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

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  • 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!


New beta feature: Turn any RescueTime report into a live-updating widget

Quick Look widgets

Have you ever wanted to keep a closer eye on the time you’re spending in a specific category or activity throughout the day? This week we rolled out a new beta feature that makes it easier.

If you have beta access enabled (see below for how to do this), you can turn any productivity, category, or activity report into a live-updating timer widget, simply by resizing the window small enough. You can then place this widget off to the side (or on a second monitor) and continue about your day. As you build up more time, the widget will update and show you your current status. You can create several widgets and position them however you want to create ad-hoc productivity dashboards.

Some things you can do with these widgets:

  • Keep an eye on your time spent in email throughout the day
  • Compare two metrics, like time spent on software development vs. time in meetings
  • Turn your productivity score into a game, how high can you make it go?

Enable beta access: To try it out, you’ll need to make sure you’re in our beta channel by going to your account settings page and checking the “Beta features on” checkbox.

Once you’ve enabled beta features, just go to any report page and do the following:

make quick look widget

The update frequency is the same as the rest of the RescueTime reports. If you’re a RescueTime Pro user, the widgets will update every 3 minutes. If you’re a free user, it’s every 30 minutes.

Isn’t this a really weird interaction model? Yes. It is. We’re eventually going to find another way to make it more discoverable. These widgets are a brand new way to interact with RescueTime, and we’re still playing around with several of the details. In that sense, the easter-egg treatment feels fairly appropriate.

All the standard beta feature disclaimers apply. It’s brand new. And there might be some bugs we haven’t caught yet. We’ll also probably change this up a bit over time as we get a better understanding of how people are using it.

We’d love your feedback!

What do you think of this new way of keeping an eye on your time? Does it help? What things are you using it to keep track of?


New group-wide dashboard for RescueTime Team Version

One of the best things about RescueTime is it’s ability to help people make smart choices about their time. We think that self-directed, creative workers in the information economy should have the best tools to be able to manage themselves effectively.

No one likes to have their time  micro-managed, and to be perfectly honest I’ve never met a team leader who actually enjoys micro-managing people. Giving team members the right information to manage their time on their own frees team leaders up to think bigger, on more strategic ideas.

We know from experience and feedback that executives and team managers can make better choices and provide not guess-driven, but rather data-driven decision making if we can bubble up the most compelling summaries of team trends and activity. Bringing these two concepts of individual independence and team metrics together is a challenge we now answer.

We’ve recently rolled out a new dashboard in our Team version that simplifies the life of managers who want a better understanding of the team’s overall time-resources. We think it answers some high-level questions allowing managers to be more strategic. Have a look…

RescueTime Team Dashboard

We had several goals with this new Dashboard:

Answer important questions about the team rather than the individual

This dashboard doesn’t attempt to be a malleable, pivotable, power-user Swiss Army knife of information. Rather, it’s focused on telling a story about the group’s time, in as straightforward a way as possible. The top section covers the questions “How much time have we spent working this week?”,  ”How productive have we been?”, “What types of things were we doing?” Below that, you’ll get some running totals showing progress towards team-defined goals for the week. Then finally, there’s a configurable section at the bottom showing details about the various categories that time can be spent in, to answer any follow up questions raised by the other sections of the dashboard.

Give managers the pulse of their team, not a full MRI

We’ve found that too much data can easily become just noise. Team leaders getting lost in details can cause more harm than good in many cases. What are they supposed to do with all these numbers? We think having access to *actionable* data is the important part, and feel we’ve struck a really good balance here between simplicity and a rich level of information.

Respect the trust between managers and other team members

Nowhere on this dashboard will you see information about a specific individual. It’s all aggregate rollups, generally at the category and above level. We wanted to provide a good amount of high level information, while at the same time providing some insulation to individual users. We think it’s well optimized to spot opportunities for systemic improvements, while leaving the more detailed, tactical, individual decisions to the individuals themselves.

If you have a team of people and you’d like to try out RescueTime’s team version, click here.