Linux Data Collector Needs Your Support

Just a note to let you know that the recent release broke the open source Linux RescueTime Data Collector.  While we don’t technically maintain or support this app, we LOVE that it exists and want to help out however we can.  From what we can tell, the Linux Collector needs a pretty simple fix, which we might eventually find time to do.  Because it’s right after a release and we’re dealing with other issues, it might be a little while.

This seems like it’s a good time to give a shout out the the folks who’ve helped out to date on the Linux client and a request for other Linux-heads to chip in.  There are a lot of good reasons to participate in open-source projects— and the RescueTime Data Collector for Linux could really use some love.

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?


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.

Information Overload: Show Me the Data!

(note: If you’d like to be able to understand how your business spends time in a way that doesn’t step on the individual privacy of your employees, drop us a line)

Matt Richtel has a great piece on the (front page!) of the New York Times this weekend called “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beasts“, which happens to mention RescueTime. The best followup analysis of the article can be found at 43Folders (home of GTD zealot Merlin Mann).

I thought I might offer a bit of the data that we have that didn’t make the cut of the article and pose a few questions that are worth considering.

First, let me say that for those who are interested, I have a footnote at the bottom of this post describing how we collected/aggregated this data.  It’s decidedly not scientific, but I think it’s interesting all the same.

For those who aren’t familiar with us.  RescueTime is a free tool (for most of our users) that allows individuals and businesses understand exactly how they spend their time with no data entry.  Essentially, it measures what is “in focus” (or “on top”) on your computer screen, and how long it’s there and allows you to do analytics on that data.

Here are the highlights of what we found that we think is interesting:

  • The average work day in this data slice was 6.71 hours in front of the computer.  We don’t yet track meeting and phone time (but that option will be available soon!)
  • The average IM user shifts to an IM window *77* times per day (avg of 11.5 times per hour or once every 5.2 minutes).  As an aside, I was at 130 per day on average and quit cold turkey.   I now have a work IM account with 4 people on my friends list.
  • Average number of unique web sites visited per day is 40 (that’s domains, not pages).
  • Average number of unique applications touched is 17
  • 26% of time was spent inside a browser
  • 61% of time was spent on internet dependent stuff (web sites plus applications who pull/push data from the internet)…  So unplugging is not a very practical option.

We took the top 125 or so apps from this slice of data and categorized them. Here is what we found:

  • Communication Apps (IM, Email) 38%
  • “Output” Apps (MS-Office style apps, design apps, database apps, etc): 34%
  • Media, News & Blogs (news, blogs, video, audio, photosharing): 14%
  • Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter): 5%
  • Games, Entertainment, & Shopping: 4%

It should be noted that just because communication apps make up 38% of the hours spent in the top apps doesn’t mean that people spend 38% of their time there.  When we crunch the numbers, we find that about 18% of time is spent within email and about 6% of time is spent within chat.  About 2% of time is spent within social networking.

The Big Question:  Does this Really Matter?

Stowe Boyd asks the question (well, he goes a bit farther and says it doesn’t), and it’s worth asking.  He says that “…connected people will naturally gravitate toward an ethic where they will trade personal productivity for connectedness: they will interrupt their own work to help a contact make progress. Ultimately, in a bottom-up fashion, this leads to the network as a whole making more progress than if each individual tries to optimize personal productivity.”

Stowe is going the straw man route– and is characterizing people who are interested in personal productivity as people on an “information assembly line” who would never interrupt their own work to help out a peer.   That’s taking the idea to a ridiculous extreme.  To be fair, there are certainly productivity zealots who take it to an (ultimately damaging) extreme.

We’ll concede that there are lots of people who benefit a lot from all of these great new tools and information sources.  And that there are lots of people disciplined enough to handle the temptations they offer.

