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:
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.
[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:
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 http://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?
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:
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!).
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.
- 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.
A new report! A breakdown of your time based on productivity. In this view, blue is good and red is bad.
New categorization selection UI.
New scoring UI
We know that we’re going to have some angry users as a result of this decision– but for those of you who love tags, I hope you’ll read this post and (more importantly) try out the changes we’ll be rolling out next week before you get angry or kick RescueTime to the curb. So here’s the big news: our release next week is going to remove the concept of tagging from the user experience. Below we’ll detail what we’re adding/changing to compensate for this and (if you’re interested) why we’re doing it. We’ll also talk a bit of how you can get help if you are a paying customer and you are using tags. We’ll also show you some preview screenshots. We are really freakin’ excited about these changes– we’re making RescueTime less work, easier to understand for new users, and (most importantly) we’re making it easier to understand and improve your own productivity.
Breakdown of the Impending Changes
Tags are going away. As we looked at how our customers were using tags (the few who were using it, much less using it successfully), we saw people tagging things like they were categories (“graphic design”, “coding”) or saw people tagging things in terms of productivity level (“work”, “personal”, “procrastination”, etc). To allow for both of these cases, we’re expanding categories and making the act of categorizing (and creating custom categories) one billion percent easier (measure it when we launch! It’s true!). Further, we’re are implementing a smart default-categorization system that will provide our users with well categorized data out of the gates. Here’s a screenshot of the new categorization UI. It’s inline and it’s FAST.
We don’t show it in this screenshot, but there are two things we’ve added since this mockup. First, a category dedicated to software developers (a big slice of our userbase and obviously one close to our heart!). Two, we’ve added an inline “add custom category” selection that will make adding in your own categories close to as easy as adding in a new tag was.
So that’s attacking how most people were using tags– pretty much as categories (in fact, the average number of tags a tagged activity had in RescueTime is 1.26).
But we’re also attacking the “subjective” use case by enhancing how RescueTime scores work. First, we’re going institute smart defaults scores for all of the top apps and sites. This can obviously be subjective, but we think it’ll help people get up and running faster and have more meaningful data. Second, we’re going to make scoring easier and clearer. Here’s a screenshot of the scoring UI:
One click in any view in RescueTime and you can rescore an activity. Note that we are exposing categorization and scoring UI in ALL reports (rather than putting them a tab deeper like in previous version). All of these scores are now available in graph report form. Want to see how you spend your time in terms of productivity levels? Check out this graph:
This shows a week of my time with a breakdown of good stuff (above the line) and bad stuff) below the line. While it’s not strictly related to this issue, this seems like a fine time to note our new URL structure, which will allow clever folk to see reports with any granularity that they want. Want to see a graph of a day by hour? Fine. How about a WEEK or a MONTH by hour? Here’s an example of the new (human readable) URL structure:
We’re hoping that all of these changes will more than compensate for the sting that some will experience from losing tags. To learn more about why we’re doing this, read on.
Why We’re Getting Rid of Tags
We’re a metrics driven company. Any time we release a feature, we look hard at whether people are using it and how they are using it. When look at tags, we have some fairly ugly data to look at:
- The VAST majority of our paying customers are not using tags or not using them well (i.e. tagging Excel as “excel” doesn’t seem like a productive use of time).
- Most users have a minority of their time data tagged.
- The average number of tags a tagged activity has is 1.26… In other words, people are using tags as categories and are not taking advantage of the one-to-many powers of tags.
- When asked, most users who quit cite tagging as one of their reasons for quitting. “Seemed like constant work with tagging”, “tagging was confusing– it was hard to make sense of my data” are very common responses.
In addition to the data, tags create some big challenges for us. Creating visualizations of tags is difficult due to the one-to-many relationship (imagine a pie chart of tags- If Outlook is tagged as “work” and “communication”, where does Outlook time go?). Looking at a bar graph of tags, people mistakenly assumed that if they added up the bars, that’d equal their total logged time. Not the case!
But the biggest reason for nuking tags is that we want RescueTime (as it stands now) to be as simple as possible to make room for some of the exciting things we have in store for you. I remember reading a comment about RescueTime that really stuck in my craw (because it was RIGHT). Paraphrasing: “RescueTime is like a fireman walking up to you and saying, ‘Hey! You are on fire! You should stop being on fire!’”. RescueTime in the coming months is going to shift into firefighting mode– and help our customers stop being on fire rather than just letting them know that they are. We’re going to damn well live up to our name.
But why not just keep the feature and de-emphasize it? In an ideal world, this is what we’d do. But every feature that doesn’t bring joy/satisfaction to a meaningful percentage of our users has a cost. It clutters the UI, slows down our development process, and gives us something else to maintain until the end of time. Too much cost, and not enough benefit, in short.
