Before reading any further, take a look at the clock. Jot down the time. I know, it’s a weird way to start a blog post, but it will make sense in a bit, I promise.
How much time do you spend reading news articles or blog posts? If you’re like most people, you spend at least a few minutes per day catching up on current events or what your favorite blogs are writing about. One way to check is to look at your RescueTime report for News and Opinion – last month I spent over thirteen hours on it. It may or may not take up huge amounts of time for you, but wouldn’t it be nice to get some of that time back for other things? What if you could read twice as fast and still retain the same amount of information? Seems great, but I’m not sure I want it quite enough to invest the effort in learning to speed read.
That’s why I was really intrigued to see a presentation at last month’s Quantified Self 2015 European Conference. Kyrill Potapov gave a fascinating talk about his experience with Spritz, a new technology that promises to make it easy to dramatically increase your normal reading speed. That’s normally a marketing claim I’d be skeptical of, but one of the great things about Quantified Self talks is that they generally come packed with data.
Kyrill doesn’t work for Spritz – he’s a secondary school teacher in London – but he was interested enough in increasing his reading efficiency that he sought out the tool and tracked his progress as he used it. And the results were dramatic. He was able to increase his average reading speed by nearly 100%, up to over 400 words per minute. The best part was, it didn’t seem like it took all that much effort on his part. No special training, no exercises, just start reading using the app.
The method Spritz uses is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) and it works by reducing the amount of distance your eye has to travel while reading. Instead of scanning back and forth across lines of text, the words are presented in a rapid continuous stream one at a time. There is technically more to it than that, but that’s the main thing you will notice when you try it. As far as I can tell, this makes reading faster in two ways. First, you shave off the fractions of a second your eye usually spends moving from word to word – or line to line. Second, as words are only displayed once, you are forced to pay attention or you will miss out. It’s a different experience than reading normal text, but not an unpleasant one. In fact, the need to pay attention was so apparent that I found it easier to tune out outside distractions.
There are several apps that use the Spritz technology, so in theory it should be easy to start using it. In practice it was a little harder than I wanted it to be. Many apps involved copying and pasting large blocks of text into a text field, which is more cumbersome than I will probably use and felt like little more than a fun demonstration. That said, there is a Chrome extension called Readline that seems to work really well. When I’m on a page I want to read quickly, I just highlight the text, right click and select “start Readline”.
I’m currently reading at about 400 words per minute, and I feel like I retain most of what I read. There are a few places it completely falls apart – like reading a long news article that has ads mingling with the content. But so long as I’m careful about which text I select, it seems like it really helps. There is some debate about whether or not Spritz enables anything more than skimming, but when I’m reading news or blog posts I’m usually not extraordinarily invested in the content in the first place. In fact, in a context like that where I’m likely skimming anyway, Spritz actually makes me absorb more by forcing me through the whole post linearly.
So if you are looking for an easy hack that can save a few minutes each day, give Spritz a try, and let us know in the comments what you think of it.
Oh, one more thing. Remember when I asked you to look at the clock at the start of the post? Check the time now. How many minutes did it take you to get here? This post is about 800 words, so if you were reading with Spritz set at 400 wpm, this post would take you 2 minutes.
Big news! We launched a channel on IFTTT this week, and it opens up a bunch of different possibilities for using your RescueTime data with your favorite apps and devices.
If you’re unfamiliar, IFTTT stands for: “If This Then That”, is pronounced like: “GIFT”, and is a service that lets you take actions in one app in response to actions in another. Since you spend so much of your time plugged into your digital devices, there are a LOT of actions you can take.
IFTTT channels have two parts. The first are Triggers – things that happen in your app than can cause things to happen in others. Second are Actions – things that can respond to a Trigger in another app. The combination of a Trigger and an Action is called a Recipe.
The RescueTime IFTTT channel has four triggers…
…and two Actions.
You can connect our channel to any of the hundreds of other channels on IFTTT (although some of them make a lot more sense then others). IFTTT has channels for business apps, smartphones, social networks, even home automation devices.
The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are a few of the Recipes we really like:
Silence your phone while in a FocusTime session
Use Google Calendar to start a FocusTime session…
…or add a do-not-disturb note when FocusTime starts
Set up a productivity light
IFTTT has several channels that will let you control a light (or a set of lights). You can use the Recipes below with the Phillips Hue, ORBneXt, and Blink(1) channels.
Adjust your thermostat while in a FocusTime session
If you want to give yourself some extra motivation, set your Nest thermostat to something really comfortable either while you are in a FocusTime session, or after you’ve completed a few hours of productive work.
Use alerts to post messages to Slack
You can use RescueTime alerts as an automated way to humblebrag (or publicly shame yourself) to your coworkers.