But, IN GENERAL, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that alt-tabbing to an instant message window 77 times in a 6.71 hour period (the mean average in our data set) is in most cases, not good for personal or team productivity.  That going to your inbox and clicking send-receive 50 times a day like on of BF Skinner’s rats is bad.  That a river of interruptive (but incredibly interesting) news and links (from RSS, IM buddies, relatives via email, etc) is bad.  And we’re saying that this stuff is happening more and more.

Obviously, this all goes out the window when the person in question is disciplined and makes the right choices.  Sure, you can ignore interruptions when you’re in the work zone.  You can chose to NOT interrupt your peers when you’re NOT in the work zone.  You can choose not to forward that hilarious YouTube video to the whole team.  You can choose to stop your work to help a peer when you know it’ll help the team, and you can choose to ignore a peer when you know their need is less important and immediate than what you’re engaged with.  Like most utopian dreams, that works great when everyone in a business is driven, mature, respectful, and mindful of what they do.

We don’t pretend to know how to solve these new challenges we’re facing, but we’ve got some ideas.  We tend to agree with Merlin, when he says:

“Bottom line (and I’ll never stop saying this): stop trying to eradicate human communication problems by introducing waves of new technology or made-up rules of social engineering. A company with email problems is also experiencing people problems. Until you understand why the wetware isn’t working like expected, don’t go nuts with top-down technology solutions and over-clever edicts.”

Focus on the “wetware” and you’ll make great strides.  But I’d add that if a business or an individual has a time spending problem (just as when they have a money spending problem) you shouldn’t shoot from the hip.  You’ve got to see the numbers, you’ve got to know what you’re spending and where you’re spending it and (for motivational purposes) you’ve got to measure your improvement (hey, and that’s where RescueTime comes in!).

Footnote, more about the data: The data that I’m taking about is a slice from our aggregate data of over 40,000 users.  We took a subset of users who spent at least 4 hours a day in front of their computer but less than 12.  Our userbase consists now of individuals and businesses who actually CARE how they spend their time, so you can assume that skews the data.  The vast majority of these users are free users who found us on their own and signed up.  Users are 81% Windows, 15% Mac, and 4% Linux.  53% are from North America  31% from Western Europe.

RescueTime wins Best in Show

We presented RescueTime at the nPost Startup Event on Tuesday.

For those who don’t know, nPost is many things to many people. First and foremost, they are a job board for startup jobs, but founder Nathan Kaiser carries his passion for startups into lots of other directions, including interviewing hundreds of startup founders (no, we haven’t been interviewed and yes, we are insulted). NPost also puts on amazing startup events in Seattle like the one on Tuesday. If you’re in Seattle, there is literally no networking event that touches an nPost event.

Hundreds of people turned out to the Columbia City Theatre, with people mixing, drinking, and wandering around to visit the assorted startups who’d been invited to present their product at tables around the room.

At the end of the evening, the “Best in Show” was scientifically selected by applause. It was a tight race, but RescueTime won the day! We also won 6 months free dedicated hosting with WowRack, which will come in very handy for us (we’re STILL growing about 7% per week and it’s a struggle to keep up!).

In other news, we’re still getting great blog posts and tweets about RescueTime coming across our desks (well, our RSS readers and Twitter Track) every single day. I wish we could thanks everyone who says such great stuff. But I have to give a special shout out to Judy for her post titled “RescueTime really Does Rescue My Time“, which we (strangely) share with Flight of the Conchords (we’re big fans!).

RescueTime Users are Talkin’

The blog has been a touch quiet lately… We’re buried in one of the bigger RescueTime releases to date and we’re chatting with potential investors. But I wanted to offer a shout out to a few users who have been making RescueTime shine:

  • Robert Strazzarino has whipped up a RescueTime Yahoo Widget. For those who don’t know about Yahoo Widgets, they are basically swanky little widgets that live on your desktop. Check it out!

