Stop beating yourself up about “all that time” you waste on Facebook, it’s probably less than you thinkPosted: November 6, 2013
When I tell people about RescueTime and what it does, one of the most common things I hear is:
“Oh wow! I don’t even want to think about how much time I waste on Facebook!”
When people have actually been using RescueTime for a little while, I often hear something different:
“Ya know? I really thought I spent more time on Facebook than that!”
Two things jump out at me when I hear this. First, many people think they spend more time on Facebook than they actually do. Second, they seem to feel guilty about it. The first observation makes the second one sort of sad. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about themselves, and certainly not for something that’s not really even true!
That’s why I LOVE telling people about the following study.
Rey Junco, a professor of library science at Perdue University, recently investigated how students’ estimates of their time on Facebook differed from the actual time they spent on the site. Since many studies that focus on social media usage rely on self-reported data, this is a pretty important thing for researchers to understand. He asked test subjects to report how much time they spend each day on Facebook, then used RescueTime to monitor their actual time on Facebook. The results were very surprising.
“students significantly overestimated the amount of time they spent on Facebook. They reported spending an average of 149 minutes per day on Facebook which was significantly higher than the 26 minutes per day they actually spent on the site (t(41) = 8.068, p < .001).”
When I first read these results, I did a double take. Subjects were overestimating their Facebook time by 473%. Four Hundred Seventy Three Percent?!?! It seems almost unbelievable. In his blog post, Rey covers some factors that could have affected the data, but it seems like the gulf between the estimate and the actual time on Facebook is real.
It’s interesting to contrast that overestimation with something else I’ve noticed. Many people fairly drastically underestimate the amount of time they spend in email. According to a study from last year by the McKinsey Global Institute, up to 28% of the average desk worker’s week (or around 13 hours) is devoted to managing email. While it’s necessary for work, it’s often a distraction, due to its tendency to pop up every few minutes on someone’s screen while they’re trying to focus on other work. People are usually not that great at accurately adding all this time up, and that’s not even taking into account the refocusing time that comes when trying to get back to the original task that the email interrupted.
I wonder if there isn’t some sort of guilty pleasure factor at work there? For whatever reason, do people’s negative judgements about their time on Facebook (or Twitter, or Reddit, etc…) cause whatever time they DO spend to be over-inflated in their minds? On the other hand, email doesn’t have this problem, because very few people think about email in those terms. That’s just a theory of mine, which is partly based on my own experience, but I’ve seen a lot of anecdotes that back it up. If it’s actually true, it’s sort of a bummer. It means people have a general tendency to beat themselves up over things that feel too much like an indulgence.
To me, this is a great illustration of the awesomeness of RescueTime. Having an accurate, real record of how your time is spent can totally change your perspective. When you’re sitting at a computer all day, it’s too easy for it all to just blur together. With a real understanding of how little time I actually spend on sites like Facebook or Hacker News, I’ve been able to let go of any negative judgements I had about them.
Last month, I spent some time digging around with two big personal datasets of mine – my RescueTime logs and the information about my physical activity and sleep that I’ve collected with my FitBit. After comparing over 8.5 million steps and 5,000 hours of my sleep with around 7,000 hours of my RescueTime data, I noticed that my physical activity seems to have a generally positive effect on how I spend my time on the computer. Or it’s the other way around, I’m not quite sure. But there definitely seems to be a link between the two.
Daily step count vs. meaningful work
The first thing I looked at was the number of steps I’ve taken each day for the past two years. I compared it to the amount of time I spent on the computer, and what activities I was doing while on the computer. On days when I take more steps, I tend to spend a greater percentage of my time on the computer writing code. For me, software development is an activity that I feel is pretty meaningful, and I’d rather spend more time on it than, say, meetings or email. I’d also like to be more active, so it’s really great to see that days where I walk around more don’t seem to hurt my work productivity.
It’s not really clear to me which one of those things influences the other. Could be that more physical activity makes it somehow easier for me to focus? Or it might be the other way around. A solid day’s work makes it more likely that I’ll be motivated to get out and get some exercise. Or, there could be some unknown factor that’s influencing both of them. It’s still interesting, nonetheless.
Also interesting, it seems like I shouldn’t get too crazy with it. On days when I get more than 12,000 steps in a day, the percentage of software development time goes back down.
Sleep vs. Time on the computer
I also found that I seem to be more focused on days when I get more sleep. Focus is a hard thing to measure, and this isn’t a perfect metric, but I looked at the amount of time I spend writing code (something I’d like to be doing more of) vs. the amount of time I spend on email (something I generally try to minimize). When I get less than six hours of sleep, things are pretty much even. As I get more sleep, the percentage of time in email goes down, and the time spend on software development goes up.
What does this mean?
The really cool bit about these observations is they suggest that it’s not only possible to balance good amounts of physical activity with a productive workday – they may actually reinforce each other. Another RescueTime user saw similar effects on his sleep last year. He summarized the results in this guest post.
To get these two datasets together, I used the RescueTime API and John McLaughlin’s fantastic FitBit-to-Google Docs script that I found on the Quantified Self website.
Have you ever found an interesting link like this between your physical activity and some other metric? I’d love to hear about it.
If you are an individual RescueTime user you have probably noticed that your RescueTime Dashboard looks a bit different!
I am very excited to introduce to you the combined product of many years of user feedback and many months of development efforts – the New RescueTime. This is a quick blog post to go over the highlights of what you are about to experience with RescueTime in hopes that the transition from old to new is quick and easy and you can enjoy the site improvements as soon as possible.
This new version of RescueTime has given us the opportunity to use feedback we’ve received over the last few years to provide a better experience for our existing users. It will also make it easier for new users to become acquainted with the RescueTime product. With these changes we have undergone a huge technical upgrade replacing aging components and bringing our entire stack to modern and in some places bleeding edge technologies.
