We love surveys, yes we do. We love surveys, how ’bout you?

We love the fact that our users are vocal.  We get dozens of opinionated emails every day requesting features.  In the past, we’ve distributed a mess of surveys to get a understanding of which features were important to you.  But this survey is different…  It’s a more general “State of the RescueTime” sort of survey to try to help us understand more about you and your relationship with our product, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.

So whether you are a current RescueTime user or not, we’d love to have you fill out this survey.  It’s 8 questions and should be super quick.  We’ll select 5 random participants to receive a free month of RescueTime (so be sure to include your email if you’re interested).

Thanks much to all– here’s the link: http://survey.io/survey/8b287


RescueTime for Project Time Tracking (coming soon, but we need your help!)

As we get ready to launch some really really cool tools that will allow to you to block the distracting parts of the web, some of our team is starting to look forward to our next major initiative…  Projects!

RescueTime does a great job of tracking time, but doesn’t really do a very good job of allowing you to bucket that time into projects.  This isn’t an easy problem– lots of time (like email and Google.com) is difficult to automagically bucket into projects.  But for all of the people who are laboring under the yoke of painstaking (yet still horribly subjective and inaccurate) timesheets, we’re hoping to be a solution.  And, of course, all of the managers who are trying to make sense of this timesheet data, we’re hoping to help you out as well!

So PLEASE- chip in with your thoughts.  You can weigh in here in the comments if you want, but (IF you are interested in RescueTime tracking time on projects), we’d love to have you fill out this super short survey:

Please click here to fill out the survey (it’ll just take a sec!)

You have our promise the it is (at worst) only moderately boring and will truly give you a hand in shaping the product to be what you want it to be.


Introducing: Business Engineering, the evolution of Business Intelligence

Define intelligence:

Intelligence is a characteristic of thinking, but it is also a thing to be acquired. This substance is different than information. Intelligence is information that has been discovered, processed, and presented in a way that encourages its other definition: disciplined, insightful thinking.

Define engineering:

Engineering is the deliberate, analytical, scientific application of intelligence to the design or modification of a system.

Business Engineering requires superior Business Intelligence

Most data floated as Business Intelligence is more accurately labeled business information. It becomes the substance Business Intelligence when superior tools expose patterns and trends that are actionable.

Business Engineering is the practice of managing decisions based on critical analysis of intelligence about internal and external factors influencing the business.

RescueTime allows businesses to tweak the previously hidden algorithms that drive productivity of workforces. Data is scientifically gathered, and innovatively processed and presented in real time.

Businesses can re-balance work loads, uncover inefficiencies, and identify stalled or unusually successful projects while they are happening. Smart managers can introduce a measure of science into management itself: easily visualized historical information exposes trends one week to the next. Try several workflow processes, prove which one works best for each team.


Death of a Feature: The Impending Demise of Tags

We know that we’re going to have some angry users as a result of this decision– but for those of you who love tags, I hope you’ll read this post and (more importantly) try out the changes we’ll be rolling out next week before you get angry or kick RescueTime to the curb.  So here’s the big news: our release next week is going to remove the concept of tagging from the user experience.  Below we’ll detail what we’re adding/changing to compensate for this and (if you’re interested) why we’re doing it.  We’ll also talk a bit of how you can get help if you are a paying customer and you are using tags.  We’ll also show you some preview screenshots.  We are really freakin’ excited about these changes–  we’re making RescueTime less work, easier to understand for new users, and (most importantly) we’re making it easier to understand and improve your own productivity.

Breakdown of the Impending Changes

Tags are going away. As we looked at how our customers were using tags (the few who were using it, much less using it successfully), we saw people tagging things like they were categories (“graphic design”, “coding”) or saw people tagging things in terms of productivity level (“work”, “personal”, “procrastination”, etc).  To allow for both of these cases, we’re expanding categories and making the act of categorizing (and creating custom categories) one billion percent easier (measure it when we launch!  It’s true!).  Further, we’re are implementing a smart default-categorization system that will provide our users with well categorized data out of the gates.  Here’s a screenshot of the new categorization UI.  It’s inline and it’s FAST.

tagblog1

We don’t show it in this screenshot, but there are two things we’ve added since this mockup.  First, a category dedicated to software developers (a big slice of our userbase and obviously one close to our heart!).  Two, we’ve added an inline “add custom category” selection that will make adding in your own categories close to as easy as adding in a new tag was.

So that’s attacking how most people were using tags– pretty much as categories (in fact, the average number of tags a tagged activity had in RescueTime is 1.26).

But we’re also attacking the “subjective” use case by enhancing how RescueTime scores work.  First, we’re going institute smart defaults scores for all of the top apps and sites.  This can obviously be subjective, but we think it’ll help people get up and running faster and have more meaningful data.  Second, we’re going to make scoring easier and clearer.  Here’s a screenshot of the scoring UI:

tagblog2

One click in any view in RescueTime and you can rescore an activity.  Note that we are exposing categorization and scoring UI in ALL reports (rather than putting them a tab deeper like in previous version).  All of these scores are now available in graph report form.  Want to see how you spend your time in terms of productivity levels?  Check out this graph:

tagblog3

This shows a week of my time with a breakdown of good stuff (above the line) and bad stuff) below the line.  While it’s not strictly related to this issue, this seems like a fine time to note our new URL structure, which will allow clever folk to see reports with any granularity that they want.  Want to see a graph of a day by hour?  Fine.  How about a WEEK or a MONTH by hour?  Here’s an example of the new (human readable) URL structure:

tagblog4

We’re hoping that all of these changes will more than compensate for the sting that some will experience from losing tags.  To learn more about why we’re doing this, read on.

Why We’re Getting Rid of Tags

We’re a metrics driven company.  Any time we release a feature, we look hard at whether people are using it and how they are using it.  When look at tags, we have some fairly ugly data to look at:

  • The VAST majority of our paying customers are not using tags or not using them well (i.e. tagging Excel as “excel” doesn’t seem like a productive use of time).
  • Most users have a minority of their time data tagged.
  • The average number of tags a tagged activity has is 1.26… In other words, people are using tags as categories and are not taking advantage of the one-to-many powers of tags.
  • When asked, most users who quit cite tagging as one of their reasons for quitting.  “Seemed like constant work with tagging”, “tagging was confusing– it was hard to make sense of my data” are very common responses.

In addition to the data, tags create some big challenges for us.  Creating visualizations of tags is difficult due to the one-to-many relationship (imagine a pie chart of tags- If Outlook is tagged as “work” and “communication”, where does Outlook time go?).  Looking at a bar graph of tags, people mistakenly assumed that if they added up the bars, that’d equal their total logged time.  Not the case!

But the biggest reason for nuking tags is that we want RescueTime (as it stands now) to be as simple as possible to make room for some of the exciting things we have in store for you.  I remember reading a comment about RescueTime that really stuck in my craw (because it was RIGHT).  Paraphrasing: “RescueTime is like a fireman walking up to you and saying, ‘Hey!  You are on fire!  You should stop being on fire!’”.  RescueTime in the coming months is going to shift into firefighting mode– and help our customers stop being on fire rather than just letting them know that they are.  We’re going to damn well live up to our name.

But why not just keep the feature and de-emphasize it? In an ideal world, this is what we’d do.  But every feature that doesn’t bring joy/satisfaction to a meaningful percentage of our users has a cost.  It clutters the UI, slows down our development process, and gives us something else to maintain until the end of time.  Too much cost, and not enough benefit, in short.

What to Do if You Have Tags

As part of this release, we’ll be assigning automatic categories and scores based on the tags people have assigned.  The 98% of our users who don’t use tags very much will have much improved data.  The 2% who use tags a lot SHOULD have improved data as well (most people who tag don’t have all of their time tagged– this will help!).  For those of you who have tags and desperately want to keep them, you’ll have the custom category capability should you need it.  If you are a paying business customer, we will help you do this from our end to minimize the pain  for you.  In other words, we’ll learn from you which tags are critical and we’ll move them into a custom category on your behalf.

For folks who are anxious about this, we apologize.  And we ask that you reserve judgement and give the adjustments a few weeks to sink in before you pass judgement.  We’re are incredibly excited about what’s coming out next week (we’ve been using it on our dev server as we’ve developed it and it’s a huge improvement on a lot of fronts).  We’re also excited about what’s on the horizon (API and a rash of cool productivity features, to name a few things)


RescueTime for Employee Monitoring – What it means for RescueTime

Note: this blog post was prompted by this tweet — we’ve also gotten an email or two about the messaging change.  I’d meant to get this blog post out last week, but the release happened a few hours after I’d boarded the plan for my first vacation in a few years.  Apologies for the delay!

Last week we did a few dramatic things in terms of our business offering.  First off, our “marketing” site (the one new users see before they sign up– if you’re already a RescueTime user, you’ll have to log out to see it) is now much more business focused, with the individual offering significantly de-emphasized.  We also introduced a new product, RescueTime Pulse (employee monitoring software), which allows managers to see how employees are spending their time without the employees being able to see or control the monitoring software.  This is in contrast with our existing flagship offering (RescueTime Empower), which allows employees to see their own data and have some control over what is monitored and when.

