How to do a personal annual review with RescueTime in 3 easy steps [Updated for 2019]

It’s the end of the year. And on top of finishing work projects, planning for the holidays, and enjoying a bit of year-end cheer, you’ve got a bunch of RescueTime logs in front of you! So what can you do with them? How about a personal annual review.

A personal annual review is an opportunity to step back from the day-to-day and dig into how you spent your time over the past 12 months.

Did you end up where you thought you would this time last year?

Did you build better habits, start a new career, or make any other major change? 

Think of it as a performance review. Except instead of your boss or manager running the show, you get to dive deep, ask questions, and see if how you actually spent your time last year lined up with your goals and plans.

It’s an amazing opportunity to reflect, learn, and plan for a successful 2020.

Note: A lot of the features we’re going to be looking at are only available to RescueTime Premium users. You can try RescueTime Premium for free for 14 days by signing up here.

The basics of a personal annual review: What you need, what you’ll learn, and what you can use it for

A meaningful life (and career) is one that’s lived with purpose and intention. As psychologist Howard Gardner wrote in his book Extraordinary Minds

“Extraordinary individuals stand out in the extent to which they reflect—often explicitly—on the events of their lives, large as well as small…” 

That’s no small feat. But it’s what we’re going to be tackling today.

The goal of a personal annual review is simple: 

  1. Use data to reflect on how you spent the last 12 months 
  2. Compare your results to the goals you set out at the start of the year 
  3. Use that information to plan for the future 

To get started, you’ll need a few supplies. At a minimum, make sure you have:

  • Half an hour or so of focused time. You need time to go deep, dig into your RescueTime data, and set goals and intentions that feel right. Don’t rush the process if you don’t have to.  
  • A large piece of paper or document. Choose whatever works best for you but try to pick something you’ll be able to reference throughout the year.
  • Journals and calendars to find key events. This can help you dig into certain moments or make sense of your personal data. 
  • Your RescueTime account. As a RescueTime user, you have a treasure trove of personal data that will tell you exactly how you spent your time last year. (If you’re not a user yet, sign up today and you can start collecting data now!)

You can use your personal annual review to plan for next year, set better goals or New Year’s resolutions, or even to help inform your performance review at work. 

But that’s just the start! This level of reflection can bring up all sorts of insights that you miss when you’re stuck in the busyness of your day-to-day activities.

Use this unique opportunity to be open-minded about your future. If you’re unhappy with how things are now, use your annual review to decide what it will take to feel differently a year from now. If you’re mostly happy, ask why and how you can do more of the things you love (and less of everything else!)

How to run a personal annual review with RescueTime

So how do you actually run a personal annual review? It comes down to three simple steps: Reflect, gather data, and then make an action plan.  

You can use the links below to jump to a specific section or follow along using your own RescueTime account:

  1. Write down your biggest goals from the previous year
  2. Gather your data in RescueTime
  3. Create a “big” and “short” list of accomplishments that will make 2020 a success

Step 1. Write down your biggest goals from the previous year

One of the first things we like to do before diving into our personal data is to think back to how we’d hoped our year had gone.

This is a great way to frame the data you’re about to look at and see if your actions matched up with your intentions. (This is the same technique we suggest when doing a time audit.

So go ahead and take a few seconds to write down 3-5 of the goals you set out at the start of 2019.

If you didn’t set goals at the start of last year that’s fine too. Just write down how you would have liked to have spent your time. So for me, that might look like:

  1. Spend X hours designing in Figma
  2. Write for X hours every workday
  3. Spend less than X hours a week on social media

What’s great about getting in a habit of goal-setting like this is it allows you to see how you change year-on-year.

Certain tasks and projects that were important one year might fade away, change, or grow in the next. And by keeping track of these, you’re able to quickly see how you’ve progressed in your career and your skills.

Step 2. Gather your data in RescueTime

Now that you’re in the right headspace, it’s time to dive deep into your personal data. Here’s where we’re going to use RescueTime.

