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.
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.