We wanted to take a few minutes to talk about our thinking behind the new offering and what it means for RescueTime.

Our Thinking behind the Changes

  • The biggest reason we’re offering the new restricted version is because people wanted it. A restricted mode offering was literally the most requested feature from our business customers.  RescueTime is a software startup, which means that our first mandate is to build something people want…  Which may or may not necessarily map to what we THINK they should want.
  • Related, the site being more business-focused is a reflection of the economy in which we live.  Revenue and profit are king and we can’t expect to focus on free/consumer audiences forever.  While we will always serve that individuals, we thought the site should reflect our focus on business customers.
  • The restricted offering helps us understand the value of our “in the open” offering, RescueTime Empower, which offers open and collaborative business time management software. To date, we’ve been able to show that using RescueTime in this way improves productive behavior by 9% over two months of use…  But we’ve never been able to understand how employees behave when they AREN’T using RescueTime “in the open”.  A restricted version will give us this data, and will help us understand the TRUE effect of our open offering.  9% is a pretty impressive number (annually, it can literally represents hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of productive time for even a 10-person team).  But we think we’re about to expose a much more dramatic number– and we’re excited about that!

What it means for RescueTime

  • We will continue to serve new and existing individual customers.  It’s a rapidly growing audience for us (we love you guys), but free users don’t pay the bills and we don’t want to bury people in ads to make money.
  • It gives us the opportunity to help business customers change how they think about employee monitoring and time management.  When you want to change the world, sometimes you have to meet it halfway and drag it the rest of the way.  Armed with real data, we can tell our customers who choose the employee monitoring route what they and their team could achieve if they embraced a more collaborative approach.
  • Revenue = runway.   Again, we’re a small and young company who is trying to change how businesses and individuals think about time tracking.  That’s not going to happen overnight.   We truly believe that it IS going to happen, and this step helps insure that we’re going to be around when it does!

We still believe what we’ve always believed at RescueTime.  That time is a resource that should be tracked in the same way that any valuable resource is tracked.  That tracking time should be easy and shouldn’t interfere with being productive.  That managers and business owners should be able to see this data in aggregate to help them understand and guide their business.  That employees and individuals should be able to own their own time management, see their own time tracking data, and see how they compare to their peers.

As always, we welcome your comments (either drop a comment on this post or drop us an email at team@rescuetime.com).


Holiday Release – Customizable Dashboards, Custom Categories, Group Goals, and more!

Happy holidays to everyone!

We’re pushing a release now that’s pretty exciting for all of us, and is a great pre-cursor for things to come.  In this post is a description of the new bits as well as some of what’s in store for the next release (Jan/Feb).  Read onward…  And, as always– if you have any feedback or ideas, please let us know!

Revised Site Navigation / Organization

There are significant (but hopefully painless) changes in navigation that makes the site simpler and a bit more powerful.

newnav

We’ve killed the “list” view in favor of putting paginated lists below each visualization.  All of the power of the previous list view is available here — without requiring that you visit a different type of page to get it.

datatable

Truly Customizable Dashboards

The RescueTime dashboard is yours to customize however you like.  Each visualization across the site has an “Add to Dashboard” link in the upper right hand corner which allows you to drop a smaller version of that graph onto your dashboard.

add2dash

Really care about your email time?  Go to that graph in RescueTime and add it to your dashboard.  Don’t care about tags?  Punt it off your dashboard with the little “X” control to keep things tidy.  Or drag it to the bottom so you can look at it from time to time if you want to.  Over the past year, we’ve come to realize that everyone has widely varying ideas on what a good dashboard should contain…  So we’ve opened it up– build the dashboard you want to build!

dash_controls

Categories are no longer ours… They’re  yours!

When we launched this feature, we did it with a collection of pre-defined categories.  It was hard– YOU try to create a small list of categories where literally every application and web site fits neatly!  We had plenty of people give us an earful about the fact that our categories didn’t fit how THEY categorized their tools.  We listened!  You can now do two things with categories that you couldn’t yesterday:

  • change the category for an app or site.  Before, categories were assigned democratically– you could “vote” for a new category, but if the world didn’t agree with you, you were out of luck.  Now you can adjust categories however you like!
  • add custom categories!  Each user gets several custom category slots that they can use as they see fit.  Are we missing a category?  Add it!

