Almost every day I try to do the same thing with my work. And if I’m working on my computer, I do it with RescueTime.
I write articles and copy for various publications, edit videos and short films, and do various administrative and spreadsheet-adjacent productivity work in intervals. And there’s email. Lots of email. With this wide variety of tasks comes a lot of flitting between apps, and opportunities for my attention to be stolen. But to do my best work and access my creativity, my focus needs to be singular and uninterrupted.
I already run RescueTime in the background on my computer at all times so it can record my activity throughout the day–which apps I use, and how much time I spend on each one.
But my favorite new feature is the Focus Session. It has legitimately changed the way I work and raised the level of productivity I’m able to consistently reach.
Here’s a day in my life and work with the RescueTime Assistant at my side:
I’m getting ready for my first work session of the day. I’ve already exercised, showered, and eaten breakfast. I’ve blocked off 8am to 6pm as my workday.
I sit down at my computer, and the first thing I do is click the RescueTime icon.
The RescueTime Assistant greets me with a “Good morning!” and a goal for the day: spend at least three hours doing “Focus Work,” my important work that needs to be free from frenetic multi-tasking or distraction.
To help me achieve this, RescueTime offers something called a “Focus Session” –a tool that prepares the most vital elements of my mindset and workspace to prime me for a productive session of work, and then guards me from distraction and temptation the whole time I’m working.
A Focus Session is an intentional act, and one that takes a little bit of apparatus and time. (You can complete a session in fifteen minutes, but its true power is really felt in longer timespans.)
If I’m doing tasks that require switching between applications and brainspaces, it’s not the most conducive time to concentrate on one solitary task. And if I have a bunch of meetings scheduled, forget it.
So every morning, The Assistant gives me a forecast that gives me an idea of my capacity that day.
RescueTime integrates with my calendar to see how “heavy” of a day it is. If it’s chock full of meetings, it’ll tell me something like “this is a full day. Just do your best to get through it.” But if there’s nothing on my docket, it pushes me to do some deep work, and suggests the best times for a Focus Session. Today I have meetings at 11am and 4pm, so RescueTime lets me know I’m in a Focus Zone at 2pm. I like that– plenty of buffer on either end. But I also try to add a Focus Session early in the day, at 9am.
Prepped for success
I click “start a focus session,” and I’m offered a few options to choose from.
The RescueTime Assistant now offers a helpful narration that walks you through a warm-up for your work in real time. I can choose to prep my environment, my body, or both.
These two broad concepts–the environment and the body–include most everything I can imagine taking me off track during the course of a focus journey. Bathroom, thirst, hunger. Mess on the corner of my desk catching my eye. The YouTube videos I had open last night calling to me.
RescueTime prompts me to clear all of that away, or deal with them before getting to work. They are not what this time is for.
It asks me to check in with myself and rate how I’m feeling at the moment. Every time it asks me this, I surprise myself with how my answer colors my expectations. As the narrator says, “you are coming to this session as you are now. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great.”
Then, RescueTime asks me what I’m working on during this session. This practice has been proven time and again to give shape and energy to your time spent working. Instead of aimlessly clicking around and refreshing your inbox, you know what your goal is, what programs you need open, and what to concentrate on.
Next, a few more settings that I can optimize for my needs. I have the option to turn distraction blocking on and off, and refine it to be more or less strict, depending on my goals. Music from Spotify and YouTube are available too, right from the app. And I can set the timer for any length of time I want this session of focus to last.
The environment prep tells me to clear my desk of clutter, and put my phone on silent and out of reach. It tells me to do make the same clean slate in my digital workspace. Then I’m guided through a quick body prep–exercises to rest my eyes, regulate my breathing, and check in with my mood.
This process feels almost like meditation for me, in that it leaves me centered and calm but also with a quiet energy that I’m ready to direct toward my work. At the end of the prep, I take a deep breath, and press start.
The Assistant makes the most wonderful noise to signify starting the timer, and a calming voice tells me, “good luck.”
I’m off to the races.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be in “flow,” you’ll know how a successful Focus Session feels. The outside world melts away and sounds get quieter. Ideas easily take shape and come to life on the screen. There’s joy in this state. And the work you do while in flow, some argue, is always some of your best.
Twenty minutes in, and I get a notification on Slack. I’ve listed Slack as a “distracting app” in RescueTime, but in the moment I don’t think about it. I try to tab over to see the message, but RescueTime redirects me to a screen that reminds me it’s time for focus. I don’t even realize what I’m doing until I get interrupted, but it dawns on me–I could have fallen down a rabbit hole of distraction from that one little Slack message and lost a half hour of focus time. The screen says “you can always respond later.” I laugh to myself at how long it’s been since I had a thought like that about instant messaging, especially at work.
This happens a couple more times, and each time I’m shocked that it’s necessary to snap me out of my habit of getting distracted without realizing it. And in a weird way, the withholding of that expected dopamine hit from YouTube or Facebook or whatever, actually keeps me feeling more locked in on my work.
I make it through my first Focus Session. I still feel fresh. RescueTime prompts me to rate how I’m feeling, just like it did at the beginning of the session, so I can compare. After getting a hefty chunk of important work done in the last hour, I feel markedly better.
I take a minute to look through the statistics from my session that RescueTime provides for me–how many times I got distracted, and how many minutes I stayed focused. I can use this information going forward–today, for example, I need to avoid the New York Times crossword puzzle.
I grab a glass of water, then sit down at my desk and get ready for another session. This time, I toggle off some of the session prep, because I went through it so recently.
It’s a good day when I can complete three or four lengthy Focus Sessions.
The end of the day
Today, I hit my Focus Work goal of three hours at 4pm. If I feel satisfied with the work I was able to do that day–and my Focus Work goal is a huge barometer of that–I give myself permission to stop work for the day. I know I’ll come back even stronger tomorrow.
However, at the end of each day, there’s a pesky “Back to Work” button that I have the option to press, and spend my after-work hours chasing focus and deep work. Almost every day when I see that button, I think to myself, “have I done enough today? Should I press that button and do a little bit more?” But then I remember that skipping my well-deserved rest just leads to burnout.
Once the workday is over, RescueTime generates my End of Day review. It’s a quick rundown that shows me my numbers for the day lets me know where I was successful, and where my focus faltered. And I do not let a day pass without checking my End of Day review. I’m addicted to it. How much Focus Work did I do? How distracted was I? What was my main temptation today–YouTube or Twitter?
Over time, watching these numbers shift is extraordinarily valuable to me. I look at my procrastination like it’s a criminal and I’m a detective. I need to keep tabs on what costume it’s wearing these days, and where it’s most likely to strike again, so I can cut it off at the pass. RescueTime helps me with that like nothing else could.
A helpful friend
The whole day, it felt like I had a friend who was helping me along. Almost like they were tugging on my shirtsleeve, keeping me in line.
My relationship with work used to be a lot more strained. I would muster up the gumption to dive in each morning, but my focus would be split by competing priorities and tasks. I would try hard for a minute but get pulled away by distractions that I wasn’t mentally fortified enough to fend off.
Part of the problem with my approach to work back then was that I was doing it alone, without the tools and support I needed. Now, with an app as full-featured and personable as RescueTime helping me where I tend to falter, I feel lifted up. I’m more confident and I try to take on more in my work and in my life. I’m able to go further. And, I can stop working at 4pm.
Try RescueTime’s new Focus Session experience today, and see how your relationship to work changes for the better.