RescueTime for Project Time Tracking (finally!)

[edit: Important note!  This is a new feature and (like most brand new features we release) might have a bug or two that we'll be ironing out over the coming day or two. ]


Recent Updates

[edit] On Nov. 16 we improved the offline time entry in the project editor.
[edit] On Nov. 17 we added support for query by project name to the data API.
[edit] On Nov. 18 we changed the project time editor to offer 24 hour schedule.

It’s Friday the 13th- a pretty auspicious time to do a major software release, eh?

For a few months now, we’ve been pretty focused on our users who are trying to regain focus and enhance their own productivity.  We’ve tuned up goals and alerts, added the ability to block distracting sites for brief periods of focus, and in general have tried to be the “nagging angel on your shoulder” when it comes to your productivity.

But we haven’t forgotten that lots of RescueTime users track time to help have an understanding of how they are juggling the projects in their lives.  RescueTime heretofore hasn’t been great for tracking projects…  But that’s about to change!

Introducting RescueTime Pace

RescueTime Pace attacks a very different (but complementary) business need than we’ve been attacking.  Every day people painstakingly (and inaccurately) fill out project timesheets so that they, their clients, and bosses can understand:

  • how much time projects are consuming
  • which clients need to be billed and how much
  • how each project is broken down.  Are projects humming along?  Are they bogged down with excess communication?
  • Are projects on track to finish on time?  On budget?

It’s occurred to us (and quite a few of our users– thanks to all for prodding us on this!) that RescueTime is already tracking individual tasks.  All we really needed to do to allow project tracking is give people the ability to assign blocks of time to a project in a given day.  With a few cues that RescueTime can offer, entering your time no longer has to be a painful memory exercise.  Not only can we suggest which project we think you were working on (via smart keyword matching), but you can mouse over blocks of time and RescueTime will tell you what you were doing during that time.

Here’s a screenshot of what entry looks like:

blog_project

We’ve also enhanced offline time on the assumption that once you start tracking project time, you need the ability to add and edit more granular tasks that might be away from your computer.  The offline popup (if you use it) has more options and an optional detail field.  You can also add/edit offline time with the project time tool shown above.  Here’s what the new offline popup looks like:

blog_timepie

project-nav2Once you have assigned project time (accurately and in a fraction of the time a normal timesheet), you then have project specific reports about how project time breaks down, what the totals are, and how efficient your project really is.  The reports should feel pretty familiar to existing RescueTime users.  For groups, you can easily jump to an hour-by-hour (or day-by-day) timesheet for any user in the system with a handy menu.  Screenshot of the new navigation to the right.

What about Existing RescueTime Customers?

This feature set is a standalone product built on the RescueTime foundation.  It’s available by itself or bundled with the great productivity features that you’ve hopefully grown to love.  Our existing paying customers get the bundled version free of charge … But because these features could be pretty noisy if you don’t want them, the project tracking features are turned off by default.  You can turn them on here.  Existing Solo Light (free) customers don’t get it for free, though if you mention this blog post in an email to me (tony@rescuetime dot com), I’ll try to wrangle you a discount on the upgrade at very least.

What’s Next?

As with all things at RescueTime, this is just a beginning.  The next (and most important!) step is to hear what you have to say.  What’s confusing, what’s missing, what would make it great for you?


Technology Overload Roundtable (video from PBS) (RescueTime mentioned)

There’s a great roundtable discussion on “Technology Overload” on a recent PBS Mediashift show featuring Leif Hansen (follow him on Twitter here: @leifhansen). The whole show is 25 minutes, but if you skip to the second video section titled “Taking Breaks” at 2 min 30 sec there’s a nice mention of RescueTime by Leif (another panelist chimes in with “It’s brilliant!”).

Technology overload is something we here at RescueTime are acutely aware of.  Every day we’re being introduced to new products and new bits of information– all of these require time.  Purveyors of distraction and “info porn” (our affectionate name for news and blogs) are scientifically optimizing their sites to grab more of our time and attention and we’re all pretty ill-equipped to deal with it.  So how are people dealing with this kind of overload?  They’re working longer hours, catching up on weekends, and taking fewer vacations.


The Great RescueTime Work-From-Home Experiment of ’09

telecommuteVirtual teams are increasingly popular.  One of the software companies I most admire has an entirely virtual company of over 40 people spread all over the world cranking out outstanding software.  Yet the concept is terrifying to a lot of managers.   Highlights of the big fears include:

  • Will productivity go down?  There are a lot of distractions at home and presumably the workplace is optimized for workplace productivity better than home, right?
  • Will we lose that intangible synergy that you get working in the same room with other folks?
  • Will I, as a manager, be able to have a sense of whether folks are working?  Of what they are working on?
  • Will we still feel like a team?

