Time reports update: Breaking out Google docs and Office Online by app

Hi folks,

We just made a change to how we record time spent in Google Docs and Office Online. You will now be able to see the type of document you’re spending time on, instead of just having everything grouped under the generic “Google Docs”, label.

RescueTime_-_All_Activities_Matching___google_Apps__

Changes that affect the lower level data stream are a pretty big deal for us, so they don’t happen too often. We thought this one was worth doing though, because it will help you understand your time more clearly. And, importantly, it will make time spent on your online productivity tools compare more precisely to your time spent on tools you install on your computer.

Here’s the gist:

  • When you enter in a Google web application from Google Drive, for example open a spreadsheet in Google Sheets (they have about 3 different names for it, that is one), that will get tracked separately from time spent on a presentation opened in Google Presentations (aka Slides).
  • Similarly, using the same web applications in hosted google accounts (aka Google Apps), they will be broken out to the various web apps, with the suffix ” – Google Apps”.
  • MicroSoft Office Online (aka office.live.com) applications will be broken out as Word – Office Online, Excel – Office Online, PowerPoint – Office Online.

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.


Getting the most out of RescueTime’s website-blocking features

focustime

The ability to block distracting websites is one of my favorite parts of RescueTime Premium. It’s so easy to keep bouncing over to momentary distractions when I’m trying to stay focused, and if I’m not careful it can eat up my whole day. At best, work that I’d like to plow through quickly and be done with ends up taking three times as long because I can always think of several things that I’d rather be doing at any given moment. Being able to put up a wall and just block out all those alternatives is a great way to offload my willpower to the computer so I can devote my brainpower to actually getting my work done.

There are a few different ways to use FocusTime, and a few things to be aware of to get the most out of it.

How do I tell FocusTime which sites to block?

The great part about FocusTime is you don’t have to worry too much about compiling a big list of distracting sites you’d like to block. RescueTime already does that for you based on the types of activities that you’ve told it were distracting. The defaults aren’t perfect, but they save you from doing 80% of the work. Just by running RescueTime and telling it “Social networking sites are generally distracting”, RescueTime can figure out what sites you are going to and which ones should be blocked.

Sites that show up in your "very distracting" list will be blocked during a FocusTime session.

Sites that show up in your “very distracting” list will be blocked during a FocusTime session.

There’s one unfortunate side effect of RescueTime getting smarter the more you use it – it actually doesn’t start out with much of a list. If you try to use FocusTime to block distracting websites right after signing up, it won’t be very effective. Give it a day or so to warm up. It generally doesn’t take too long to build up a useful list. You can see a list of which sites would be blocked on the “block distractions” page (you must be logged in for that link to work), which can be found under the “tools” menu on the RescueTime website.

The auto-categorization will hopefully get you most of the way there, but there will likely be some distracting websites that we don’t have a default category for. In those cases, you can just give those sites a productivity score of “very distracting” and they will be blocked next time you start FocusTime. It’s probably easiest to just make sure you don’t have too many items in your “uncategorized” list (click here to view – must be logged in). That way, your preferences for each category will be used to determine which sites to block and you don’t have to worry about individually scoring hundreds of websites as “very distracting”. It may also be helpful to review the productivity levels assigned to each category.

How do I start FocusTime?

There are two ways to start a FocusTime session. Depending on the way you work, one might be better than the other.

Method one: Start a FocusTime session from the RescueTime application menu.

get-focused-instructions

The most straightforward way to start a FocusTime session is to click the RescueTime icon on your desktop. It will either be on the menu bar on Mac, or in the System tray for Windows. Then choose “Get Focused…” and select an amount of time you’d like to block sites for. Click the button and that’s it! Within 30 seconds distracting websites will be blocked. You will receive an alert letting you know when your FocusTime session has ended.

Method two: Start a FocusTime session when an alert is triggered.

alert-with-focustime

Using an alert to kick off a FocusTime session allows you to set some rules for yourself ahead of time, so you don’t have to rely on being motivated enough to actually start FocusTime at a point when you’re already struggling to get focused in the first place. RescueTime has a robust alert system that allows you to take actions when you have spent a pre-defined amount of time on certain activities. When an alert is triggered, you will receive a pop-up on your screen with a message (“You have spent more than 2 hours on Facebook today, Robby!”, for example.) In addition to the message, you can also optionally tell RescueTime to block distracting websites for a while. This is a great way to give yourself a good amount of freedom, but then automatically put up the productivity defenses at times when you really need them.

