I don’t track my personal data well. Okay, scratch that — I don’t really track my personal data at all. I am a writer, and for a very long time I believed the only legitimate measure of my productivity (read: evidence I wasn’t a worthless human being) was based on the number of blog posts, articles, or cookbooks that I actually published.
That’s not true, of course. The time spent writing those words means something, too. But because so much of my career has been spent at a fast-paced weekly newspapers with even faster-paced blogs, I spent nearly my entire adult life believing the lie that the amount of time I spent on the blog post or article or interview didn’t matter and that there was only one measurement of true productivity: If my byline didn’t go up, my day was a waste. Using RescueTime over the last few years has absolutely changed my perspective on how I view my own productivity, though, and it has taught me to trust and appreciate the writing process.
When I first got RescueTime, there were days I wouldn’t publish a single word yet I’d have a productivity pulse in the 80s or 90s, thanks to hours spent banging my head into a keyboard. I was shocked. Wait, even though all I did was write, delete, write some more without any grand finale, my day wasn’t a complete waste? All those hours of typing, revising, and deciding ultimately to “sleep on it” was worth something? Lookatmego! It might’ve taken me a couple days (or weeks) to finish a story, but at least I had evidence that it was being worked on. (Related: I so regret not using RescueTime when I wrote a cookbook in 2011 because now that it’s all over I have no idea how I did it — all I remember is staring blankly at my Twitter timeline for hours on end while wishing the book would just write itself.)
But the productivity pulse can only account for so much. What about the days I had a low productivity pulse but felt busier than ever? What about the days I listened to the same record over and over and over again, trying to sort out exactly what about the guitar tone is so great (or annoying) so I could finish that album review that was three days late? What about all the meetings that were mostly just a bunch of smart people telling each other jokes for an hour until something sounded good enough to stick on paper? What about the days I was on assignment, hanging out in the kitchen with a punk rock pastry chef, learning her secrets and asking her about all the different kinds of sugar she uses for each dessert? Okay, now I’m just bragging. But really, with so much of my actual job being away from a computer, my productivity pulse wasn’t always a reliable representation of my work, either.
But now RescueTime is making it easier for me to recognize that work, too. They’ve always had the option to log time spent offline, but I never cared enough to actually do it — I never considered that time real work. The new Highlights feature has, once again, changed that. No matter how productive (or how unproductive) I am, the Highlights feature pops up on my screen a few times a day (I control how often) and it prompts me to log a few of the things I’ve gotten done so far.
So right now, after every two hours of productive time, I get a pop up that alerts me of all the ass I’ve been kicking and then it reminds me to make a note of the other productive points in the day that may not have been picked up by Rescuetime. Like meetings, in-person interviews and reviewing things like movies and restaurants. It’s finally okay to not have a day that fits into a pretty little easily-defined productivity package. (This was especially helpful when I was doing a lot of freelance writing — being able to easily log offline work and log which work I got done on which assignment gave me hard evidence to better judge what kind of rate I should charge in order to make enough money without working 24/7.)
And, yes, how many things I publish any given day is still very important — Highlights can log those too, thanks to RescueTime’s integration with Zapier. Everytime my byline goes up, whether it’s a blog post or a story, it automatically gets listed among the other Highlights that show up in my weekly email.
I’m still not all that great at tracking my personal data — I’m the kind of person who will “forget” to wear their FitBit if I’m feeling especially lazy and don’t want to record an embarrassingly low number of steps that day — but even if I still can’t (or don’t want to) account for every second of the day, I now have indisputable evidence that it wasn’t a complete waste and I can stop being so hard on myself, even if I do still spend too much time on Twitter (some of it is for work, I swear!).
Full disclosure: I’m married to RescueTime’s Robby Macdonell (VP of Product Development) and I wrote this because he bribed me with pie. (Just kidding, of course, but he does make a really good key lime pie.)
Here are other examples of people using data to understand and optimize their days:
How I Used RescueTime to Baseline My Activity in 2014 and Set Goals for 2015
In an excellent, in-depth analysis, Author Jamie Todd Rubin looks back at how he spent his time in 2014 and uses it to create strategies to optimize his time moving forward.
The big mistake nearly every designer makes
Digital strategist Marie Poulin writes about building in “margin” into her schedule – critical time that’s held in reserve for the inevitable unplanned. Room to breathe, essentially. It’s easier said than done, and she takes a structured, analytical approach to fit it into her schedule.