Multitasking. Good or Bad?

One thing we’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately is multitasking and it’s effects on your productivity. There’s a fair bit of research that basically says that the human brain just isn’t terribly well optimized for doing more than one thing at the same time. Unfortunately, it’s often not something that seems like much of a choice. So many things have a “right now” urgency and seem to require immediate attention. Additionally, many people report that they feel more productive when doing several things at once.

We’re interested in figuring this out for ourselves, with our own data. We’re playing around with some different ways to look at RescueTime data to get a better handle on it, and we’re seeing some things that look pretty interesting. We’re still trying to figure out a “how much are you multitasking?” metric, but what we have so far suggests that every person on our team is significantly more productive when they focus more on a single task, rather than trying to juggle. While we’re not quite ready to release anything yet, we do want to open up a discussion around it.

What do you think? Is multi-tasking an essential skill that today’s knowledge workers must master? Or is it just a way to feel busier?

Featured RescueTimer – Will Lam

We wanted to take this opportunity to start mentioning some of our more outspoken and exciting users and Will and RescueTime have been a match for years now. We sat down and asked him some questions about who he is and see if he can unlock any secrets to productivity and time saving for the rest of our community of users. So follow along for our Questions & Answers.

Featured RescueTimer

Q: Who are you?
A: I’m a coffee snob, personal data nerd, connector, Crossfit nut, and curator of the Toronto Startup Digest.

Q: What do you do?
A: I’m an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Powered by Search and just recently started blogging about one of my passions that ties data, personal analytics to personal development. 🙂

Q: How many hours of RescueTime do you have logged?
A: 5229 at the time of this email

Q: Which version of RescueTime are you using?
A: Latest versions on my Macbook Pro, Windows 7 (at work) and Android app.

Q: Why do you use RescueTime?
A: To find out how I’m spending my time.  I want to ensure how I’m spending my time is used wisely.  I pay you guys (Rescuetime) to make that happen.

Q: Everyone remembers their first computer – what was yours?
A: Ahh.. the memories.. Pentium 133 MHz, with a 2.1 GB Maxtor HDD, 16 MB of RAM, 16 x CD-ROM, 32-bit Soundblaster audiocard and a ATI 3D Xpression 2MB video card. It was the s*** back in the day 🙂 (1996)

Q: Where did you go to College or High School? (if any)
A: Ryerson University, University of Toronto, Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada

Q: What do you listen to while working?
A: Mostly stuff through Doubletwist on my Nexus S.  Other than that, I occasionally use  Most played artists are Justice, Daft Punk, Kavinsky, Zero 7 and The xx

Q: Best advice to Get Shit Done
A: Timebox and attach a deadline to EVERYTHING.  I follow Parkinson’s Law and the 80/20 Principle religiously.  I’m really digging the Pomodoro technique nowadays.  I input all of my todo’s into GTD setup that consists of Due Today and  I also mix it with good old pen and paper where I write it down my Most Important Tasks (usually 3 and no more than that) on a Post-It Note.  Oh. And keep on hitting the Focus button via RescueTime 🙂

Q: What other services or applications are you using that you cannot live without?
A: Dropbox,, ReadItLater,, Mindmeister,, DueToday/Toodledo, Fitocracy and even though it’s not a service or application – my Moleskine journal

Q: Is there anything else rad we should we should know about you.
A: In a previous lifetime, I was heavy into improvisational theatre but now I just appreciate the art form 🙂

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New on When are you in the zone?

Are you a morning person? More of a night owl? We just pushed out a nifty little thing that will help you figure it out.

For a while now, we’ve had the concept of an “efficiency score” in RescueTime. It’s basically how productive you are on a scale of 0-100%. That’s not too bad for giving you a rough sense of how productive you are overall, but it hides a few things that can be pretty insightful. We just pushed out a breakdown of your efficiency score over various time periods, so you can see when you are the most productive and when your periods of downtime tend to be.

You can see it on your dashboard and on the efficiency report page.

It’s not a huge change, but I’m pretty excited about it. It’s allowed me to learn some pretty interesting stuff about myself.

I feel like I’m fairly productive, but my overall score wasn’t really reflecting it.

Turns out, if you don’t count weekends and evenings, my productivity shoots way up. That’s perfectly fine by me, because that’s my downtime, when I don’t really need to be productive anyway.

I’m 14% more productive in the afternoons than I am in the mornings.