  • Ben Bleikamp has blogged about RescueTime, calling us the “most useful web app ever”! While I think this honor probably goes to Google Search (or maybe Wikipedia), I cannot overstate how much posts like this motivate us. Here are a few choice quotes from Ben:“I have used Basecamp, Campfire, Google Calendar, Gmail, Newsvine, and others. They all have their purposes, but I could easily find a replacement for any of them. RescueTime is by far the most impressive tool I’ve found in a long time.”and:“The point of RescueTime isn’t to show you that you’re a slacker. It shows you, without remorse, how much time you spend in each application or on each task while you’re at your computer. If you take the information and use it to figure out how to save time or maximize time, it will help you in the long run. You’ll be able to spend more time focusing on the tasks that make you the most money or earn you the best grades. “
  • Danielle Morrill blogged about us with the tear-jerking (for us, anyways) title of “I Love You, RescueTime. You Make my Life Better“. It’s hard to pick a quote from the post that we love most, but here’s my best effort:

    “I just was getting caught up with my other beloved new toy, Google Reader, and found out that RescueTime is funded by Y Combinator. For some reason, I had the impression RescueTime was much further along as a company – considering their product ROCKS MY WORLD and looks so polished.”
    (okay, I’m the UI guy, so I had to go with the quote that says, “looks so polished”)

  • Megan, with her “Megan vs. the Internets” blog, is on the “slow road away from Internets addiction”. Proudly displaying her real-time RescueTime widget in the sidebar, she says:

    “RescueTime is an amazing webapp that snoops on your computer usage and puts the data in a taggable online web interface for you to share and organize how you like. You can even set goals for computer usage. It’s the first time I’ve INVITED big brother into mah house for dinner. Don’t worry, I made sure he signed a privacy notice. It’s all good, at least until the divorce; then ALL bets are OFF. I just want to keep the good china, and his CD collection. It’s better than mine.”

Thanks much to all– it’s stuff like this that has me inside working on Easter (when it’s sunny and 70 degrees outside!).

New RescueTime Release!

We did a major release last night, which resulted in a scheduled downtime between 6pm and 10pm PST.  Because of the way RescueTime works, this shouldn’t result in you losing any time.  Here’s a quick overview of what we did:

Bulk Tagging!

One of the most common pieces of feedback we get is that the act of tagging/categorizing the many apps and sites that people use can be pretty time consuming. While we have lots of improvements in mind to make this less time consuming (we’re trying to SAVE time, after all!), we’ve just released our first effort.

Here’s a rough screenshot:


And here’s what it would look like if you clicked “add/edit tags”:


Speed and Scalability

It’s hard to show how important this is, but to give you an idea, the load on our database server is currently 1/6th of what it was yesterday.  This is the second time we’ve dug in to try to eek out some more performance out of our three little servers and the improvement is dramatic.  What this means for you, dear user, is that the site is faster and that RescueTime (as a business) doesn’t have to be buried in server and hosting costs.  In the long run, this means more time and money to do what we want to do– support our users and improve our product.  It also means that we can offer cheaper prices for any premium offering that might be coming down the road.

Lots and Lots of Bug Fixes and Improvements

Big props to our users for identifying the bugs that manage to slip by us.  There are literally dozens of little fixes in this release that I can directly attribute to a user (or a lot of users!) dropping us a line to let us know.   Keep it coming!

Irony Attacks

Earlier today, I posted a short blog post entitled:

“If you watch 1 video today, watch this!”

I am now reminded of the old adage: “No one likes irony when it happens to them.”

Shortly after that post, I was alerted that someone was Twittering about RescueTime (I get a few of these a day with Twitter’s obscure but very cool track feature) . The tweet went a little something like this. For you lazy not-willing-to-click-types, here’s the full tweet:

uploading video review of RescueTime (time management software) to the usual suspects (youtube, google video, facebook, myspace, my blog, etc.)

It turns out that Elizabeth Potts Weinstein (a “mompreneur”!) is a financial consultant/coach, author of a cool electronic magazine– and apparently can make a much better screencast/demo than I can. 🙂

So… If you only watch *2* videos today, watch this one too!