Six scenarios where blocking websites makes a whole lot of sense:

1. You’re using the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is essentially working in 25 minute intervals, then taking a short break to recharge. It’s similar to how you might workout at the gym. You can use RescueTime to reinforce your focused intervals. Block sites for a 25 minutes of focus, then take a break for a few minutes. When you’re ready, start another session. See how many you can do in a day.

Setting FocusTime for a Pomodoro session

Setting FocusTime for a Pomodoro session

2. You are working on writing a novel (or any other long term project that requires long periods of focus)
Every year, National Novel Writing Month participants go on a writing marathon and attempt to complete an entire novel in just 30 days. We’ve done some analysis of some successful writers and found that working on a set schedule really helps. You can set up a daily period that’s devoted to writing and block all distractions during that time. (Note: You will need to create a custom time filter for this alert to work. You can do that under “advanced filters” under the “tools” menu)

writing-time-alert

3. You find yourself spending a lot of time on Social Networks when you feel like you should be working
Set an alert to give yourself a 30 minute FocusTime session after 1 hour on Social Networks to snap you out of it.

social-network-alert

Click the image to set up an alert like this

4. You want to start the day off as productively as possible
When you first start working in the morning, block distracting websites for 15 minutes to avoid starting the day off unproductively. You can do this manually, or create an alert that will do it for you. (Tip: Use the “when” dropdown when creatign the alert to restrict the time of day this happens. You could create one for just weekday mornings, after lunch, etc…).

start-day-alert

Click the image to set up an alert like this

5. You’d like to nudge yourself away from the computer after a particularly unproductive day
Sometimes I get to a point where I’ve fallen down such a distracting hole that the only thing that makes sense is to get up and move around for a while. You can block distracting websites for the rest of the day after 5 hours of unproductive time in one day.

brutal-alert

Click the image to set up an alert like this

6. You’re trying to get better sleep, and don’t want to spend so much time on the computer late at night.
You can block distracting websites between the hours of 10pm and midnight to help you get off the computer late at night.

late-night-alert

 

Hopefully this gives you a good starting point for how to use FocusTime to help keep distractions in check. If you have any other scenarios where FocusTime is helpful, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


RescueTime handling of Heartbleed SSL bug

heartbleedThis week, a security vulnerability known as the Heartbleed bug was discovered to be affecting major websites across the internet. RescueTime’s servers have been updated to address this issue.

All requests to RescueTime use SSL (HTTPS). All requests are terminated by Amazon using their Elastic Load Balancing Service. This service was patched to eliminate the Heartbleed bug on April 8th. This means users are currently protect against leakage resulting from this bug.

Additionally, as of April 9 all RescueTime server systems have been patched for the bug, or have been identified as not vulnerable. This is more a precaution than requirement since users do not directly connect to any RescueTime servers.

RescueTime is in the process of updating all passwords used in the administration of the service as the dependent services themselves are updated to protect against the bug, e.g. when the site service we use announces they are patched, we then update the password.

However, for further guarantee of security RescueTime will also update its server SSL certificates used in HTTPS and other privileged resources over the next week. We will make a second update when that is complete.

What should you do at this point?

It is now safe to change your password on www.rescuetime.com. You may also want to read our list of general steps you can take to browse the web safely while other websites are responding to the Heartbleed vulnerability.


Meet the new RescueTime – the big list of new features

The past few months have been really busy and exciting over here at RescueTime! We recently launched a completely redesigned version of the RescueTime.com for our individual users with over 30 new features and improvements. We’ve received a lot of great feedback and made a few changes to address some issues that have come up, and will continue to work to improve RescueTime for all of our users.

Here is a list of the features and improvements:

A mobile-friendly, responsive design

dashboard-mobile-desktop

  • The website is fully responsive and supports multiple screen sizes and layouts. We also no longer use Adobe Flash for our charts and graphs meaning that you can now use the RescueTime.com website on a much broader base of devices including mobile phones and tablets.

The RescueTime dashboard

dashboard

  • The dashboard has been completely reimagined – based around the most common ways our users interact with RescueTime. This gives you the information you need with fewer steps and in a more readable format.
  • The default view is now the current day (was current week), making it easier to keep an eye on the current day’s activities, which are more actionable.
  • There are several new visualizations, including a ‘spotlights’ section  showing your daily patterns and comparisons with past time periods.
  • Observations about the current day / week / month are available to help you make sense of the data in the graphs.
  • Achievements block showing the lifetime total time logged, top productive day, and more.