Get a phone call whenever an alert is triggered
This one is super effective for getting me to stop working when it’s late at night. I have an alert set up for “more than 30 minutes of productive time between midnight and 4am”. When my phone rings in the middle of the night, that momentary “who the hell is calling me at 1am?!?!” feeling is the BEST way to knock me out of the workaholic hole I’ve fallen into.
Save daily summaries in a Google Sheet
This one is great if you just want to pull some specific data over time into a spreadsheet. It’s perfect for Quantified Self projects where you’re tracking one metric (say, hours of productive time) against another data source (like your daily exercise or sleep).
We’re particularly excited about the FocusTime Triggers and Actions, which let you tailor your FocusTime experience in some really powerful ways. You can read more on that over here.
What recipes have you come up with? Share your favorites in the comments!
Today we’re launching an exciting new version of FocusTime to help people be less distracted at work.
We’ve added integrations that let your apps and devices take actions that support a positive work environment. This makes it easy to create the best conditions for focus, on demand and at the right times.
For example, when you are in a FocusTime session, you can:
- Silence your phone, including notifications
- Set your Slack presence to ‘away’
- Post a do-not-disturb note to your calendar, group chat, or company social network
- Block access to distracting websites
Everyone’s work situation is different so we’ve added integrations that connect to a lot of different services so you can find the right combination of actions that works for you.
New integrations that support your productivity
IFTTT connects hundreds of apps and devices together. Combined with FocusTime, it can do some REALLY interesting things to set up a good environment for sustained focus. Their support for devices and home automation is particularly interesting, enabling things like silencing your Android phone, dimming your Philips Hue lights, even adjusting your Nest thermostat so you’re more comfortable while you’re focusing (which can be a nice bit of motivation on it’s own!)
I have an ORBneXt light sitting on my desk that glows blue when I’m in a FocusTime session. It’s a nice way to let other people know I’m in the zone, and it’s also a subtle reminder to me to stay on track.
Zapier is similar to IFTTT in that they both connect multiple services together, but Zapier has more of a focus on business applications. If you want to post a do-not-disturb note to your coworkers, Zapier has support for Slack, HipChat, Flowdock, Basecamp, Yammer, and many more.
I have a Zap set up connecting Trello and FocusTime that’s proven to be really useful for me. I manage the things I’m working on in Trello, but I have a special list for really high-priority tasks that are “On Fire!”, like critical bugs. Whenever a new card gets added to that list, a FocusTime session automatically kicks in so I can devote my full attention to the problem.
Seems like Slack is a common fixture in most offices these days. It’s really great at keeping people connected, but it can be a bit of a monster when you’re trying to focus. We added a Slack integration that will automatically set your presence to ‘away’ and optionally post a note in the channel of your choice letting people know you’re stepping away for some concentration, and when to expect you back.
Are work distractions really that big of a problem?
Multiple studies have shown that it can take between 15-30 minutes to fully return to a task after an interruption (that’s not counting tasks that are completely abandoned). The problem with even the most optimistic of those numbers is, most people get some kind of interruption roughly every 5 minutes This is a huge deal, because it basically means no one can get into a solid state of flow.
So essentially no one is working at their peak potential. Why aren’t more people up in arms about this? I’m not sure, but I think it’s because after a while, that level of distraction starts to feel normal. And the alternative – simply unplugging – doesn’t feel very good. We’re conditioned to be ultra-responsive, and that’s become a general expectation in many offices. But the levels of interruption are clearly reaching unsustainable levels.
We’re connected to all these apps and devices that constantly spew information at us, but they have no awareness of whether or not we actually WANT that information at a given time. That seems like something that should be fixable, so that’s what we set out to do. My hope with FocusTime is that we give people a way to disconnect “just enough” so they can get back to more solid levels of focus.
What we’re launching today is a really good start, but there’s a lot to explore in the future, and I’m really excited to see what other ways we can find to turn down the noise, and get people prepped for focus.
I’d love it if you’d give the new integrations a try and let us know what works well for you, and what you find missing that you wished was included.
We’re excited to be sponsoring the Quantified Self 2015 Conference & Expo, June 18-20 in San Francisco. If you haven’t been to a QS Conference before, they’re awesome (more on that below). This year, we’re doing a collaborative data tracking project that should be a lot of fun. Basically, we’re exploring the combined digital activities for people who have opted-in to a special QS 2015 group, looking for interesting statistics and visualizations showing how the group as a whole spends time at a conference like Quantified Self 2015. These reports will be displayed on a live updating display at our exhibitor table, and group members will receive a special report showing how their individual time contributed to the larger group.
If you’re attending the conference, we’d love for you to join the experiment! Sign up now.
You should consider attending if you are in the area. It’s an amazing gathering of passionate self-trackers from around the world who have come to share their stories about what has and hasn’t worked for them as they’ve tried to improve their lives through data. Check out the trailer for this year’s conference:
We’ve got free tickets to the Expo! (while supplies last!)
This year, the conference is changing up it’s usual format and turning the last day into a public exposition that will be a great way for people who are more casually interested in the Quantified Self to learn more. The Expo will be a day of “how-to’s” with packed sessions on how to track, learn, and reach personal goals using methods emerging from the Quantified Self movement.
We have a limited number of free passes to share with the first 50 people who register. Please follow this link: qs15.quantifiedself.com/expo to register and use code:
rescuetimefree. Just make sure you swing by our table and say hello!
Can’t make it to QS 2015? Here are some videos!
The conference videos usually go up a few weeks after they are filmed. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite talks from previous years.
David El Achkar on Tracking Time
David uses a homegrown, spreadsheet-based system for tracking his time. It’s intensive, but he is able to learn some really interesting things about himself.
Laurie Frick: Experiments in Self-tracking
Laurie is an amazing artist who’s work is based on her self-tracking experiments (she currently has a show at this gallery in NYC, if you happen to be on that side of the country). Here she is talking about her process and how her self-tracking experiments inform her art.
Paul LaFontaine: Heart Rate Variability and Flow
Paul examines his heart-rate variability to understand his work efficiency, especially getting into a state of flow, where he’s absolutely absorbed and focused on what he’s working on.
Steven Jonas: Memorizing My Daybook
Steven experimented with spaced repetition to boost his memory with some impressive results.
Robby Macdonnell: Tracking 8,300 Screen Hours
Finally, (and a bit of a shameless plug) here is a video of me talking about what I’ve learned from several years tracking my time with RescueTime.
I have a confession to make, and it’s not easy. I’ve been driving like a jerk. I just found out and I feel horrible about it.
I don’t speed. I don’t tailgate. I don’t run red lights. At least, not that I’m aware of. The problem is I’m distracted by my phone… a lot… and I didn’t realize just how bad it is until I analyzed some data about myself. I wanted to believe the data was wrong, but after triple-checking and turning the data over numerous ways, it was clear.
23% of the time I’m in my car I’m doing something on my phone.
How I figured it out.
RescueTime’s Android app gives me a record of the time I spend doing things on my phone, and I had recently been working on an integration with Automatic (a mobile app and device that plugs into a car’s diagnostic port and gives data about driving time). I was hoping to find some interesting stats showing how the time I spent driving compared to my time on the computer (“do I spend more time driving or doing software development?”, for example).
It occurred to me that I could also cross-reference the time I spent in the car with my other activities to see if there was any overlap. This would show me the time I spent doing things on my phone while my car was running. I knew that I occasionally check my phone while at a stoplight, and I sometimes make calls when I’m behind the wheel (hands-free through my car’s bluetooth, of course). But I figured that time was minimal, and looking at the data should validate that. At worst, I thought I’d see something that I could use to humblebrag about how, while I might not be perfect, I was certainly a hell of a lot better about it than the people I have a habit of judging mercilessly whenever they weave into my lane while obviously doing something on their phone (an unfortunately common thing in my neighborhood).
I was totally unprepared for the results I saw. It looked really bad. My immediate reaction was that my math was wrong, or that some bug that was over-reporting my time. But it certainly couldn’t be correct, could it? After some more analysis I was able to find a couple patterns that I could legitimately exclude (I tend to spend a minute or so futzing with my music app at the very beginning of trips looking for a song I want to listen to, for example). Maybe it wouldn’t end up being that bad.
After multiple passes through the numbers looking for false positives, I still ended up with 23% of my time for the month of April was distracted. Nearly a quarter of the time my car’s ignition is on, I’m doing something on my phone. There’s still SOME noise in there that’s impossible to untangle with the data I have (time spent at stop lights, trips where I’m actually a passenger in the car, etc), but the overall numbers are uncomfortably high.
It’s dangerous, and embarrassingly hypocritical
Bouncing back and forth between all those different activities puts me in a state where I’m paying less attention to everything, and when one of those activities is operating a moving vehicle, that can be really bad. Driving while texting is equivalent to driving after drinking four beers, and distracted driving is responsible for upwards of 25% of all accidents in the United States. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’ve been putting people around me at risk, needlessly.
