds (could be another app) to complete my entry I would be head over heels. Stuff like that. I’m sure it could work the other way too where when you’ve worked for a certain amount of time it triggers a photo to pop-up of something special or an important quote. I had thought of emailing about integrating with Tasker. I’m sure you have a lot of ideas on your plate and I hope some of this feedback helps and is the direction you’re going in.

  2. How about distinguishing data from multiple devices (not just computer vs mobile, but e.g. laptop vs phone vs tablet)? Also, for mobile devices, the timing and frequency of “unlocks” can be more interesting than total time spent.

    1. We do actually have device discrimination in the works. There is an “input sources” tab in the reports that currently separates computer time, offline time, and mobile time. In the future, we will add the ability to tell apart specific computers. The “unlocks” measure is an interesting idea – I’ll pass that on to our developers.

  3. Calendar integration would be nice. There are two ways this could be done: Pull and Push

    Pull based calendar integration would look at your calendar and use that information to fill the empty spots in your rescue time record. e.g. for meetings.

    Push based calendar integration is something that would be even better. I would be nice if rescue time could publish a calendar rss feed that includes blocks of activities (say larger than half an hour). You could then subscribe to this calendar feed in your calendar application. There is a report in rescue time that shows what you worked on when in the week. I use this alongside my diary to help me reconstruct time sheets. The calendar feed would allow me to do that as a one stop shop as I could just look in my calendar and see what I spent my week on.

    If I had to prioritise one over the other I would want a push based calendar feed.

  4. Hi Roger – #1. I think the team at RescueTime needs to get together and decide where they want the business to go. Do you want to venture into an area where you did not initially intend to go? (Is it time to revisit your business plan/mission statement?) This could open up new opportunities to you; on the other hand, if you’re known and are expert at doing one thing, “do it and do it well”. Ask yourselves: what do YOU want RescueTime to be? As for #2, I don’t think I have access to the “Enter Offline Time” page, as I’m not a Premium member; however, from what I can tell, maybe it’s a good idea to allow users to create their own Categories?

  5. It would be nice to have RescueTime integration with 3rd-party Quantified Self services like Fitbit. For example, if I want to compare my steps data with RescueTime productivity, it would be convenient to access this data through a single interface.

  6. May I suggest a theme not mentionned in your post, but which seems related for me : when using both the Android app to record time (during a phone call, for example) and my PC, time records are cumulated. This results in false results. RescueTime should consider that records made on different appliances, at the same time, must merge. Hope I’m clear, please tell if I’m not.

  7. Put in connections to other tracking services like Withing Pulse, Fitbit or Runkeeper.

    And put in categories for rest and relaxation, sport, health and meditation.

    It would also be great to have more flexible goals where days and times are concerned. As freelancer, I try to keep my Saturdays completely free and my Sundays about half.

  8. I have a couple of other sources for information that I would love to be able to import to rescue time. If I could get the data from my moves app, runkeeper, my google calendar, my outlook calendar (published on Live) and a couple of other services I would be able to get a more complete picture of my time spent on different activites in my life. So, focus on beeing the central where I aggregate and analyze my data when it comes to how I spend my time.

  9. I suggest connecting other types of devices like FitBit, Basis band etc, to get activities like sleeping, running, walking and biking.
    It might be too much work to connect them all, but working together with one device and then releasing an API with examples might encourage other devices or 3rd party programmers to do the same.
    Also might be interesting to look into the new Apple HealthKit and it’s Google competitor, if all the devices will connect to those SDK’s, it might save you guys a lot of work.
    And last, you can have a look at Google Location History which stores all of your location history and display it on the map. might help a lot and add functionality to look at the location of your time spent.
    Good luck, keep innovating!

  10. Point no. 1 not only applies to watching videos (which might count as training or not) but also to taking part in video conferences. Since these definitely are part of my work, I’d be happy to have them count as productive time [1] automatically. Clicking the offline time dialog every 5 minutes is just a hassle.

    [1] Most of our video conferences actually are productive! 😉

  11. I’m a little late to the party here, but I use RescueTime often, both at home and at work. So I have opinions. (Being human helps with that, too!)

    1. I think RescueTime should include all computer activities as inclusively as possible. Everyone’s work is different, and what’s distracting for one person could actually be a core part of another’s job. Also, content like videos can be instructional for something core to a job, and it could be helpful to have it already recorded and then easily updated for productivity ranking as needed.

    That said, I have no idea what complications that adds if a computer really is idle — is it stuck counting 2 hours of file-folder activity or browser activity while you’re in an impromptu meeting? At the very least, it could be beneficial to have some way of seeing what’s guessed to be idle time versus active time, so the genuinely idle time could be easily cleared. These tradeoffs are the joys of being a developer!

    2. I’m actually quite happy with the offline tracking options now available.

    I’ll add a vote for Mr. Grok’n’Roll’s suggestion of categories that cover other elements of life like sports, rest, and meditation. Of course, I’m also happy to acknowledge that we have the freedom to add our own categories. It might be worth examining your database for trends and adding new categories that you see large groups of users creating for themselves.

    Thanks for listening to your users, soliciting feedback, and generally always pushing to have RescueTime to meet the shifting challenges of the world around us head-on!

  12. I use Rescuetime for Billing IT services, and it has paid dividends. One thing that irks me is that while rescuetime prompts for offline time when i’ve stepped away, , on quite a few occasions i’ve needed to get to a task immediately after returning from lunch, and forget to enter the offline time.

    It would be nice to have a placeholder for these events, so I could go back and quantify that at a later time.

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