Goals Overhaul

We’ve done a significant overhaul to goals!  We weren’t able to get every goal improvement into this release that we wanted to, but there are some great new features, detailed below.

  • In response to pretty tremendous demand, we now allow for weekly goals!  Set a goal for “more than 25 hours of work per week”  or “more than 2 hours per week blogging”, or even “less than 5 hours per week social networking”!  You can track your success with these goals and optionally elect to receive alerts (via email  or even SMS).
    weeklygoal
  • We’ve created a “Goals Summary” page where you can see a day-by-day (or week by week) overview of how many of your goals you’re hitting.  And, of course, you can drill in and look at your individual goals to get more detail.  Now that our dashboard is truly customizable, you can add your goals summary graph or any individual goal visualization to your dashboard.
    goalsum
  • We’ve adjusted the visualization of goals a bit to make it a bit more clear how you’re doing with your goals.
  • Group goals!  For our business customers, you can now track groupwide goals.  Want to set a goal of less than an hour a day slogging through email?  You can do that, and track how many people on your team meet that goal and how many can’t shake their email addiction.

What’s coming for our next release…

We’ve got some more exciting things in store for you in the new year.  Here’s a preview for what’s slated for our next release:

  • Documents!  One of our most requested features is an understanding of what happens “under the hood”– how is your time being spent in “general” applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, or Outlook– where you could be doing any number of things (some productive, some not so much).  RescueTime is going to unlock the mystery and allow you to know which projects you’re really working on.
  • Timesheet view.  For individuals and business customers, we’re going to show an hour by hour breakdown of “flow” throughout a day, week, or month.  See a dip in your “work” graph?  Dig into the timesheet view to see why it dipped!
  • More goals improvements.
  • More exportable data.
  • More exciting things that we aren’t going to talk about… yet!

Thanks for reading this far…  Please let us know in the comments what you like, what you hate, and what you’d most like to see in our next release!


Big New Release @ RescueTime

Hot on the heels of bringing on a new team member (Montana Low– read about him on our refreshed company page), we’ve just pushed a new release!

Accompanying the standard pile of tiny bug-fixes and improvements are a few exciting new features that we’d like to introduce you to.

Revised Scoring System

A few months back we launched a scoring system to give people a single number to represent their efficiency (ratio of good time to bad time) and productivity (sheer amount of good time).  The goal with these scores was to give people a clear understanding of how they compared to other folks and how they compared to people across their business teams.

The problem with the scores (which we heard loud and clear from our users) was that they were a bit complex/confusing.  It was difficult to know what they meant and required a bit of reading/digesting for neophyte users to understand even the basics of how it worked.

So we’ve simplified matters and come up with a single score (“efficiency”) directly based on how you’ve rated your tags and/or categories.  Under the score, we show you your total hours for the period (just because you’re efficient doesn’t mean your productive if you’re only working 4 hours per week…  Sorry, Tim! :-) ).  And next to your score, we show you a comparison population of either the entire userbase or the business group you’re a member of (for our business customers).  The end result looks like this:

We love the new look.  We think it’s clearer, simpler, and it communicates our scoring system (and colors) a lot better, too.  What do you think?

Filters!

I am in love with filters.  As soon as we had the concept of efficiency scores, I noticed a peculiar side effect.  In the evening, when I was goofing off on the computer, I’d turn off RescueTime.  Why?  Because goof-off time was negatively impacting my scores and I wanted to clobber my co-workers.  We firmly believe that being inefficient after hours is fine…  Our data strongly indicates that sweatshop hours end up hurting us more than it helps us.

But clearly turning off RescueTime isn’t the answer, because we lose valuable and interesting data about ourselves.  Enter, filters.

Filters allow you to focus the data you are seeing based on specific hour and date ranges.  For example, in my situation the time I care about being truly efficient is 8am – 7pm Monday thru Friday.  Once I’ve created a filter for this, I can look at a week, month or year– but ONLY be shown data (and be scored on) time within that criteria.  But heck– I’m curious about my evenings.  Do I ever work after hours?  How much time do I spend productively on weekends?  Blam.  I create a filter that shows data only 7pm-Midnight on weekdays plus all day on weekends…  That’s my “work/life balance” filter.  Here’s a screenshot of what filter controls look like on your dashboard:

And here’s a shot of what it looks like to create/edit a filter (which you can access by clicking on the manage filters link shown above):

Note that free users can only have two filters. If you need more than that, we’d love to invite you to upgrade to a paying plan.

We hope you’re as excited about these features as we are.  As always, we invite any feedback and would love to hear from you if you’ve got any feature ideas for RescueTime.