What to Do if You Have Tags
As part of this release, we’ll be assigning automatic categories and scores based on the tags people have assigned. The 98% of our users who don’t use tags very much will have much improved data. The 2% who use tags a lot SHOULD have improved data as well (most people who tag don’t have all of their time tagged– this will help!). For those of you who have tags and desperately want to keep them, you’ll have the custom category capability should you need it. If you are a paying business customer, we will help you do this from our end to minimize the pain for you. In other words, we’ll learn from you which tags are critical and we’ll move them into a custom category on your behalf.
For folks who are anxious about this, we apologize. And we ask that you reserve judgement and give the adjustments a few weeks to sink in before you pass judgement. We’re are incredibly excited about what’s coming out next week (we’ve been using it on our dev server as we’ve developed it and it’s a huge improvement on a lot of fronts). We’re also excited about what’s on the horizon (API and a rash of cool productivity features, to name a few things)
We just quietly launched a project that we codenamed “TimePie” (based on a conversation over a year ago with Paul Buchheit, the guy who created Gmail).
One of the most common requests we get from folks is the ability to log offline time… After all, as geeky as we might be, a good portion of our productive life is spent away from our computers. Meetings and phone calls can be downright toxic to our productivity but, good or bad, they are important and should be measured.
You need to be running the most recent version of the RescueTime Data Collector (http://www.rescuetime.com/download). You also have to have a premium account of some kind (sorry, free users– we still love you, but we’ve got to charge for SOMETHING!). You’ll need to go to your Monitoring Options page to turn on this feature (it defaults to off for all users for the time being).
How Does it Work?
First of all– lets’ get it out there– it’s not going to be about data entry. We’re sacrificing some detail and resolution for speed and ease of use. You literally don’t have to touch your keyboard for this feature.
After you’ve left your machine idle for more than a few minutes, RescueTime will pop up similar to the one shown below. The clock on this timer window will keep ticking until your machine is no longer idle.
The three buttons are configurable (on the aforementioned Monitoring Options page), but will default to “Meeting” (for face to face time), “Phone Call” (for work related conference calls), and “Other Work” (for anything AFK like sketching, scribbling, whiteboarding, making dioramas, etc). You also have the VERY large “None of your business” button. Our goal with these default buttons is to record work time and to click the “None of your business” button for any away time that isn’t work related (lunches, breaks, etc). However, because the buttons are configurable, you can use it however you like.
When you click on one of these buttons, it will push an activity to RescueTime in the same way it pushes information about an App or Site. In fact, this data will exist just like an app or site and can be tagged or categorized in just the same way.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Give it a try, take it for a test drive and let us know your suggestions/thoughts in the comments.
Note: this blog post was prompted by this tweet — we’ve also gotten an email or two about the messaging change. I’d meant to get this blog post out last week, but the release happened a few hours after I’d boarded the plan for my first vacation in a few years. Apologies for the delay!
Last week we did a few dramatic things in terms of our business offering. First off, our “marketing” site (the one new users see before they sign up– if you’re already a RescueTime user, you’ll have to log out to see it) is now much more business focused, with the individual offering significantly de-emphasized. We also introduced a new product, RescueTime Pulse (employee monitoring software), which allows managers to see how employees are spending their time without the employees being able to see or control the monitoring software. This is in contrast with our existing flagship offering (RescueTime Empower), which allows employees to see their own data and have some control over what is monitored and when.
We wanted to take a few minutes to talk about our thinking behind the new offering and what it means for RescueTime.
Our Thinking behind the Changes
- The biggest reason we’re offering the new restricted version is because people wanted it. A restricted mode offering was literally the most requested feature from our business customers. RescueTime is a software startup, which means that our first mandate is to build something people want… Which may or may not necessarily map to what we THINK they should want.
- Related, the site being more business-focused is a reflection of the economy in which we live. Revenue and profit are king and we can’t expect to focus on free/consumer audiences forever. While we will always serve that individuals, we thought the site should reflect our focus on business customers.
- The restricted offering helps us understand the value of our “in the open” offering, RescueTime Empower, which offers open and collaborative business time management software. To date, we’ve been able to show that using RescueTime in this way improves productive behavior by 9% over two months of use… But we’ve never been able to understand how employees behave when they AREN’T using RescueTime “in the open”. A restricted version will give us this data, and will help us understand the TRUE effect of our open offering. 9% is a pretty impressive number (annually, it can literally represents hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of productive time for even a 10-person team). But we think we’re about to expose a much more dramatic number– and we’re excited about that!
What it means for RescueTime
- We will continue to serve new and existing individual customers. It’s a rapidly growing audience for us (we love you guys), but free users don’t pay the bills and we don’t want to bury people in ads to make money.
- It gives us the opportunity to help business customers change how they think about employee monitoring and time management. When you want to change the world, sometimes you have to meet it halfway and drag it the rest of the way. Armed with real data, we can tell our customers who choose the employee monitoring route what they and their team could achieve if they embraced a more collaborative approach.
