The data is in, I’m a distracted driver.

Image source

Anti-texting sign in Nashville, TN (Image source)

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).

Snapshot: Driving time vs time doing something other than driving.

Snapshot: one day’s driving time vs time doing something else, while driving.

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.

Some of the things that just couldn’t wait until I was done driving. Ugh, there’s even a website called “distractify” on there.

Some of the things that just couldn’t wait until I was done driving. Ugh, there’s even a website called “distractify” on there.

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.


New integration with Automatic: Track your driving time like your computer time

automatic-app-rescuetime

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!).

driving-report-time-small

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.

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!


Two new integration updates for GitHub and Gyroscope

We’re launching some new integrations this week, giving you new ways to keep track of your time and tell interesting stories with your data.

integration-example-gyroscope-report

A weekly report from Gyroscope

Log highlights for your code commits directly through GitHub

github-iconSeveral weeks ago, we launched support for logging your code commits from your Git projects. It’s been pretty popular, and we’ve logged thousands of commit messages since launching the feature. We did, however, get some feedback that the setup could be simplified. Today we’re launching an alternative way to log commits for your projects that are hosted on GitHub. Instead of configuring and installing a post-commit hook, you can just connect your RescueTime account to GitHub and select the projects you would like to track. From then on, whenever you push code to GitHub for those projects, all your commit messages will be logged.

Learn more on the GitHub integration page

The original post-commit hook method is still available, and should be used for projects that are not hosted on GitHub, or for projects that you do not have admin rights on the repository.

Use Gryroscope to see beautiful reports for all your different data streams

Gryroscope is a new lifelogging aggregator that combines several streams of data into beautiful reports. Combine your Tweets, Foursquare checkins, Fitness trackers, and RescueTime productivity data. Each week you’ll get a gorgeous infographic report summarizing all your activities.

Learn more on the Gyroscope integration page

More integrations coming soon

We’re working on some more integrations and hope to have new things to share soon. Keep checking back on our integrations page for the latest and greatest.

Do you have any other services you’d like to see RescueTime work more closely with? If so let us know in the comments.


February updates: Smarter website categorization, video tracking, email preferences, and more!

february-updates-title
We’ve pushed a bunch of new improvements out this month. We’ve been able to boost performance, add new features, and address some of our most long-standing support requests. Happy slightly-late Valentine’s day, everybody! :)

Subdomain categorization / scoring

We often see some form of this question in our support forums:

I see a lot of subdomains in my uncategorized time report. Can I create a rule somewhere to auto-categorize any site that matches the pattern “*.example.com”?

Many sites have subdomains that all show up as separate activities in RescueTime. It’s a pain to have to categorize all of them, and that’s a problem because it leads to a LOT of websites being uncategorized. Having a lot of uncategorized time really reduces the value of your reports. We just changed our categorization logic so all subdomains automatically inherit from their root domain. This instantly makes our default categorizations a LOT better across the board. You can still override the defaults just like before, should you find a sub-domain that doesn’t fit the domain default.

This is a huge help for things like…

  • Reference sites: *.stackexchange.com, *.about.com
  • Local classified sites: *.craigslist.com, *.backpage.com
  • Major blog platforms: *.tumblr.com, *.wordpress.com, *.blogspot.com
  • Local development servers: *.localhost, *.localhost:8080

MUCH more accurate video logging

video logging

Another common support request is better handling for video. RescueTime uses mouse and keyboard interaction to determine if you have left the computer, and stops logging after a period of no activity. This has an obvious flaw when it comes to video, or any other hands-free application or website. We added some special handling for known video websites and applications, so your logs will be much more complete and meaningful.

You can now have a MUCH more accurate record when you binge watch the new season of House of Cards in a couple weeks!

For this first version, we’re supporting: VLC, Quicktime, Windows Media Player, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. We have plans to expand this list in the future.

Choice of delivery date for the weekly summary report

Your "Start of the Week" day will determine when your weekly summary arrives.

Your “Start of the Week” day will determine when your weekly summary arrives.

In your preferences section, you can set your preferred day to start your week. Some people prefer it to be Sunday, others Monday. But regardless of your preference, we used to send out all weekly summary emails on Sundays. We’ve just split the summary emails out into two different batches for each preferred week-start date.