The RescueTime product team is a small one (5 people), but we think this is big enough to run an experiment… For this entire week, we’ll all be working from our homes.  Here are the questions we’ll be answering at the end of the week (many of them will have juicy data bits, thanks to RescueTime):

  • Do we end up spending more time in aggregate on our productive tasks?  In theory, having no commute, no walk to lunch, and no drive-by interruptions in the office wil actually result in more minutes spent doing actual product development (or more free time!).
  • Does communication time go up radically?  Without the ability to interrupt our teammates, we’ll have to resort to emailing and IMing.  How much time will this suck up?
  • Is our total work-day longer?  Are we replacing our commute times with computer time or free time?
  • Does our work day become more spread out?  Working from home presumably makes it easier to punt work when you hit a wall.  Does this happen?  If it does, do people make it up at other times during the day?
  • (Subjective) How does the change FEEL?  Do we feel less creative?  Collaborative? Connected?  Does it effect how much we like (or don’t like) our jobs?

Stay tuned– early next week I’ll be posting a graph-heavy post with the results!


RescueTime for Project Time Tracking (coming soon, but we need your help!)

As we get ready to launch some really really cool tools that will allow to you to block the distracting parts of the web, some of our team is starting to look forward to our next major initiative…  Projects!

RescueTime does a great job of tracking time, but doesn’t really do a very good job of allowing you to bucket that time into projects.  This isn’t an easy problem– lots of time (like email and Google.com) is difficult to automagically bucket into projects.  But for all of the people who are laboring under the yoke of painstaking (yet still horribly subjective and inaccurate) timesheets, we’re hoping to be a solution.  And, of course, all of the managers who are trying to make sense of this timesheet data, we’re hoping to help you out as well!

So PLEASE- chip in with your thoughts.  You can weigh in here in the comments if you want, but (IF you are interested in RescueTime tracking time on projects), we’d love to have you fill out this super short survey:

Please click here to fill out the survey (it’ll just take a sec!)

You have our promise the it is (at worst) only moderately boring and will truly give you a hand in shaping the product to be what you want it to be.


Turning off the distracting parts of the Internet

[note: the features discussed below will be launching within a week or so.  Get started ASAP and, when the features go live, RescueTime will be much smarter about the stuff that’s distracting you!]

We’re currently working on a feature that we’re really excited about and we’d love to get your feedback.

What it does is this:

1. In the menu of the installable part of RescueTime is an item that says, “Get Focused…”
2. It pops up a window that looks something like this:

focus2

For the duration that you enter, we’re going to turn off the bad/distracting parts of the internet.  You’ll be sent to a block page like this.  Your “get out of jail” cards include:

  • telling RescueTime that we’ve mistakenly categorized this site as distracting (we’re pretty good at defaults and you can edit your list, but a false positive is theoretically possible)
  • Doing a simple math problem.  Our goal here is to create just enough work to make you think about what you’re doing.
  • Force-quitting RescueTime.  The geeky among you realize that you can kill the process (though that’s a touch harder than the math problem.

So here’s the question for you– we’d love to hear back in the comments:  How sharp should the teeth be?  Ideally you’re focusing for short bursts (30-45 minutes) – should we let you out or force the commitment?

More details below if you’d like to hear more about our thinking on this feature.

Why Build this Feature

The web is getting scientific.  Specifically, it’s getting scientific about separating you from your time.  Entertainment and news sites are doing multi-variate testing trying to maximize the metrics that matter in their business.  That is: pageviews, time-on-page, and bounce-rate (a measure of whether you look at more than 1 page).  They’re getting good at these tests, and it’s costing us.  Even the best of us.  We’ve all experienced that moment where we look at the clock and realize, “Holy crap– I just spent 2 hours surfing when I really wanted to be getting things done!”.

A while back, we were inspired by a really cool app for the Mac called Freedom.  Basically, it allowed you to turn off the entire internet for a fixed period of time.  The only way to turn it back on again was fairly costly- a reboot.  Surely this was a great tool for short bursts of self-imposed focus!

But it didn’t take too many tries to realize that the internet is just too central to how we work.  Google Docs holds critical information that we need ready access to.  It’s nigh-impossible to code without access to the huge pile of debugging info and tutorials that Google search gives us access to.  Designing is crippled without the internet as well– stock image sites and color palette inspiration sites are a big part of our design process and we can’t get quick feedback on a design direction if we can’t post it to Skitch and IM the team a link.  We needed something that only turned off that distracting bits of the internet.

So we moved on and tried LeechBlock, a nifty Firefox plugin that allows voluntary blocking.  But we quickly ran into painful limitations here as well.  The distracting swaths of the web are vast– Leechblock allowed you to create a list of distracting domains, but www.facebook.com doesn’t catch 3rd level domains like app.facebook.com.  And a friend can IM you a link to a funny website that you’ve never been to (and might never go back to) which can be a huge distraction.  Managing that list is imperfect and time consuming.  And, of course, Firefox isn’t as big a part of our browsing lives as it once was.  Many of us use Safari or Chrome.  And, from a product design point of view, it’s hard to ignore that a big mess of people still use IE.  A solution that enforces across all browsers seems critical for something like this.