- Revenue = runway. Again, we’re a small and young company who is trying to change how businesses and individuals think about time tracking. That’s not going to happen overnight. We truly believe that it IS going to happen, and this step helps insure that we’re going to be around when it does!
We still believe what we’ve always believed at RescueTime. That time is a resource that should be tracked in the same way that any valuable resource is tracked. That tracking time should be easy and shouldn’t interfere with being productive. That managers and business owners should be able to see this data in aggregate to help them understand and guide their business. That employees and individuals should be able to own their own time management, see their own time tracking data, and see how they compare to their peers.
As always, we welcome your comments (either drop a comment on this post or drop us an email at email@example.com).
Update: First batch of Document / Activity collecting applications is now switched on. Read about it here.
Last night we pushed out a big release for RescueTime, though it might take you a while to notice the changes given that we’ll be rolling them out slowly over the next week or two.
The three big changes to RescueTime this week are ground-up-rebuilt Data Collectors for Mac and Windows, document tracking (our most popular feature request!), and Search filter functionality. I’ll run through them below in a bit more detail.
New Data Collectors
The original RescueTime Data Collectors were built as prototypes. We continued to develop and improve them as best we could, but we were never happy with the foundation of these applications. So our scrappy Data Collector team set out to rebuild them with the goal of decreasing the memory/CPU footprint and increasing reliability and accuracy. After months of hard work, they came through in spades. The new Data Collectors are going out in a phased release. We’ve been testing it with volunteers (via this post) and are now officially linking to it from our download page, which means that all new users will enjoy the new Data Collectors. We will push out a software update to our beloved existing users once we’re confident that it performs “in the wild” as well as we’re expecting it to. Highlights of the new Data Collectors:
- A simplified user interface – most settings will now be managed from the RescueTime.com website, and for teams and businesses using RescueTime, settings can be shared account wide, greatly simplifying installation for a large number of users
- More accurate time recording – the new RescueTime client was built from the ground up with accuracy being our key objective. Network issues, non-responsive external applications, and other issues should no longer affect the time recording functionality of RescueTime.
- More intelligent idle, sleep, and hibernation detection
- Faster updates sent to your RescueTime.com dashboard (approximately every 3 minutes!)
- A common code base between OS X and Windows – bug fixes and new features are much easier to implement
- Enhancements for enterprise wide deployments, silent installation with response files and the ability to pass configuration information at the command line
- Automated background updates – allow uninterrupted updates of the RescueTime client so you don’t lose any of your productive time
- RescueTime should now use significantly less CPU and memory than the 1.0 client version
- (Windows)RescueTime no longer depends on the Microsoft .Net 2.0 framework – which means a much simpler installation process especially in the enterprise environment
- (Windows) Support for IE8 Google Chrome 2 web browsers
RescueTime has always had difficulties with vague/general applications like Microsoft Word or IM clients. When you see that you spent 20 hours in the last month in Word, it’s sometimes challenging to understand what that means. Were you writing a letter to your mom? Or writing up a complex RFP document for work? When you see that you spent 15 hours in your IM client, were you chatting with co-workers or your old college drinking buddies?
As of today (with the new Data Collectors ONLY), RescueTime supports the collection of sub-entities. But you aren’t going to see them– yet. Due to how Windows and Mac OS X handle windows, we can’t turn this on in a global way. Each application requires a little bit of TLC to make it happily work with documents/sub-entities. We’ll be phasing in visualizations of documents over the next week or two in big batches. If there are particular apps that you’d really love to see document tracking for, please make noise in the comments or drop us a line– we’ll try to get your apps to the top of the list. Otherwise, we obviously have a pretty good understanding of the most popular apps without or userbase and we’ll be working our way down from the top of that list.
We’ve added a powerful index and search capability to RescueTime which allows you to filter any report you see in RescueTime by keyword. This is a early version of what search can do and we have several enhancements planned for the future. The goal with search is twofold. First, we want to allow you to get to the data that you want to see quicker– one search can often replace several click-and-wait actions. We also feel that search is an important part of document tracking. Once we start tracking documents, it’s going to increase the size of each persons dataset dramatically. You can imagine how much data a manager might have at a 500-person company using RescueTime. We want to make sure that people are able to navigate through this data easily– and we think search is a big part of this equation.
The search filter functionality we pushed last night allows to you filter any report you are viewing by keyword. RescueTime will present a dynamically generated report of all time in that report which matches your keyword(s) in application name, document name (if supported for that app), tag, and category.
Just a note to let you know that the recent release broke the open source Linux RescueTime Data Collector. While we don’t technically maintain or support this app, we LOVE that it exists and want to help out however we can. From what we can tell, the Linux Collector needs a pretty simple fix, which we might eventually find time to do. Because it’s right after a release and we’re dealing with other issues, it might be a little while.
This seems like it’s a good time to give a shout out the the folks who’ve helped out to date on the Linux client and a request for other Linux-heads to chip in. There are a lot of good reasons to participate in open-source projects– and the RescueTime Data Collector for Linux could really use some love.