Track your Github commits as Highlight events

commit-highlights-example

We recently added API support for RescueTime Premium’s Highlight Event logging. We’re working on several ways to automatically get highlight information into RescueTime, and we just added support for Git commits via a post-commit hook you can add to your Git projects.

Read this blog post to learn more.

Day-timer windows now show the elapsed time in the window title

day-timer-tabs

You can open a day-timer window for any category, productivity level, application, or website and track where your time is going throughout the day. The only problem is the timer windows take up a lot of space. One of our users recently made a suggestion in our forums to add the elapsed time into the title bar, then the timers can be placed in a tab. It’s an amazing reduction in screen real-estate and lets you keep your stats right in front of you as you work. (Thanks Michael!)

RescueTime for Android can receive alerts as push notifications

We released an updated version of RescueTime for Android that features better reports and the ability to receive push notifications for your alerts. We are going to be doing a lot of work on our mobile apps over the next few months, so expect this to just get better and better.

Lots and lots of performance improvements and bug fixes

In addition to the features above, we made several major performance improvements to make everything faster and more reliable.

We also fixed an early front runner for the prestigious “most ridiculous bug of 2015″ award: FocusTime was broken on OS X if you were using Firefox AND had the Caps Lock key on. (our reaction when we discovered it)

I hope these updates help make your RescueTime experience better. We’ve got a lot more on the way so stay tuned!


Keep track of your Git commits using RescueTime Highlight Events

I spend a significant chunk of my work day writing code. Some of that is building new features, some of it is fixing bugs, and still more of it is going back to refactor something I sloppily threw together earlier. I’m doing a lot of different things, and it’s often hard to remember them all.

Luckily, Git forces me to leave a log message about what I’ve changed with each commit. It’s a good audit trail. If anything ever goes wrong, we can usually roll back through the Git commit logs and easily figure out the likely culprit.

But commit messages represent something more than just a way to make code rollbacks easier. They’re also a pretty useful document of how I spent my time. Reviewing the contents of git log is pretty clunky, so we just added a way to easily import your git commit messages into RescueTime Premium as highlight events.

commit-highlights-example

Adding commit logs to my Highlights stream helps me understand my software development time better. Was I working on the right things? Did the amount of time I spent coding that day really make sense compared to what I actually checked in? When I get really busy, work becomes a blur, so it’s nice to have an easy list to review at the end of the week and remind me that, yes, I actually did accomplish some stuff. :)

They’re also really useful alongside the rest of my highlight events, so I can see how all my activities are lining up and if I’m neglecting anything. I use different labels to group commits for different projects, so I can see how often I’m committing code for the RescueTime web site, the browser extension, or any of our other projects.

How to log your own Git commits as RescueTime Highlights:

  1. Make sure you have RescueTime Premium. You will need it to post highlights.
  2. Go to our Git integration page and generate a post-commit hook file. You can customize the highlight label (‘code commit’ vs. ‘website project commit’, vs. etc…), and choose whether or not to ignore commit messages less than 20 characters. I do this so I can skip over commit messages like “oops, typo”.
  3. Save the generated file in your Git project’s .git/hooks directory
  4. Give the file executable permissions (chmod +x post-commit)
My commit history on my RescueTime dashboard

My commit history on my RescueTime dashboard

That’s it! All future commits will automatically be logged as highlight events in RescueTime and will show up on your dashboard and the weekly email reports. It’s just one more way you can save yourself some typing and still keep a rich record of your accomplishments.

What do you think?


How I use Trello, Zapier and RescueTime to keep track of what I’ve been doing

iceburg-todo-list

This post covers how (and why) to use Zapier and RescueTime to create a persistent record of your completed Trello cards. If you’d like to jump directly to the setup instructions, skip to the end.

Trello is the first task manager that’s really clicked with me. It’s a great, simple system for tracking things that need to get done across various stages of progress (by default “To Do”, “Doing”, “Done”). There are other apps that do similar things, but Trello just nails the experience. I love it. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out.

Trello is great, until the very end when it isn’t.

The experience of going back and looking over what I’ve done is the one part of Trello that isn’t so great. Things get really cluttered unless I archive cards when I’m done with them, and then they just kinda disappear. While I can go back and review a list of the archived cards, it’s buried and basically just looking at a big unsorted pile. That’s OK. If I had to choose, I’d much rather have Trello focus on the process of getting me to the finish line than looking back.

