Even though I’ve used RescueTime for years, I’ve barely explored its power beyond what’s on the surface. Since joining the RescueTime team in January I’ve realised there are lots of powerful features I don’t know about that could help me focus and get more done.
As I learn about some of these new features I’ll share with you how they work. I’ve also asked my RescueTime teammates and some of our users to chip in with their own stories of how they use these features and why they’re so useful.
Today’s feature is daily highlights
What are Highlights?
Highlights are short text snippets that record what you accomplished on a particular day. Highlights are a part of RescueTime Premium.
While RescueTime’s automatic tracking can tell you which apps you used and the websites you visited throughout the day, it can’t tell you why you used them or what project you were working on at the time. Highlights let you quickly and easily make notes of each task you complete or project you work on.
How do you enter them?
You can enter Highlights manually on the website, or automatically with an API integration (see examples below). To make them easy to remember, you can set up alerts to automatically prompt you to enter highlights as you progress through your work day.
Why use highlights?
When our highlights feature was first released, here’s what now-CEO Robby Macdonell said about its inception:
RescueTime is great for understanding broad patterns in my time use but not so great for looking back at a specific day and remember[ing] 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.
How are RescueTime users using Highlights?
Since we introduced this feature, our users have found lots of different benefits in using daily highlights. Here are a few examples:
Tracking non-billable time
I use the Daily Highlights to keep track of how I spend my non-billable time, as I’m not very consistent with using my time tracking app for non-billable things. — Kim MacDonald
Reporting to clients
Though out my day I record highlights of what I have done. At the end of the week, I take these highlights to compile a report for my client. — Mike Therien
Reporting to supervisors and better planning
I record major or notable daily tasks completed so that when it comes to writing monthly activity reports for my supervisor, I can see easily at a glance what I accomplished. It also helps me track which elements of my role tend to take most time at which point in the month, which lets me plan workflow better. — A. Evans
Spending more time on important work
The highlights are a great tool to make quick reference notes about what I’ve been doing for the previous time blocks. Without it, I might go days at a time putting out fires and miss some significant billing opportunities. — Michael Runyon
Reporting to the boss
My boss likes to specifically know what I’ve accomplished in the past two weeks when we meet for our one-on-one meetings. Sometimes it’s hard to remember an item after it’s been crossed off my task list, because I’m already so preoccupied with the next task or project, and looking back at RescueTime reports doesn’t give me the specificity I need to report to my boss. I have intelligent prompts that remind me to enter Highlights in RescueTime, and I enter specific tasks that I’ve finished since the last prompt. It’s then really easy to see at a glance what I’ve accomplished in the past two weeks! — Marielle Bryck
I created hourly prompts to log the things I’ve accomplished during the day. If the prompt pops up and I don’t have anything to write down I know I’m getting off track. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of optimization when you’re working, constant productivity prompts keep me on track. — Ava Donatien
I use it as a journal. I know and have read that it is good to journal, so when I have a thought that does not necessarily require an action, or something I need to write out to attribute to my day or that hour, I just have the highlights link ready, jot a quick note, and get it off my brain and down on ‘paper’. I think can sort back as needed. Overall a great tool! — Edward Silva
How highlights can help you understand how you spend your time, and report on what you’ve done
Let’s get a bit more specific about how you can use highlights to track how you spend your time.
RescueTime software developer David uses highlights combined with alerts to keep track of what he’s working on throughout the day:
I use them ALL the time and I love them. They remind me what I did and what my focus was during the day
I have an alert that fires off rather early in the day to set a highlight as a “reminder” of what my focus will be during the day. Then I fire one off about two or hours later to make sure i’ve not gotten off track. Then I have another one to summarize the day and what I got done. I try to keep the afternoon without alerts as that tends to be my most productive time.
The next morning, or after a weekend, I pull up my previous days highlights or previous weeks highlights to remind me what I was working on and what I got done.
Here’s what David’s alerts look like in RescueTime:
Basically, I use them to make sure I am on the right direction from the previous day and after an hour of work of a new day in the AM, a reminder of focus around midday and a summary of the day when it is done.
You might want to cover time you spend away from your computer in daily highlights, too. You can do this by connecting highlights to your calendar events, as RescueTime user Alessandro Veneri does:
I use [highlights] to keep track of all my daily meetings and university lectures by syncing RescueTime with my calendar, so that I could know at any time what I’ve been doing on each day.
Connecting to other services like your calendar to automate your highlights makes it easy to keep a log of how you spend your time. RescueTime user Alfonso Buron connects highlights to his task manager, Nozbe, using Zapier:
On the daily stand ups I want my colleagues to know what relevant tasks I worked on yesterday and which ones I plan to work on today. For that purpose I set up a Zap in Zapier that sends from Nozbe to RescueTime those tasks that I tick off each day in specific Nozbe projects.