Time and productivity reports

activity-2

  • You can pop out a live timer to keep an eye on the time you are logging for any report
  • Reports show richer information about how an activity (or type of activity) fits into your entire day.  (Example: You spent 3h 19m in Photoshop, that’s 5% of your total time this week, and 36% of your time spent in design & composition)
  • It is now easier to categorize or edit an activity, or delete time that you’d rather not include in your reports.
  • Most reports have a new “daily patterns” view that shows you how what time of day you tend to spend more time on activities, categories, or productivity levels. premium-slug 
  • All reports have a “changes over time” view that gives a historic perspective on how you are spending your time. premium-slug
  • You can share the results of a report by email or Twitter

Goals

create-goal

  • You can get notifications when you exceed a goal line via email or pop-up. premium-slug
  • Goals can be created directly from a report page, making it easier to spot things you’d like to change and take action immediately.
  • Goals were previously for categories and productivity levels only. Now you can set a goal for individual applications and websites as well.
  • All-time goals allow you to keep track of the total time you spend on the computer each day.
  • Redesigned goals reports. It’s now easier to track your progress over time.

Alerts & Notifications premium-slug

GrowlHelperApp

  • You can add a personalized message to alerts (example: ” 5hrs of productive time today! Congrats! You’ve earned yourself a break”)
  • Distracting websites can be blocked for a configurable time after an alert is triggered. Great when you need an extra nudge to get back on track.
  • An alert can be created for just about any metric we track (examples: “total time logged”, “all communication & shcheduling”, “very productive time” or just simply “Gmail”)

Daily Highlights premium-slug

daily highlights

  • You can now keep a running list of your accomplishments. It’s a great way to remember what you got done each day.
  • There is a filtered view of your activities to help you remember what you worked on for days in the past.

Offline Time – track time away from the computer premium-slug

offline time

  • Offline time now has a mobile-optimized view so you can easily enter time while you are away from the computer.
  • It’s now much easier to delete offline that you’ve entered by mistake.

Focus Time – Block distracting websites premium-slug

alerts-focustime

  • You can now disable a website during a FocusTime session, after waiting through a ‘cool-down’ period.
  • FocusTime sessions now show an alert when they expire, allowing you to work in intervals.
  • FocusTime now works on all major web browsers.

API / Integrations

  • New “Ways to use your data” page showing you other services that you can use to do interesting things with your RescueTime stats. Currently we have integrations with Beeminder, Geckoboard, and Panic Status Board.

RescueTime for Android

  • You may now track web sites on Android. Before, you could only monitor time spent in individual apps. This is an opt-in feature that requires enabling accessibility features on your Android device. You can get RescueTime for Android in the Google Play Store.

And a lot of small tweaks throughout the site…

  • System health prompts: lets you know if you need to update the RescueTime application, or if you are building up a lot of uncategorized time.
  • More configurable time display options for countries where the 12-hour time format isn’t used.
  • Many, many usability enhancements.

Over the next few weeks we will be diving into more detail on some of the RescueTeam’s favorite new features. If you don’t already have an account and would like to experience it for yourself, sign up for a RescueTime account today.


RescueTime for Android adds Website Reporting

(Firefox users: up vote this if you want support on Firefox for Android: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=908224)

We just pushed an update for our Android app that adds the ability to report on time you spend browsing on your phone or tablet. Get it here:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rescuetime.android

To do this, we needed use Android’s Accessibility services, and this requires an elevated privilege you will need to manually enable. Our app will walk you through this when you click the “Enable website logging” option. However, here is a brief explanation of the process:

1) Open up the RescueTime app and click the settings button (the gear icon). Click the “Enable website logging” option. This will automatically take you to the system Accessibility Settings screen, if it needs to be enabled.

RescueTime Settings

2) Find RescueTime in the Services list on the Accessibility settings screen and select it. On older devices you may already see an “on/off” switch for RescueTime here, just select On and you are done.

Screenshot_2013-08-16-10-38-53

3) After tapping it, on newer devices it opens the screen for enabling the service for RescueTime that has a description of the service. Click “On” to enable it. This automatically signals RescueTime to begin looking for site info in browsers.