But I still want to be able to look back.

Why is it a good idea to reflect on those completed cards?

One of the problems I’ve always had with to-do lists is the unsatisfying feeling they leave me with when I’m really busy. That’s when they should be the most gratifying, right? That act of marking things as “done” feels good for a minute, but then that feeling gets shoved aside as I look back at the ever-growing backlog behind it.  Going back and reviewing accomplishments helps maintain a sense of progress, even if my to-do list never gets any shorter.

It also gives me an opportunity to ask myself if I’m devoting time to the correct things, or if there are other things I’d rather be getting done instead. It really helps draw the line between being productive and just being busy.

What can we do about it?

RescueTime has highlight event logging, and some of the highlight events I was manually entering were similar to the Trello cards I was completing. If I could just automatically log a note whenever I put a card in the “done” column, I’d save myself some manual effort. Luckily, Zapier makes this really easy. I was able to connect my Trello account with RescueTime, and log a highlight event whenever I completed a task in Trello. I had to fiddle with the filters a little bit to target just the “done” column, but once I figured that out it was fully automatic.

trello-rescuetime-highlights

Now I’m tracking events on different boards for my work and personal to-dos. Reviewing my highlights helps me see what I’m getting done and how balanced I’m being. Am I spending too much effort on work at the expense of personal tasks I need to get done? Or is it the other way around? That used to be a really hard question for me to answer and now it’s so much more visible. It also keeps me more organized because I know that if I use Trello, I’ll save myself some typing later when manually updating my highlights list. The two systems compliment each other really well.

gmail-summary-highlights

How to automatically log a RescueTime Highlight event when you complete a task in Trello

The quick and easy version (recommended):
Zapier can walk you through the whole setup process. This requires a Zapier account, obviously, but they’re awesome.

guided-zap

The step-by-step version:
You should use the guided zap version above. The detailed steps are listed here in case you have problems with the guided version, or just want to understand exactly what’s happening.

  1. Make sure you have a Trello board that you are using to manage your daily tasks
  2. Make sure you have RescueTime Premium (which you will need to log highlights)
  3. Make sure you have a Zapier.com account
  4. Log into Zapier.com and click “Make a Zap!”
  5. Choose Trello as the target app and “New Activity” as the trigger
  6. Choose RescueTime as the Action app and “Create a Highlight Log Entry” as the action
  7. Click continue and verify your accounts
  8. Under “filters”, choose the board you are using for your tasks
  9. Make sure the “List” filter is set to your “Done” column
  10. Set two custom filters, the first is “Data List Before Name” (Text) Does Not Contain “Done”
  11. Second custom filter: “Data List After Name” (Text) Exactly Matches “Done”
  12. Set the Highlight event params. Date should match up with the Trello “Date” field, “Description” should be “Data Card Name”, and “Highlight Type Label” should be set to something descriptive of the tasks on that Trello board. “To do”, “Personal Task”, “Work item” for example.
  13. Test the zap, you should immediately see your highlight event logged on your Highlights page in RescueTime.
  14. Name the zap and save it.

That’s it! I’ve found this to be a big help. Give it a shot a let me know what you think in the comments!


Highlights – a new way to keep track of the meaningful things you’ve accomplished

With so much going on every day, how do you keep track of what you accomplished?

With so much going on every day, how do you keep track of what you accomplished?

A little over a year ago, we quietly added a little feature to RescueTime Premium called daily highlights. It was basically just a “notes” section that someone could use to write down what they got done during the day. It seemed like it might be a relatively simple solution to something that had been bugging me for a while – the fact that RescueTime is great for understanding broad patterns in my time use but not so great for looking back at a specific day and remember the meaningful things I did. That’s a situation that comes up pretty frequently for me, and it was frustrating. Adding in a way to log notes about each day seemed like an obvious way to fix that.

I also thought it might be a totally frivolous feature that would never get used. Hence the fact that we didn’t make much noise about it.