If you’re a RescueTime Premium user, you’ve got a year or more of in-depth personal data at your fingertips. (Lite accounts are limited to just 3 months of historical data). 

So how do you make the most of it? 

Here’s our in-depth guide to using RescueTime to gather data for a personal annual review:

Check your annual dashboard for a full view of your year

Now that you’ve written your own “ideal annual review,” let’s dive into your RescueTime data to see how it matches up. Head to your RescueTime dashboard, which looks like this:

You can use the easy date picker to choose ‘2019’ and you’ll see a roll-up of all your time for the year

Please note that the annual reports can take a while to load. That’s a lot of data!

So just what are you looking for here? The annual review dashboard will show you all sorts of things, including:

  • Time spent by week
  • Overall productivity pulse
  • Mobile time against desktop time (if you have the RescueTime iOS or Android app)
  • Your top categories of activities for the year
  • An outline of your goals and goal progress

This is a good place to get an overall sense of how you spent your time this year and start to ask some high-level questions:

  • What stands out to you?
  • Did you spend more/less time than you thought you did on your goals?
  • Are there any high-level trends you can see in how you spent your time or how productive you were?

Break your time down by work hours

The annual dashboard is a good place to start, but to get more for your annual review, you’ll want to dig deeper into the specifics.

To do that, there are a number of ways you can filter your report. Let’s run through a few:

1. Show just your working hours

Want to look specifically at how you spent your time during normal working hours? You can use a time filter to narrow your view to specific hours of the day.

There are several default time filters that align with “standard” working hours, and you can create your own to get the exact view you want.

Tip: If you’re prone to working long hours like me it’s really interesting to also check the off-work hours and see how much work bleeds over into your personal time.

2. Filter to a specific quarter

It also makes sense to zoom in a little bit and look at how your time changed seasonally.

Did you start a new job in the Fall? Do you want to look at how you started the year so you can plan for a better 2020?

On the “Year” tab of the date picker, you can select a specific quarter of the year to look at.

You can also bounce between quarters to get a sense of how your time changed as the year progressed.

Find your top activities for the year

Alright, let’s zoom in a little now and check on some of your top activities of the year.

First, use the ‘Reports’ navigation option and choose how you want to see your activities:

  • Productivity will show you your average productivity pulse and how much time was spent on activities you’ve ranked as very productive, productive, neutral, distracting, or very distracting. This is a great place to see how distracted or productive you were across the full year and what habits you might want to build (or break) in 2020.
  • Categories will give you a higher-level look at what types of activities you spent most of your time in such as design, business, reference, social networking, and so on. Look at the percentage of time spent on your core work (i.e. the thing you were hired to do like designing, coding, or writing). Does this look high? Low? Just right?
  • Applications and websites will go a level deeper and tell you exactly which apps and sites you spent the most time on (with color-coding to show whether you’ve ranked them as productive or distracting). 

Look for trends in your productivity across the year

Let’s stick with the Productivity report for a second.

One of the things I like to see at this point is how my productivity changed throughout the year and if there are trends I can identify.

To do this, head to Reports and then Productivity.

Here’s what that looks like: 

Next, we’re going to zoom in on our productivity By Week. That report looks like this: 

This gives you a look at your total time spent per week, plus how it was broken down by productive and non-productive tim

You can also see the By Week report for Categories and even Applications and websites. Just navigate to those reports and change the view.

Personally, I like to look at some of my top activities to see how they trended throughout the year.

How to find your longest / most productive / most whatever day

Want to know when you were at your best this year? You can find your top weeks for any particular metric by using the By Week view of any report for the full year.

It’s pretty fun to go through your year and see when you spent the most time in your favorite activities. Sometimes I’ll even compare these to my calendar to see what was going on during my best/worst days.

To see these days, you’ll need to switch to your Quarterly View and then dig into each category report. 

So if I wanted to see the day I did the most writing, I would go to Reports > Categories > Design & Composition > By Day.

Here’s what that looks like: 

Use the percentage view to see your time in a different way

We’re not done quite yet with our By Week reports yet.

