RescueTime was initially imagined as a way to capture and evaluate data from the computerized workplace – essentially an online-activity meter. The core logging functions of RescueTime are meant to provide a precise measure of active time spent on the computer, with an eye towards maximizing productivity and efficiency. Our application retains this functionality, but it has been expanding its boundaries as the product develops and user demand dictates. It has become evident that users desire a broader spectrum of time-recording functionality with RescueTime, one that can include various activities spent outside of or away from work. Accompanying this demand is an increase among users in the use of measurement tools for these various life activities. There has been increasingly broad adoption of devices and applications recording various aspects of personal life, such as calendars and and health monitors (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.), and the wish for a way to include these details in RescueTime metrics. There are some engineering and future planning decisions that we face here at RescueTime as a result of these two, possibly competing viewpoints – work, in isolation from the rest of life, and work, incorporated into a holistic picture of a person’s activities.
Here are two examples of situations where we are faced with development decisions.
1. Logging active vs. passive device usage
RescueTime works by recording the window titles of whatever application, document, or webpage currently has focus on a computer or mobile device. This recording is of active use, defined as regular keyboard or mouse input. After five minutes without such input, RescueTime times out and stops logging until there is input again. The result is a very precise record of “active” computer use, meant to capture user activity. But what if someone wants to record activities usually considered not to be work – watching videos, for example? Currently, RescueTime does not record extended use of most video players, but users generally expect it to and are surprised when it does not.
• Should RescueTime record all computer usage as inclusively as possible or retain a focus on work only?
• How should it include other non-work activities?
2. Offline time activity support
For Premium users, RescueTime does have the means to provide details about time spent away from the computer or not otherwise registered by the application. There are two options here – a time-away popup that asks users to categorize the time spent since the computer went idle, and the Enter Offline Time page, where users can select specific spans of non-categorized time and allocate them as desired.
• Are there ways that this functionality could be improved to better include life activities?
Users have suggested several ideas here: more options in the time-away popup; integration of calendar data from an external source; the ability to create new top-level categories to accommodate these types of activities.
• What can RescueTime do to better serve users here?
One of the cool, helpful new features on RescueTime’s new website is the availability of Day Timers. Users can activate a timer to give themselves a stand-alone, heads-up display of cumulative logged time and their current productivity ranking for the day. This appears in the form of a re-sizeable browser window. Personally, I activate the timer and then put the window in back of the other browser tabs and application windows I am using. I use this timer to keep track of my work time for the day and check in periodically to see where I am. I find that this provides both confirmation of work done and motivation to reach my daily goal. I also use the timer to schedule breaks, taking some time after every hour of completed work for coffee, other tasks, or a short walk. This keeps my mind fresh throughout the day. One additional way of using Day Timers is to keep track of time spent on particular activities. If you are looking at an activity in your reports and activate a timer, it will show cumulative time spent on that specific application or website. This is a good way to monitor use and be aware of how close you are coming to your positive and negative productivity goals. It is often surprising to me how my experience of time spent on something differs from actual time spent.
How to use Day Timers
Timers can be opened from any report, just look for the green button that says “Day Timer”. You can create timers for applications, categories, productivity levels, or goals. The timers will update continuously throughout the day, so you can just leave them open in a spare corner of your screen or a second monitor and watch your time add up.
We’ve been using these timers internally for several months, and we’ve gotten some great feedback from some of our users (thanks to Joos Buijs in particular!). Check them out, and let us know what you think!
I recently came across an Austrian article that raises some interesting questions about the use of technology in “measuring” our lives (http://www.format.at/articles/1328/940/362012/die-vermessung-ich[in German]). The scope of this technology continues to increase and there are more opportunities for its insertion into our lives than ever before.
Here are some examples of the latest technology:
- an armband that measures physical activity, including steps taken, distance walked, and calories burnt; length and quality of sleep; and with auxiliary links to mobile devices and a scale, meal planning and weight management (http://www.fitbit.com/)
- work productivity software that measures active computer use and trends very precisely (http://www.rescuetime.com/) [That's us]
- a strap-on device for posture and movement monitoring and correction (http://www.lumoback.com/)
- a fork that measures eating habits and mechanics (http://www.hapilabs.com/)
- an all purpose physical activity device for multiple kinds of exercise (http://www.runtastic.com/)
- a scale that provides body anaylysis by measuring weight, BMI, body fat, and heart rate (and also local air quality to boot) (http://www.withings.com/scales)
- a diabetes app testing blood sugar (http://mysugr.com/)
- comprehensive health management software (https://www.dacadoo.com/)
Those who embrace this technology often self-identify as members of the “Quantified Self movement,” which is characterized by the search for informative feedback from devices such as those listed above. Some see in the wealth of available data a “digital reflection” of their lives – this is felt to be empowering, allowing individuals to achieve a greater degree of self-awareness and to take proactive steps to optimize efficiency, health, and happiness based on adjustment of recognized patterns. Sometimes the motivation for self-monitoring is a desire for improvement, sometimes for identifying and solving problems.
There are potential negative consequences to the adoption of this new technology and the hyper-analytical mindset and lifestyle that can result. Having such a wealth of data at one’s fingertips, and a feeling of overarching responsibility for this data, can lead a person to believe that they are accountable and culpable for everything that happens in their lives. There is also a danger of misinterpreting data – a person can mistakenly identify correlations among metrics and activities where there are none, or miss important ones that do exist. This misinformation can then be used to make lifestyle decisions with potentially harmful consequences. There are also issues with ownership of this data, its security, and its potential uses by others.
This raises a number of questions for debate:
1. Are there specific uses of self-measurement technology that you find seriously problematic?
2. Do we need some degree of education about understanding certain data to draw out the positive benefits of self-analysis and avoid pitfalls? If so, what would this education involve?
3. What type or types of measurement are the most important in the search for self-improvement?