Screenshot_2013-08-16-10-39-01

4) Achieve success! Supported browsers are: the stock Android browser, just called “Browser”, the Nexus series stock browser (a version of Chrome), Chrome (the version in the app store), Chrome Beta, and Dolphin. Not supported: Firefox and DolphinMini.


Breaking down the RescueTime productivity score

productivity-scoreThe RescueTime productivity score is a way of looking at your time based on the productivity level you’ve assigned to the various activities that you’ve logged time for. It’s a way to boil your time down to a single metric, so you can get a quick understanding of how you’re spending it without having to dig into the more detailed reports.

But, it sometimes generates a bit of confusion, so I wanted to dig into it a bit and see if I could clear up some of the misconceptions.

How exactly is the productivity score calculated?

First off, it helps to know exactly what that number means. RescueTime lets you assign any activity or category a productivity level. There are five options, ranging from “very distracting” to “very productive”.

If you assign a productivity level to a category, it will filter down to all activities in that category, unless you explicitly add a productivity level to an activity, in which case it will override the category productivity level.

Your overall productivity score is calculated as an average of the time spent on each productivity level. If you spent all day on activities marked as “neutral productivity”, you’d have a 50% productivity score. If you spent all day on something marked as “Productive”, you’d have a 75% productivity score. All day in activities marked “very productive”, you’d have a score of 100%.

Misconception: “My productivity score should be as high as possible, right?”

Some facts:

  • The average productivity score across the entire RescueTime user base is 67%. While obviously I haven’t talked to all of them, I can tell you these aren’t a bunch of slackers. They’re smart people who are very thoughtful about how they spend their time.
  • Around the RescueTime office, we’re averaging around 79%. We think about this stuff a lot, and I think we’re pretty well optimized for productivity.

Occasionally I see comments from users that suggest that they think they should be shooting for a productivity score of 100%. I can understand the sentiment, if you’re really efficient and getting all my work accomplished, it seems like the number should reflect that, right? Honestly, if we were rebuilding RescueTime from scratch, we might choose a less charged label than “productivity”. But the bottom line is that the productivity score doesn’t tell you anything about what you actually produce. It’s simply a number that can give you an interesting baseline of where your attention is, but doesn’t tell 100% of the story. It’s a way to understand your patterns, and not a prescription for how you should be spending your time. Moreover, there are some pretty compelling reasons why you shouldn’t shoot for a super-high productivity score.

Let’s look at another metric for context, shall we?

If you were tracking your Body Mass Index, you might want it to be lower, but you’d never want it to be zero! Through a lot of research, there are some accepted guidelines, but the scale itself doesn’t make an implication about an absolute measure everyone should shoot for. What it does, however, is give you a number that becomes important context for your physical activity. If you’re exercising more, you’ll likely see your BMI drop. If you’re eating a lot more, you might see it rise.

So, what’s the “healthy” range of productivity?

Since how you spend your time on the computer hasn’t received the same amount of scientific scrutiny as BMI, there isn’t such a clear recommendation. It’s really contextual. What may be the ideal mix of activities for you might not be for someone else. It’s also important to remember that just because something that’s classified as “distracting” doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. But it’s a good generic measure of where your attention is focused.

Some tips for using your productivity score

Change it to suit your needs: It’s important to remember that we try to make RescueTime as customizable as possible, so you can change the productivity levels to match what YOU consider to be productive or distracting.

Don’t think of it as a judgement. So many factors enter into your time that it’s impossible for a system to say definitively how you should be spending your time. The best we can do is give you a measure that you can use to make your own judgement. Work-life balance is different for everyone.

It will fluctuate, and that’s ok. The changes mean just that, something has changed. Not necessarily good or bad. See how it changes over time and you’ll have a better understanding of your natural patterns.

Downtime is good and healthy. No one should be expected to be 100% productive all the time. In fact, there’s a big pile of science that says it’s bad for the quality of your work, your creativity, and your well-being.

The score is a helpful metric when you’re trying new things. If you’re trying to optimize the way you work, the changes to your productivity score baseline can give you an objective measure of the impact of your changes. For example. I tried an experiment and turned off all notifications on my phone and computer. Just that change alone caused a 9% rise in my productivity score.

Hopefully that helps paint a clear picture of the productivity score and how we think it can be valuable. If you have any questions or thoughts, let us know in the comments!