This is awesome data for me to know. I’m usually the last one to arrive in the mornings, and I always feel really guilty about it. Now I have some data that shows I make up for it in the afternoons. It’s also interesting because the rest of the team is on somewhat opposite schedules (they tend to be more productive in the mornings). So it means we’ll have to take than into consideration when scheduling meetings.

This is our first pass at making this information available. There are a few kinks here and there, but we’re going to be iterating on it in the near future. If there’s something that you’d like to see done differently, let us know.

p.s. to make room for this on your dashboard, we moved the comparison of your time vs. the average user. It can now be found on the full report.

Data Driven New Year’s Resolutions

Gearing up for a Productive New Year – What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

It’s that time of the year when many fellow RescueTimers and other professed Lifehackers begin to look back at their work and accomplishments to measure what was completed in 2011 and what is on deck for 2012. Since joining RescueTime as the VP of Product Marketing earlier this year in May 2011 I’ve logged 1120 hours in RescueTime in total. Now that I know what I’m doing with my time and my personal patterns of productivity, I want to set out what I’m going to accomplish in 2012. Before answering this question let’s take a look back at 2011.

According to RescueTime in 2011 I spent the majority of my time:

  1. Buried in email – 200+ hours.
  2. 50+ hours doing RescueTime Support (answering emails, feature requests, bugs and voicemails).
  3. 100+ hours of food (includes lunch, coffee and sometimes dinner).
  4. 50+ hours chatting with my co-workers and colleagues.
  5. 50+ hours of meetings.
  6. 30+ hours of using my Social Media toolset,

All Activities 2011

What else does this data suggest? …I need to log more hours.

1100 hours is impressive, but when you realize that I had the potential to log close to 1600 hours I would have had a much clearer picture of my time. I plan to spend the next year logging more of my time – even the mundane stuff. For example when I’m not working productively I need to mark the time as Family or another similar category that demonstrates I have spent time away from work and everything needs to be tracked.  Additionally, I plan to set some goals for hitting specific task related objectives, like 1 hour in business intelligence. Let’s look at a graph for some more ideas.

Taking a deeper look at the long tail of my activities with lower usage statistics
Chart - showing low activities
This is one of my most actionable charts. From looking up at the following graph you can see how it compares against the graph above. These are the areas where I need to spend more time or turn ideas into action. Specifically, I need to spend more time doing the following:
  1. I’m not spending enough time on our company blog – My goal is to create 2 blog articles a month this next year and institute a RescueTimer of the Month program, posting of FAQ and sample real world examples of how RescueTime could benefit other knowledge workers.
  2. I’m a rabid fan of OSX’s sticky notes and I spent approximately 12 hours in it this year, but I need to move more of the ideas noted there to action, so I need to dig through them to review and prioritize.
  3. Phone calls – I’m an iPhone user and right now we do not have a client that supports call logging like our Android counterpart. In the meantime, I can log offline time as Phone Call – I just need to get in the habit of better documenting it.
  4. Hosted Google Docs – not entirely sure what to make of this statistic. At RescueTime we all share Google Apps accounts with access to a central Hosted Google Docs for knowledge share such as best practices, design docs, customer testimonials, but over the last 4 years many of these docs have grown outdated and we’ve relied on tribal knowledge. There needs to be a consistent effort to document what’s important and reusable. And whatever is usable and would benefit customers needs to be posted on our online support site at or our company blog.
Examining my Social Networking time

Let’s take a closer look at my time spent on social sites and social networking. At first glance there is an obvious hole – As a marketing professional, I need to spend more time using Google+ and I need to be using it daily. I also don’t spend enough time relative to other networks on professional networking sites like LinkedIn. I’ve recently upgraded to their Premium service in the hopes of connecting with more potential partners and users via their InMail and statistics package.
Social Net Time

What are my New Year’s Resolutions given the data above?

Knowing that my job is very communication intensive what are the things I can do to improve my productivity for the upcoming 2012 year?

  1. Utilize Inbox Zero and Get Things Done to respond to the most important emails first – reduce inbox time sink.
  2. Develop a social media strategy that leverages the fewest amount of tools and time to accomplish the required tasks.
  3. Keep working with RescueTime development team to put the data closer to our users! Not just PC, Mac and Android, but iPhone, iPad and Linux clients as well. Once we have a complete offering almost all of my time will  be completely tracked.
  4. Help close more sales of RescueTime Team Edition accounts utilizing Skype to have the necessary global reach. Currently Skype only consumes 5 hours of my time for the year – I expect this number to grow next year and potentially utilize Google’s new Hangout features.
  5. Create a smooth onboarding process for Team Accounts. We need videos, tutorials, customer reviews. Many of these docs will be hosted in our Google Docs for RescueTime.
  6. Analyze moving our support system to Assistly from Tender. Right now, we require a login to get support which prevents those with login problems from working to resolve their issues. Assistly could give us new functionality that will allow us to more easily connect with our customers.
Without RescueTime it would be difficult to track exactly how you spent the year of your life – sure you spent time on Facebook, but just how much time and what did you accomplish? What are you going to do next year and how are you going to track your progress? We’d love to hear from you. Email us, or post here.  We’d love to feature a few users on our blog rotating monthly.
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That awesome little data collector we all carry around in our pockets…