So, as of now we’re internally testing the “Get Focused” option and loving it.  We don’t have to build lists of distracting sites, it works in any browser, and it has enough “teeth” to keep us honest without actually locking us in a closet.  What do you think?


Your Efficiency Scores may have changed!

Just a quick newsflash for those keeping score at home.  Individual users of RescueTime may have their score look very different as of this release.  The reason for this that previously, you probably had much of your data untagged and unscored.  Also, RescueTime didn’t do a fabulous job of making sure all of the many sites people visit every day had categories and scores– so these didn’t really effect your scores.  So what’s likely happening is that lots of “surfing” time (which was previously not effecting your efficiency because RescueTime wasn’t smart enough to assign it a default score) was not hurting your score.

All that being said, assigning default scores is HARD– everyone is different.  For me, email is a sorta-productive necessary evil and IM is the devil.  You might work differently.  While we’ve done the best we can with default scores/categories, you should feel free to override them based on your workstyle.

Quickest way to do this is:

Go to the new Manage Categories Settings Page.  Here you’ll see a bunch of boxes that look like this:

z1

You can mouse over each of the categories to see an edit button, where you can change the default score (-2 is bad, +2 is good) to better fit your style.

If you find that a lot of your time is uncategorized, you can go to the list of all uncategorized activities and spend a minute or two categorizing the big ones.

And, finally, you can check out your top activities in a list ranked by how much time you spent on them.  It’s a good idea to glance down this list to see if the scores are appropriate.  As with all things, don’t go crazy here– once you find yourself scoring sites that you visited for only a few minutes in the month, it’s probably time to say, “good enough!”.

The exciting thing about the new release is that everyone’s scores and categories contribute to everyone else– so as people categorize and score sites, that means you’ll get democratic “defaults” and won’t have to spend time monkeying with your data in RescueTime (making us all more productive!).


Major Release: Time to Put out some Fires!

v_1

I remember seeing this little gem on Twitter many months ago and @inem recent retweeted it.  The original fellow probably had no idea how much it’s been a call to action for us!

We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’re ready to start putting out some fires and that individuals and teams can now choose to make RescueTime a bit more of a harsh mistress.  This is a huge release for us, so I’ll start with a quick summary list of what’s in the release and then I’ll add a list of screenshots to illustrate some of the fabulous stuff in this release.

The Big List of What’s New

  • We now have near real-time alerts– right on your Desktop. Set a limit of how much time you want to spend on a particular activity and RescueTime can instantly nudge you when you exceed that limit (we’ll even tell you how much your average coworker is spending on that activity).  This is our first step at giving you the option to make RescueTime a “harsh mistress”.  We often liken the power of RescueTime to the ability to look at how you spend money with apps like Mint or Quicken.  Now imagine if Mint could send you a quick text message RIGHT BEFORE you’re about to spend money at a place you’re trying to avoid spending too much money in! (note: this is a premium feature)
  • Tags are officially gone. We broke down our reasoning here if you’re curious.
  • SEARCH. Now that RescueTime has the option of tracking documents within many applications, getting at the data you care about has gotten more challenging.  Now you can just type in an application name, document name, or site name in the search box.  In times past, if you wanted to know how much time you spent on Google related activities, you had to tag everything googly and then look at that report (dozens of clicks!).  Now you could just type “google” into the search box to get a report for anything matching that in the URL.
  • Graph Widgets for your site/blog/favorite dashboard. Every single RescueTime time data graph can be embedded into any HTML page that allows you to drop in a JavaScript snippet.  Are you worried about people getting buried in email?  Embed the email graph onto your company’s internal blog/wiki to keep people aware of email.  Making a public commitment to reduce your Twitter addiction?  Add your Twitter graph to your blog to hold yourself accountable!
  • A brand new categorization system. Previously, categories were a bit sparse and sometimes maddeningly hard to use.  We’ve refreshed our categories (with a nested category system) and have made the user experience for adding/editing categories worlds easier.
  • Great default categories and scores.  Much of the value of RescueTime really only manifested when you took the time to label and rank things– which is a timesink (ironic, no?).  Henceforth, all apps and sites will be categorized and scored based on the majority “vote” (you can always override it).  This removes most of the ongoing burden and makes the lives of our new users much easier.  Rejoice!
  • Numerous UI/UX improvements. We pored over all of the feedback we’ve gotten over the past months and attacked all of the confusing bits that we could find.

Release Screenshots

v_3


v_2
A new report!  A breakdown of your time based on productivity.  In this view, blue is good and red is bad.


v_5
New categorization selection UI.


v_6
New scoring UI