RescueTime and Trello user Joshua Evans uses a similar approach:
I use Trello to keep my to-do list, and whenever I mark a task as “done” IFTTT automatically adds a highlight to Rescue Time! Automation for the win!
Using journaling app Day One, RescueTime user Aaron Dowd is able to keep track of his daily work and reflect on what he gets done each week:
I work remotely for seanwes, a company that helps people grow audience-driven businesses, live the life they want, and enjoy their work. I’ve been working from home since 2014, and while I love it, days fly by really quickly.
We have so many different projects going on, I used to feel like I wasn’t always making the most of my time. I’d edit some podcasts, write a blog post, help a community member with a question, do some admin tasks, and so on. I started using RescueTime to write down everything I did throughout my day, mostly just to have a log so I can see what I’ve done.
At the end of the week, I copy all my highlights and paste them into a Day One journal entry. That way, I can go back and see everything I did in the past week, which helps me feel a little more sane.
Lucas Repolês has a similar process, but uses IFTTT to automate it:
I have RescueTime alerts that open the highlight screen on every two productivity hours. Then I write the achievements of my day at work. Finally an IFTTT rule saves these notes on my journal in Day One. I really love this feature!
Some examples of highlights in action
You can make the process of logging highlights super easy by setting up the services you already use to create highlights for you automatically. For instance, you could create highlights from your git commit messages, your completed tasks on your to-do list, or each time you publish a blog post.
You can use IFTTT to set up automatic highlights with services like Todoist, Trello, Gmail, GitHub, Wunderlist, and WordPress.
Here are some examples of IFTTT applets for creating RescueTime highlights:
Zapier also works with RescueTime highlights and connects you to even more services, such as Asana, Google Docs, Slack, and Evernote.
Here are some examples of automatic daily highlights you can set up with Zapier:
Add your own custom integrations
You can even use the RescueTime highlights API to create your own automatic daily highlights. For example, here’s a setup for sending git commit messages to RescueTime as highlights.
Check out the docs for our highlights API to create your own custom integration.
There’s a lot you can do with daily highlights. Whether you need more insight into projects you’re spending your time on, or an easy way to report to your boss what you’ve been up to, highlights can help you keep a log of your work.
And when combined with alerts, reminder emails, and other apps via IFTTT and Zapier, you can create a powerful process for tracking your work.
If you’re a Premium RescueTime user, start using daily highlights here.
Or you can upgrade to RescueTime Premium here.
Big news! We launched a channel on IFTTT this week, and it opens up a bunch of different possibilities for using your RescueTime data with your favorite apps and devices.
If you’re unfamiliar, IFTTT stands for: “If This Then That”, is pronounced like: “GIFT”, and is a service that lets you take actions in one app in response to actions in another. Since you spend so much of your time plugged into your digital devices, there are a LOT of actions you can take.
IFTTT channels have two parts. The first are Triggers – things that happen in your app than can cause things to happen in others. Second are Actions – things that can respond to a Trigger in another app. The combination of a Trigger and an Action is called a Recipe.
The RescueTime IFTTT channel has four triggers…
…and two Actions.
You can connect our channel to any of the hundreds of other channels on IFTTT (although some of them make a lot more sense then others). IFTTT has channels for business apps, smartphones, social networks, even home automation devices.
The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are a few of the Recipes we really like:
Silence your phone while in a FocusTime session
Use Google Calendar to start a FocusTime session…
…or add a do-not-disturb note when FocusTime starts
Set up a productivity light
IFTTT has several channels that will let you control a light (or a set of lights). You can use the Recipes below with the Phillips Hue, ORBneXt, and Blink(1) channels.
Adjust your thermostat while in a FocusTime session
If you want to give yourself some extra motivation, set your Nest thermostat to something really comfortable either while you are in a FocusTime session, or after you’ve completed a few hours of productive work.
Use alerts to post messages to Slack
You can use RescueTime alerts as an automated way to humblebrag (or publicly shame yourself) to your coworkers.
Get a phone call whenever an alert is triggered
This one is super effective for getting me to stop working when it’s late at night. I have an alert set up for “more than 30 minutes of productive time between midnight and 4am”. When my phone rings in the middle of the night, that momentary “who the hell is calling me at 1am?!?!” feeling is the BEST way to knock me out of the workaholic hole I’ve fallen into.
Save daily summaries in a Google Sheet
This one is great if you just want to pull some specific data over time into a spreadsheet. It’s perfect for Quantified Self projects where you’re tracking one metric (say, hours of productive time) against another data source (like your daily exercise or sleep).
We’re particularly excited about the FocusTime Triggers and Actions, which let you tailor your FocusTime experience in some really powerful ways. You can read more on that over here.
What recipes have you come up with? Share your favorites in the comments!
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
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
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
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.
Day-timer windows now show the elapsed time in the window title
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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…).
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.
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.
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.
This 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.