Lately, there’s been a lot of stuff in the news about Carrier IQ and how it’s software has been collecting all kinds of data from your mobile phone. A lot of people are freaked out about it, and rightfully so. It’s apparently done without consent, and it’s not really clear what the data is used for. It’s kind of sad, really, to see such a negative high-profile story about your phone’s ability to collect data about you.

As a fun counterpoint, here are some ways that awesome little data collector we all carry around with us can be used the right way, to make your life easier or help you learn awesome stuff about yourself.

Easy to use apps:

Glympse: Never have another drawn-out sms conversation with someone you’re traveling to meet with. Just send them a Glympse, and let your phone keep them updated on your progress.

Google Latitude: Automatically track and share your location. It gets pitched as more of a social application, but what I find the most interesting is the history dashboard. Another awesome trick is the ability to automatically check-in at places you frequent. For example, I keep a log of the number of times I go to the coffee shop down the street from my apartment. I keep a similar log of how often I go to the gym. The coffee shop wins. 🙂

Placeme: A new app that takes Latitude’s auto-checkins and expands on them. It tries to automatically capture, categorize, and quantify everywhere you spend your time. It’s pretty cool, but seemed like it was KILLING my phone’s battery so I stopped using it after a few days.

RescueTime: (shameless plug here, sorry) People are spending more and more time on their mobile devices. RescueTime for Android gives an understanding of which apps you are using the most. (I use the Reddit app on my phone about twice as much as I do on my computer, for instance)

Harder to use apps (but still awesome):

Here’s a couple that can be really powerful, but require some extra legwork to get something useful from the data.

MyTracks: Much more robust location tracking than Google Latitude. Every few seconds, it records your latitude, longitude, elevation and velocity. There are some visualizations you can see within the app itself, but you can also export the data. That’s the part I find interesting. I used it to do a month-long study of my transportation habits.

Cellbots Sensor Data LoggerOne of the most robust data collection applications of them all. Gather measurements from all available sensors on your phone, as well as recording video or taking time lapse images. I haven’t used it for anything, but it’s good enough for NASA, so that’s gotta count for something:

What did I miss? What’s your favorite data collector app?

We’re on Google+

You can now connect with us on Google+. Just in case this blog, our Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc. weren’t enough. 🙂

New information is scary (but it doesn’t have to be)

One of the most common first-responses I hear when I explain the value of RescueTime to people is:

“That sounds terrifying, I don’t even want to think about how much time I waste!”

I hear it from all types of people. Many of them I’ve worked with in the past and can totally vouch for them not being big slackers. So why all the anxiety? It reminds me of  an often mis-interpreted observation made by computer scientist Calvin Mooers in 1959 that states:

“An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.”

Mooers’ Law (not to be confused with Moore’s law), tends to get taken out of context quite a bit and used as a general usability axiom. “Software should be as easy to use as possible”. Not a bad point, but that’s not at all what he actually meant by it. His point was that sometimes acquiring new information means that you will have to do something with it. Or the more scary version, you’ll learn something about yourself and won’t know what to do about it. Many times the most comfortable thing is to not have the information in the first place.

It’s a pretty human reaction. I know I’ve fallen into that pattern a LOT throughout my life. It’s the same thing that makes us dread yearly performance reviews at work, or makes us nervous about going to the dentist for a check-up. In most cases, if something is wrong in those situations, things you did (or didn’t do) had something to do with it. And that can be a pretty unpleasant thing to think about. Especially if the consequences are severe.

That said, I think in the vast majority of cases, having information ends up leading to a better outcome than not having it, so that’s a pretty big motivator for me. But I also think that the systems giving you the information should be able to take some of the potential sting out of they knowledge you’re gaining with them by making it easier to respond to new information. That’s one area I think is really exciting for behavioral self-tracking applications and devices. They should not only increase your self-awareness, they should also give you tools to change when you end up getting results that you aren’t happy with.