A RescueTime feature you should know more about: Highlights

Even though I’ve used RescueTime for years, I’ve barely explored its power beyond what’s on the surface. Since joining the RescueTime team in January I’ve realised there are lots of powerful features I don’t know about that could help me focus and get more done.

As I learn about some of these new features I’ll share with you how they work. I’ve also asked my RescueTime teammates and some of our users to chip in with their own stories of how they use these features and why they’re so useful.

Today’s feature is daily highlights

highlights report

What are Highlights?

Highlights are short text snippets that record what you accomplished on a particular day. Highlights are a part of RescueTime Premium.

While RescueTime’s automatic tracking can tell you which apps you used and the websites you visited throughout the day, it can’t tell you why you used them or what project you were working on at the time. Highlights let you quickly and easily make notes of each task you complete or project you work on.

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    How do you enter them?

    You can enter Highlights manually on the website, or automatically with an API integration (see examples below). To make them easy to remember, you can set up alerts to automatically prompt you to enter highlights as you progress through your work day.

    Why use highlights?

    When our highlights feature was first released, here’s what now-CEO Robby Macdonell said about its inception:

    RescueTime is great for understanding broad patterns in my time use but not so great for looking back at a specific day and remember[ing] the meaningful things I did. That’s a situation that comes up pretty frequently for me, and it was frustrating. Adding in a way to log notes about each day seemed like an obvious way to fix that.

    How are RescueTime users using Highlights?

    Since we introduced this feature, our users have found lots of different benefits in using daily highlights. Here are a few examples:

    Tracking non-billable time

    I use the Daily Highlights to keep track of how I spend my non-billable time, as I’m not very consistent with using my time tracking app for non-billable things. — Kim MacDonald

    Reporting to clients

    Though out my day I record highlights of what I have done. At the end of the week, I take these highlights to compile a report for my client. — Mike Therien

    Reporting to supervisors and better planning

    I record major or notable daily tasks completed so that when it comes to writing monthly activity reports for my supervisor, I can see easily at a glance what I accomplished. It also helps me track which elements of my role tend to take most time at which point in the month, which lets me plan workflow better. — A. Evans

    Spending more time on important work

    The highlights are a great tool to make quick reference notes about what I’ve been doing for the previous time blocks. Without it, I might go days at a time putting out fires and miss some significant billing opportunities. — Michael Runyon

    Reporting to the boss

    My boss likes to specifically know what I’ve accomplished in the past two weeks when we meet for our one-on-one meetings. Sometimes it’s hard to remember an item after it’s been crossed off my task list, because I’m already so preoccupied with the next task or project, and looking back at RescueTime reports doesn’t give me the specificity I need to report to my boss. I have intelligent prompts that remind me to enter Highlights in RescueTime, and I enter specific tasks that I’ve finished since the last prompt. It’s then really easy to see at a glance what I’ve accomplished in the past two weeks! — Marielle Bryck

    Staying on-task

    I created hourly prompts to log the things I’ve accomplished during the day. If the prompt pops up and I don’t have anything to write down I know I’m getting off track. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of optimization when you’re working, constant productivity prompts keep me on track. — Ava Donatien


    I use it as a journal. I know and have read that it is good to journal, so when I have a thought that does not necessarily require an action, or something I need to write out to attribute to my day or that hour, I just have the highlights link ready, jot a quick note, and get it off my brain and down on ‘paper’. I think can sort back as needed. Overall a great tool! — Edward Silva

    How highlights can help you understand how you spend your time, and report on what you’ve done

    Let’s get a bit more specific about how you can use highlights to track how you spend your time.

    RescueTime software developer David uses highlights combined with alerts to keep track of what he’s working on throughout the day:

    I use them ALL the time and I love them. They remind me what I did and what my focus was during the day

    I have an alert that fires off rather early in the day to set a highlight as a “reminder” of what my focus will be during the day. Then I fire one off about two or hours later to make sure i’ve not gotten off track. Then I have another one to summarize the day and what I got done. I try to keep the afternoon without alerts as that tends to be my most productive time.