In a way, it sort of goes against the RescueTime philosophy. You see, we have a really strong bias towards automatic data collection, and requiring someone to be motivated enough to submit data manually feels like a design flaw. People are busy, and things slip through the cracks, even if you have the best intentions. It’s just hard to keep up with that stuff. If you’ve ever had a job that required you to fill out time sheets, you know what I’m talking about here. In the end, it really doesn’t matter what kind of awesome insights you can offer if there is no data there to analyze in the first place.

But the problem was bugging me so much that it seemed worth exploring. There had simply been too many cases over the years where my imperfect memory would trip me up. Some examples:

  • Status meetings where I’m constantly hemming and hawing. “Hrm… um… I know I did some other stuff this week?”
  • Performance reviews where I need to be able to speak intelligently about the types of things I’ve been doing over the past 12 months.
  • The defeating feeling feeling I’d get when I’ve been juggling so many things for too long and it all becomes a blur. After thrashing around a lot, it’s really hard to tell if I’m being effective or just being busy.
  • When challenged by a manager about something that didn’t get done, it’s demoralizing to say “I don’t know, I guess I was just busy with other stuff?”

Sounds like a great idea, except it totally didn’t work

After launching it, we realized it wasn’t working at all. Having written the feature, I was probably the person most motivated to use it out of anyone, and I would go weeks without entering a highlight. I’d just forget to do it. Because I was never really all that confident about how it would be used, I didn’t integrate very heavily with the rest of the reporting, and it felt like there just wasn’t much value in it. I couldn’t even get the other people around here to use it, despite us all agreeing that the general idea was a reasonable one.

A mostly-automated, more ‘RescueTimey’ approach

We experimented a lot over the next few months, trying new things, and learning a lot. Eventually we realized something pretty great. We couldn’t fully remove the need for manual data entry in this case, but we could largely automate away the need to remember to do it. It was a lot more in line with the RescueTime way of doing things, and it seems to be working. Over over 25,000 highlights were logged in 2014, the vast majority in the last few months as we made more refinements.

We ended up with a two-pronged approach for entering highlights:

1. Intelligent prompts:  We added the ability to automatically open the highlights entry page at times when there was most likely something that needed reporting. We thought this would be hugely annoying, but after a little tweaking to fit our own working style, the prompts felt a lot less intrusive than we had feared. Actually, they have a nice side effect of keeping us more aware of our productive time each day.

daily-highlights-3hr

Examples: Prompt for highlights after 2 hours of productive work in a day or send an email prompting for highlights for the previous day first thing the next morning.

2. Data exhaust: A lot of meaningful information already gets entered in other systems that we work with every day. There are a huge amount of logs and notification streams laying around describing work that’s being done, and all we needed to do was tap into it. We added an API to create highlights, along with the ability to group together highlights from the same system. It’s a little work up front, but after that a lot of interesting data can be logged with no additional effort.

Examples:

We also kept the original method of manual entry page around to cover the cases that couldn’t be handled automatically, but I’ve gotten to the point now where I rarely go to this page without being first prompted by an alert. It’s something I don’t have to think about anymore. It just gets done.

Quantitative plus Qualitative Data is a great combination

highlights-ui-compact

After a while we realized that we were all actually entering highlights on a fairly consistent basis, and they were really useful. We tried using them as a base for our twice-weekly status meetings and immediately noticed such a positive change that we haven’t stopped. We can quickly run through our highlights and then spend the rest of the meeting actually communicating about what needs to happen next. It’s way more efficient.

I log all sorts of things now that wouldn’t have been worth the effort otherwise. Knowing when I exercise,  go to the coffee shop, or check off items on my personal to-do list all add valuable context. It’s been a really big help for looking back and understanding how I spent my time on a specific day.

We’ve recently beefed up the reporting, exposing highlights more prominently on the dashboard and in the weekly summary reports. This makes it easier to review highlights on a regular basis. We’ve got a lot of other ideas for how to make the reports more useful. We’ll be working those out over the next few months.

If you are a RescueTime premium user, you can get started setting up your highlights here.

For more examples, have a look at how highlights work into a typical day around the RescueTime office.

Highlights have opened up a new perspective on RescueTime for me, and I’d love to know what you think of them. For the rest of January, you can sign up for RescueTime premium for 25% off and try them out (or upgrade here if you already have a free account). Give them a spin, and let us know what you think.