There’s a little-used feature in the reports that really comes in handy when doing reflections over long periods of time. On any of the By Day / By Week reports, you can toggle between different views of your data

By default, you’ll see a stacked bar chart showing the amount of time logged on different activities for each time period. If you tend to log different amounts of time each day, it can make it hard to see patterns.

In the top right of the chart, there is a toggle where you can switch to a percentage view. That should make it easier to see if your distribution of time is changing. On the productivity reports, there’s a third toggle to show the productivity pulse.

Look at your daily trends to uncover your personal productivity curve

From here, let’s switch gears and see what an “average day” in 2019 looked like.

Each report has a Time of Day view that shows an aggregate roll-up of all time for that activity for each hour of the day.

You can use this however you’d like, but I like to see my daily productivity curve. In other words, when am I more/less productive on an average day? 

We all go through energy highs and lows throughout the day and being able to identify your own like this can help you schedule our time better. (We wrote all about personal productivity curves here).

To view this, go to Reports > Productivity.

And then choose Time of Day:

So, on this graph, you can see that I’m most productive from 9 am – 12 pm. I can also click on each of these to get a clearer picture of when I’m most productive or distracted.

For example, here’s just my Very Productive Time by Time of Day:

Check your current goal progress and compare to what you wrote down

It’s time to come full circle with our annual review. Now that we have a pretty deep understanding of how we spent our time, let’s check in with our goals to see if they matched up with what we wrote at the start of this exercise.

All goal reports calculate the total amount of time you spent working to meet your goal in the time period of the report you’re viewing so you can see how your daily effort stacks up over the year.

Just head to Reports > Your Goals

Goals are fun to look at in the yearly or quarterly views because you get to see some impressively big numbers of things you were working towards.

Setting small goals and sticking to them is an effective way to make changes. This year, I set a small goal of spending less than half an hour on email a day. And I made it 201 times this year!

Use the category view to see what activities ate up your time

If you haven’t set any goals in RescueTime, you can still see how each different activity stacked up against your total time logged. Let’s use communication time as an example. 

Looking at my Category report I can see that I spent a total of ~220 hours on communication in 2019. That sure sounds like a lot. But it’s more meaningful to know that this is just 16% of my total time. 

Here’s how to find those numbers. 

There are two ways to find the percentage of time an activity took up

Look at the table beneath the graph on any of the main reports (Productivity, Applications & Websites, Categories). You should see the percentage right next to the total time.

You can also browse to the detail report for that activity, and you should see the percentage next to the totals on the left side of the graph

Bonus: Go deeper with custom reports and the RescueTime API

RescueTime’s reports try to balance simplicity with flexibility. They do a pretty good job, but there are some cases where you might want to get a slightly different view of your data than the navigation offers.

If you’ve ever paid attention to the URLs in the reports, you can see that they follow a predictable pattern that you can manipulate to get some different views of your time.

The report URLs generally look something like:

RescueTime annual review report URL

To break that down by segment:[THING-YOU-CARE-ABOUT]/by/[HOW-IS-IT-GROUPED]/for/the/[TIME-PERIOD]/of/[DATE]

You can find some values to play around with this on our API documentation page. For a quick example, you can get a month-over-month view of 2019 by changing /by/week/for/the/year to /by/month/for/the/year

Bonus Bonus: Use the API for the most contro

If you are more comfortable with spreadsheets, or even advanced stats software like R, you can pull data from your reports using our API. Here is the documentation.

Step 3. Create a “big” and “short” list of accomplishments that will make 2020 a success

Ok, that was a lot of data. So let’s take a second to regroup before moving on.

Here’s what we know: 

  1. The big picture of how you spent your time in 2019 including overall productivity, top categories, mobile time, etc… 
  2. Which apps and tools you used the most and how that changed throughout the year
  3. How your productivity changed throughout the year
  4. Your most productive days
  5. A breakdown of your “productivity curve” (i.e. how a typical day looks)
  6. