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.
You can now use your RescueTime Alerts to automate your favorite web applications, thanks to our new integration with Zapier.com.
Say what? Probably easiest to show some examples. Here are a few things we’ve been doing around the RescueTime offices that illustrate some of what you can do with this integration.
1. Deliver alerts differently than the standard popup messages or emails
2. Automatically share time milestones as status reports
3. Log alerts as datapoints for future Quantified Self analysis
4. Poke fun at ourselves for going on workaholic binges while getting this integration done!
Zapier allows more than 280 web applications to speak to each other
Zapier is a web service that makes it easy for non-developers to connect their web applications together, saving time and improving productivity. They connect with over 280 different services, including several of the most popular project management and communication services, such as Basecamp, Asana, Podio, Yammer, iDoneThis, and HipChat to name a few.
How does this work?
When you connect your RescueTime account with Zapier, we will make a special feed of your alerts accessible to them. Then you can set up any of your alerts to trigger an action in Zapier. This can be used to log a block of time, send a status message, or add a note to a calendar. You can even send a humblebragging tweet about your horrible work-life imbalance. A more technical explanation can be found here.
How do I get started?
Alerts - and consequently the alerts API - are only available to RescueTime premium subscribers. But to make it easier to give them a try, we’re offering premium subscriptions at 25% off the normal price until May 31, 2014. Click here to upgrade so you can get started.
First, make sure you have some alerts set up, then head on over to Zapier.com and start creating zaps. If you need any help, check this help document or open a support ticket with us and we’ll be happy to help.
Let us know what you think, ok?
The great thing about Zapier is it puts you in control of your data without relying on us to do tedious one by one integrations. Play around with it. Have fun! Do amazing things! If you find something that’s really working for you, please let us know so we can share the knowledge!
April updates: Compare mobile to desktop time, Alerts improvements, and auto-updates to the desktop app!Posted: April 26, 2014
We’ve pushed out a number of new things over the past week or so that we are pretty excited to share with you. Here is a brief rundown. We will have expanded posts about some of these features in the next few days.
New premium report – Compare your mobile, desktop, and offline time side-by-side.
If you are using our Android app, or you log a lot of offline time, you will have noticed that all that time gets combined with your desktop computer time in the reports. This is actually pretty convenient, because it allows you to see everything all at once. But it does tend to obscure some of the details about those different contexts. We just added a new report that will allow you to see your time coming from different inputs separately. (Personally I was a little shocked to see just how much time I spend looking at my phone each day.)
Updates to alerts
We made several improvements and additions to the RescueTime’s alerts system.
More automatic FocusTime choices. After much feedback, we added more options to the automatic FocusTime site-blocking. Now you can set a longer interval for distracting websites to be blocked after an alert is triggered, or you can choose to have websites blocked for the entire rest of the day (requires the latest version of the application).
You can now create an alert for any individual website or application. You used to have to go through a pretty clunky process to create an alert for a specific website, now there is a link on the website or application’s report page to create an alert. This allows you to get extremely specific with the alerts you create.
Power user trick – Automatically launch a url when an alert is triggered. If you create an alert with a custom message, and you include a url enclosed with backticks in the message, the url will be opened automatically when the alert triggers. I have an alert for when I’ve been really productive that tells me:
Long day today! Take a break and look at puppies! `http://www.reddit.com/r/aww`
pssssst! Speaking of doing interesting automated things with alerts, we’re working on a few integrations that we’re really excited about, but they won’t be ready for a few more days.
Desktop-application update improvements
We’ve overhauled the way the RescueTime application handles updates, and the new process is much smoother. New users are currently getting this functionality, and we’ll be pushing out an update automatically in the next couple of days, and after that any future updates should be much less obtrusive than they currently are.
You can get the new version of the app now from the RescueTime download page.
The input sources report and RescueTime alerts are only available to premium subscribers. If you are on the free plan, you can learn more about upgrading to RescueTime premium here.
I hope you like these new features. There’s a lot more on the way!
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.
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!
There are a lot of things I’m really excited about in the new version of RescueTime. We rolled out over 30 new features, but I’m particularly thrilled about a few of the changes we’ve made to the alerts you can set up to let you know when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on an activity.
Improvement 1. You can now set alerts for ANYTHING.
Before, I could only set alerts for categories or productivity levels. This left out two important situations. First, I’m interested in staying mindful of the total time I’m on the computer each day, not just the productive or distracting time, and it just wasn’t possible to create an alert for that before. Now, I can set an alert to notify me when I log above a certain amount of total time on a given day. This is a great way to curb my workaholic tendencies (and gets even more effective with improvement #2). Second, I can also now set up alerts for specific websites and applications. There are some times when an entire category is too abstract for me, and I just want to know when I’ve been doing something specific.
For example: I have a problem with Candy Jewels on my phone. I can’t stop playing it sometimes. Not that I think games are bad or anything, but I fall into a hole with this one in particular. I have an alert that let’s me know when I’ve played it for more than a half hour a day.
Improvement 2. You can now include a custom message to get sent along with your alert.
RescueTime alerts are often a way of sending myself a message in the future. Present Robby who’s thinking about how much time he’d ideally like to devote to certain things wants to send Future Robby a note either congratulating or chastising him when he crosses a certain threshold. The problem was, I couldn’t actually include any sentiment with that alert, just a dry status message “You have spent more than 2 hours on distracting activities today”. Now, I can customize the alert to say whatever I want, which allows me to get creative with it. Here are couple examples:
After 2 hours of distracting time:
After 10 hours total on the computer:
And here’s an alert our CEO uses to manage a shoulder injury he’s working through:
Improvement 3: You can automatically start a FocusTime session after an alert is triggered.
One problem I always had with alerts is I felt they were only half-useful when I was trying to nudge myself into changing my behavior. Sure, getting a reminder where my time is going is helpful, but sometimes I wanted something more. We combined our alerts with FocusTime, our site blocking feature to make the alerts a little more meaningful. Now, I can not only say “let me know when I’ve been getting too distracted”, I can also turn off distracting websites for a period of time as well.
I’ve found an interesting productivity hack for this one. When I first get to work in the mornings, I have a bad habit of making the rounds of Reddit, Twitter, Hacker News, etc… before I settle down onto something more serious. I wanted to see if I could improve how I started my day, so I set up an alert to block distracting websites for 30 minutes after 0.01 hours of time is logged each day. This effectively says “no distracting websites for the first half hour that I’m at the computer”. This is usually enough time for me to sink into something more productive, which sets the tone for my day. I’ve been doing this one for a couple weeks now (weekdays only), and it’s working pretty well.
Improvement 4: Goals now have alert functionality built in.
In the old version of RescueTime, goals and alerts were completely separate. Goals were for keeping track of metrics over time, and alerts were more transient. This always seemed cumbersome to me. The new version still has the ability to create goals and alerts separately, but I can choose to get alerts directly from a goal if I like. This saves me the extra step of creating the alert (and editing it if I ever need to change my goal).
Creating a new goal with notifications built in
These improvements have really changed the way I interact with goals and alerts in RescueTime, and opened up a whole bunch of new possibilities. I hope you like these new capabilities as much as I do!
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- All reports have a “changes over time” view that gives a historic perspective on how you are spending your time.
- You can share the results of a report by email or Twitter
- You can get notifications when you exceed a goal line via email or pop-up.
- 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
- 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”)
- 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
- 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
- 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.