A lot of the changes you see were driven by the meteoric rise of mobile device use we’ve seen in the last few years. The RescueTime dashboard and reports will now work just as well on phones and tablets as they do on desktops and laptops.
New Feature Highlights
We have packed over 30 new features into this latest version of RescueTime and we will have a follow-on blog post [future link here] that goes over them in more detail, but I’m too excited not to mention at least a few of them!
- A completely rethought dashboard, based around common use cases
- A ‘spotlights’ section giving you a better sense of your daily patterns and things that have changed over time
- An ‘insights’ section that highlights notable information about the current day / week / month
- An Achievements block showing your lifetime total time logged, top productive day, and some other really cool information, especially for our long time users
- Reports have a new “daily patterns” view that shows you what time of day you tend to spend more time on particular activities, categories, or productivity levels
- Reports have a “changes over time” view that shows you how the current time period compares to the several days/weeks/months prior
- You can now set goals for applications (previously you could only set goals for productivity or categories).
- You can now compile a list of “highlights” about a given day. It’s a great way to remember what you accomplished
- New “What work did I get done?” view that shows you a filtered view to jog your memory about the productive work you spent time doing.
Old Features Missing
With all of the changes that were made, there were a few features that have been removed or are not yet ready for release. If there is something gone that you need, “Don’t Panic!” - you can still access the old site for a period of time, see the end of this blog post.
- The Projects feature as it was originally developed is no longer available in the new version of RescueTime. Our plans are to develop a much better replacement, but I can’t give you any time frames as to when that will be yet.
- Custom Reports AKA Saved Searches are not yet available in the new version. We will have saved search capabilities released soon.
- The Document and Details report is not available in the new version. You can still access all of your document details by first going to the Application & Websites report and clicking on specific applications to view the available documents.
- The Customizable Dashboard is no longer available in the new version. (Our new dashboard is perfect! So why would you want to customize it!? ) Seriously, though, the customization features were a lot of technical overhead that really didn’t get a whole lot of use, so we decided to go with a more structured approach.
- The Comparisons Report is no longer available as as single report. We’ve taken some of the things we learned from that report and applied them across the site. We will be adding even more new ways to view your data soon.
What does all this mean?
For the time being, the new version of RescueTime is only available to our individual users (both free and premium). If you are part of a Team account, a Research Project, or actively use the Projects feature, you will be automatically redirected back to the older version of RescueTime. The data is seamlessly shared between the two versions of RescueTime and will be for at least the next month or two.
If you are currently viewing the new version of RescueTime and want to switch back to the old version, you can do so by clicking the “old version” link at the top of the RescueTime Dashboard.
If you are an individual user and are currently viewing the old version of RescueTime, you can switch to the new version by going to the “settings” link on the old RescueTime Dashboard and selecting the “Click here to switch to the new interface” link on your Account Settings page.
Team users don’t despair, we’ve got some nice shiny new love coming your way soon.
We hope you love the new version of RescueTime as much as we do. We’re going to have a few bumps over the next couple of days, but we’ve got all hands on deck and will be addressing issues as they arise. I encourage you to take a bit of time to wander around the new site, take a tour of the new features and then come back and give us some feedback!
I recently came across an Austrian article that raises some interesting questions about the use of technology in “measuring” our lives (http://www.format.at/articles/1328/940/362012/die-vermessung-ich[in German]). The scope of this technology continues to increase and there are more opportunities for its insertion into our lives than ever before.
Here are some examples of the latest technology:
- an armband that measures physical activity, including steps taken, distance walked, and calories burnt; length and quality of sleep; and with auxiliary links to mobile devices and a scale, meal planning and weight management (http://www.fitbit.com/)
- work productivity software that measures active computer use and trends very precisely (http://www.rescuetime.com/) [That's us]
- a strap-on device for posture and movement monitoring and correction (http://www.lumoback.com/)
- a fork that measures eating habits and mechanics (http://www.hapilabs.com/)
- an all purpose physical activity device for multiple kinds of exercise (http://www.runtastic.com/)
- a scale that provides body anaylysis by measuring weight, BMI, body fat, and heart rate (and also local air quality to boot) (http://www.withings.com/scales)
- a diabetes app testing blood sugar (http://mysugr.com/)
- comprehensive health management software (https://www.dacadoo.com/)
Those who embrace this technology often self-identify as members of the “Quantified Self movement,” which is characterized by the search for informative feedback from devices such as those listed above. Some see in the wealth of available data a “digital reflection” of their lives – this is felt to be empowering, allowing individuals to achieve a greater degree of self-awareness and to take proactive steps to optimize efficiency, health, and happiness based on adjustment of recognized patterns. Sometimes the motivation for self-monitoring is a desire for improvement, sometimes for identifying and solving problems.
There are potential negative consequences to the adoption of this new technology and the hyper-analytical mindset and lifestyle that can result. Having such a wealth of data at one’s fingertips, and a feeling of overarching responsibility for this data, can lead a person to believe that they are accountable and culpable for everything that happens in their lives. There is also a danger of misinterpreting data – a person can mistakenly identify correlations among metrics and activities where there are none, or miss important ones that do exist. This misinformation can then be used to make lifestyle decisions with potentially harmful consequences. There are also issues with ownership of this data, its security, and its potential uses by others.
This raises a number of questions for debate:
1. Are there specific uses of self-measurement technology that you find seriously problematic?
2. Do we need some degree of education about understanding certain data to draw out the positive benefits of self-analysis and avoid pitfalls? If so, what would this education involve?
3. What type or types of measurement are the most important in the search for self-improvement?