That realization stings extra because it’s something I already agreed was a problem… when other people do it. As a pedestrian, I’ve dodged my share of distracted drivers and I’m rarely shy about letting them know exactly how I feel about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with friends about how “drivers around here are just the worst! None of them can keep their dumb jerk eyes on the road!” Oof. I’m surprised by the disconnect. Why did it never occur to me that I’m doing the thing that I get mad at others for doing? Maybe it’s that checking my phone has become an unconscious habit and I’m not even aware of it, like this 2012 study discovered? Or perhaps I just assume the things I do on my phone are ok, because of course they’ll just take a couple of seconds and won’t add up to much. Obviously, there are some flaws with that thinking, as it only takes a couple of seconds for something to go terribly wrong. But the more glaring issue here is that it’s clearly rarely “just a couple seconds.”
So what now? How do I fix this?
It feels really bad to learn something like this, but there is a silver lining here. I was able to discover this about myself by looking at rows on a spreadsheet, rather than after crashing into something (or someone). I feel lucky, and hope it will be a wake up call. Now I can take action to change my behavior. Even better, I have metrics I can use to prove to myself I’ve changed. Here are a few things I’m doing to respond to it.
I turned off non-essential notifications on my phone
Push notifications are one of the most sure-fire ways to take me out of the moment and pull my attention elsewhere. I really don’t like them when I’m working, and do my best to silence them. But it’s easy for me to convince myself that I need them, or I’ll miss something important. Really though, there’s very little real benefit to 90% of the beeps and buzzes that come out of my phone. I’ve gone through all my apps and turned off all notifications except for things that are actually really important. This will also help me at work, when the notifications will pull me away when I’m trying to concentrate on something.
I’m trying to drive less
This might not be the most practical choice (especially since I moved to the suburbs a few months ago), but the easiest way to combat my fidgety nature while driving is simply to remove the car from the equation altogether. I’m trying to walk more (where having my head buried in my phone can still be dangerous, but much less so), or ride a bike, where my hands are occupied.
I’m talking to people about it
To be perfectly honest, I don’t really have much to compare my data to. I have no clue if I’m an extreme outlier here or not. Rather than keep it all in my head, I’m telling people about what I’ve learned, and hoping that I can get some better context around it. I’ve also built some reporting into RescueTime so others can look at similar data for themselves. I hope that with more people having a data-driven conversation, we can all start to come up with smarter ways of dealing with it.
If you’re interested in tracking this data about yourself, all you need is a RescueTime account (the free one will work just fine), an Android phone with the RescueTime app installed, and an Automatic Adapter (which costs $100, but you can get 20% off with this link).
Don’t judge me too harshly, ok? Please?
This was sort of a hard post to write (“Hey! Look at me! I’m awful!” posts generally are), but hopefully it helps people be a little more thoughtful about their time behind the wheel. If you have any thoughts or experiences with your own driving time, please feel free to share in the comments.
Today we’re launching a new integration with Automatic that will make it possible to track your driving time just like you would any other application or website. There are SO many interesting questions that can be answered here, like: “How does your commute relate to your time at work?”, “Do you tend to log most time in the car around rush hour?”, “If so, does shifting your time one way or the other help you spend less time in traffic?”
What is Automatic?
Automatic is a mobile app and small adapter that works by plugging into your car’s diagnostic port. It fits on nearly all newer cars and gives you information about gas milage, check engine notifications, and your driving efficiency. Read more about how it works over on the Automatic web site.
How Automatic works with RescueTime
After setting up Automatic and connecting it to your RescueTime account, all future trips will be logged in RescueTime as “Driving”. These will fit into your existing RescueTime reports just like any other application or website, and you can categorize them however you like. You will also unlock a special driving report that will give you details about when you drive, how it relates to the other time you log, and what other activities you might be logging while you are driving (be careful out there!).
Some of the things you can do with this integration:
- See the overall amount of time you spend driving per day, week, or month.
- Set an alert letting you know when you’ve been in a car for more than 2 hours in a day (reminding you to go for a walk to balance things out)
- See how much time you spend working vs. driving to work.
- See how much time you spend driving compared to other categories of activity. How do you feel about the balance?
- See activities that are logged while you are driving. If you have the RescueTime Android app installed, this will give you a valuable look into how distracted you may be while driving.
- If you are a RescueTime premium subscriber, you can categorize your individual trips, allowing you to separate out your commute from the rest of your driving time, for example.
For a real-world example, check out this post about some of the unsettling things I learned about my own driving and phone use habits.
How to link your accounts
Once you have Automatic set up in your car, visit our integration page and link your account. You can unlink it at any time if you decide you want to stop logging your driving time.
If you don’t currently have an Automatic car adapter, you can get one for a 20% discount here.
We’re really excited to open up this new data stream into our reports, and can’t wait to see what insights it generates. I hope you enjoy it! Please let us know what you think!