Review your data, improve your work

Here at RescueTime, collecting and displaying data is what we do best. We’re with you across every app and website, recording your activity and helpfully categorizing it. And you can use our new feature, Timesheets AI, to put that data into projects to improve their context.

But there’s one thing our products, even the ones that utilize space-age AI, may never be able to do for you. And that’s because it requires help from you—the human exercise of reviewing your data. Because only you can truly understand and extrapolate actionable meaning from how you spend your time.

If we handed an export of your RescueTime data to some random person, they wouldn’t be able to be make heads or tails of it. They would see time spent in different applications. They’d see how long it takes you to answer all those emails. They’d see your Focus Sessions, your YouTube rabbit holes, and the number of times you fell prey to distracting apps.

But they wouldn’t know how it all fits together—what it means for your work habits and productivity. There’s still this matrix of intention and result, of work style and flow, of how we each individually work that remains singularly personal. So, you need you. You need to take that data, review it, and study the picture it paints.

And in that process is where you’ll truly begin to understand how to improve your work habits. And the changes you’ll be able to make with that knowledge are truly powerful. Here’s why.

Improving and innovating your process


Many of us can probably relate to this experience: just plodding along, doing work diligently, and some days are better than others, but we don’t know why.

More work gets done on Tuesday than it does on Thursday. Does that mean Tuesdays are inherently more productive? Did you get a stronger cup of coffee that day?

What do we do right, or better than usual, on our more productive days that we can do more of?

It’s so interesting to consider how many of us don’t ask that question of ourselves. We just wander in the dark. Notice a 10% drop (or rise) in productivity and don’t investigate it any further than saying “huh, interesting.”

But just by the act of shining a light on ourselves and our productivity, those gears start to turn.

You can see what works and follow it to salvation. As it turns out, Tuesdays are better because there aren’t as many people in the office and it’s easier to focus. Now you can get to the office an hour earlier on those days and compound your results.

Not every answer will be as clean or as simple, but just having your brain pointed towards the pursuit will bring focus, which brings results. Enjoy that process.

Evaluation leads to accountability


You might have experienced a certain feeling when looking at basic data in your day to day life, like your step count or screen time—something stirring inside you.

At this point, we all know people that get a ridiculously productive charge out of trying to nail that step count. It changes the whole shape of their days and lives. Getting up earlier to get those steps in before work. Walking to and from lunch, and then walking around after, just to keep the streak going (and aid digestion). Buying one of those treadmill desks? Why on earth not?

Likewise, we all know the stomach-dropping feeling of looking at our screen time stats and seeing three, four, six, eight hours of time staring at the same little rectangle. (Say literally any amount of time and it will be believable. That’s how bad the problem is worldwide.)

Humans do a better job than we give ourselves credit for moving toward our goals once we’ve set them. The problem that trips us up often is just not knowing where to put the goal line.

So imagine if you could bottle that kind of urgency and apply it to all sorts of avenues of your life. Shortening the time between starting to work and finding a rhythm. Increasing your productivity once you find that rhythm.

Maybe a morning workout will clear your mind and focus you for a day of work. Maybe you’re the type that really needs to feel centered with a five or ten minute meditation before you start in earnest. Many of us just need to dial in the caffeine dosage.

It just puts the goal, the shape of the goal, the attainability of the goal, all in the forefront of your mind. It can become your obsession. But instead of being this formless monster you’re more scared of than inspired by, it can be a path.

And then you can hold yourself truly accountable—not in a “beat yourself up” way, but a “I know what’s required, and I know I can do it” way. The power of clarity and purpose.

Multi-tasking is a lie (but you knew that)

One of the more immediate and obvious revelations RescueTime data shows a user is how much multi-tasking (or, in other words, continually getting distracted and re-distracted) screws up any attempt at productivity.

When you review your data, you’ll see the number of times you shift to distracting activities or chat and email each hour. Studies show that it takes over 20 minutes to regain your focus after a distraction, so the lower you can keep that number, the more focused you’ll be.

Your data will also show what websites or apps are most likely to be your downfall. Like knowing which snacks you shouldn’t keep in the house when you’re trying to change your diet, this is powerful information.

It bears out in the data time and time again: multi-tasking burns up productive time. Mono-tasking, on the other hand, is so powerful your state of mind can literally alter after just a few minutes of effort. And if you do it right, the work just tumbles out of you in a joyous way. Chase that feeling.

Software is optional but extremely helpful


Technically, you could do all this with pen and paper. In fact, we just got done hearing horror stories about the ways that users have been doing things the analog way for years (before the advent of RescueTime’s Timesheets AI).

But, if that sounds unappetizing to you (and honestly it should), worry no more. You can streamline the data analyzing process with software. And if you choose to go down that path, there are three tiers that you can dive into and start with:

1. Time Tracking Tools

Software like Toggl, Harvest, and Hubstaff allow teams to monitor how time is allocated across different tasks and projects. This data is crucial for understanding productivity trends, optimizing workloads, and identifying opportunities for efficiency gains.

But you know what blog you’re reading this article on. We wholeheartedly recommend that every conversation about time management and personal productivity starts and ends with RescueTime.

2. Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms

If you want to get a little more intense and enterprise-grade about it, platforms such as Tableau, Power BI, and Google Data Studio enable organizations to aggregate and analyze productivity metrics from various sources. These apps have really strong reporting capabilities, which makes it easier for in-depth analysis and visualization of data to drive the strategic decision-making at your company.

3. Workflow Automation Tools

And as a bonus, if you’re looking to get nerdy about your work and involve some automation, programs like Zapier, Integromat, and Microsoft Power Automate automate repetitive tasks and processes — the very ones that are likely flagged in your RescueTime data as being time-expensive and relatively low-output. By reducing manual intervention (in other words, the need for a human to be sitting there and hitting the Return key or whatever), the idea is that efficiency is increased, and more time freed up for more complex and “human” tasks.

Optimizing and tripling-down

The most fun part of this process is finding what you’re truly great at. The times you work the best. The types of work you’re the best at.

You can see it in the progress you make toward your Focus Work goal, or in your hourly Analytics.You can see it pop out in the data like a little beacon. Think back to the environment that you might have cultivated in that exact moment: after lunch? Just got done feeding the cat?

You know, almost on a deep inherent level, how it feels, and where you are, when you do your best work.

Then begins the fabled process known as “the triple down.”

You know what you’re good at. Now, you know when you’re good at it. So now we just combine, add a little sugar and pixie dust, and out comes a productive workflow with purpose.

Work best in the mornings? Work best after a full eight hours sleep? Those factors are now your lighthouses: they are immovable. Approach your sleep with the seriousness of a full-time job. Because that’s kind of what it is, right?

Making decisions with data


And the higher you go, the “data is king” philosophy just renders more and more insight, and possibility to put those insights into action.

In businesses and enterprise-type scenarios, you can actually track trends on a macro level. Employee workloads compared to productive output. Length of work days. You’d think they’d all be parallel lines. More often than not, they’re inverted.

There are even companies out there that monitor the flow of traffic through their employee parking lots as a window into how employees are spending their days: Are they leaving for lunch? Are they staying late, even by a few minutes, after they clock out? What does that indicate? If they’re late in the morning, does that stress and feeling of having to catch up for the first hour of the day affect the rest of the day? (Spoiler: it does.) And don’t even get us started on the emerging work-from-home data.

Ultimately, it can help inform your decision-making—influencing the direction of your career or company.

Then, after you make a decision? Check the data. See if you were right. Adjust or carry on.

It’s the smart way to go about things.

Can you believe we didn’t always do it that way?

Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.

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