    The next morning, or after a weekend, I pull up my previous days highlights or previous weeks highlights to remind me what I was working on and what I got done.

    Here’s what David’s alerts look like in RescueTime:

    David's alerts

    Basically, I use them to make sure I am on the right direction from the previous day and after an hour of work of a new day in the AM, a reminder of focus around midday and a summary of the day when it is done.

    You might want to cover time you spend away from your computer in daily highlights, too. You can do this by connecting highlights to your calendar events, as RescueTime user Alessandro Veneri does:

    I use [highlights] to keep track of all my daily meetings and university lectures by syncing RescueTime with my calendar, so that I could know at any time what I’ve been doing on each day.

    Connecting to other services like your calendar to automate your highlights makes it easy to keep a log of how you spend your time. RescueTime user Alfonso Buron connects highlights to his task manager, Nozbe, using Zapier:

    On the daily stand ups I want my colleagues to know what relevant tasks I worked on yesterday and which ones I plan to work on today. For that purpose I set up a Zap in Zapier that sends from Nozbe to RescueTime those tasks that I tick off each day in specific Nozbe projects.

    RescueTime and Trello user Joshua Evans uses a similar approach:

    I use Trello to keep my to-do list, and whenever I mark a task as “done” IFTTT automatically adds a highlight to Rescue Time! Automation for the win!

    Using journaling app Day One, RescueTime user Aaron Dowd is able to keep track of his daily work and reflect on what he gets done each week:

    I work remotely for seanwes, a company that helps people grow audience-driven businesses, live the life they want, and enjoy their work. I’ve been working from home since 2014, and while I love it, days fly by really quickly.

    We have so many different projects going on, I used to feel like I wasn’t always making the most of my time. I’d edit some podcasts, write a blog post, help a community member with a question, do some admin tasks, and so on. I started using RescueTime to write down everything I did throughout my day, mostly just to have a log so I can see what I’ve done.

    At the end of the week, I copy all my highlights and paste them into a Day One journal entry. That way, I can go back and see everything I did in the past week, which helps me feel a little more sane.

    Lucas Repolês has a similar process, but uses IFTTT to automate it:

    I have RescueTime alerts that open the highlight screen on every two productivity hours. Then I write the achievements of my day at work. Finally an IFTTT rule saves these notes on my journal in Day One. I really love this feature!

    Some examples of highlights in action

    You can make the process of logging highlights super easy by setting up the services you already use to create highlights for you automatically. For instance, you could create highlights from your git commit messages, your completed tasks on your to-do list, or each time you publish a blog post.

    You can use IFTTT to set up automatic highlights with services like Todoist, Trello, Gmail, GitHub, Wunderlist, and WordPress.

    Here are some examples of IFTTT applets for creating RescueTime highlights:

    IFTTT Recipe: Track the completed items on your to-do list

    IFTTT Recipe: Log a highlight event whenever you have a meeting

    IFTTT Recipe: Log a highlight event when a new blog post is published

    Zapier also works with RescueTime highlights and connects you to even more services, such as Asana, Google Docs, Slack, and Evernote.

    Here are some examples of automatic daily highlights you can set up with Zapier:

    Add your own custom integrations

    You can even use the RescueTime highlights API to create your own automatic daily highlights. For example, here’s a setup for sending git commit messages to RescueTime as highlights.

    Check out the docs for our highlights API to create your own custom integration.

    There’s a lot you can do with daily highlights. Whether you need more insight into projects you’re spending your time on, or an easy way to report to your boss what you’ve been up to, highlights can help you keep a log of your work.

    And when combined with alerts, reminder emails, and other apps via IFTTT and Zapier, you can create a powerful process for tracking your work.

    If you’re a Premium RescueTime user, start using daily highlights here.

    Or you can upgrade to RescueTime Premium here.

    Belle B. Cooper

    Belle is an iOS developer, writer, and co-founder of Melbourne-based software company Hello Code. She writes about productivity, lifehacks, and finding ways to do more meaningful work.

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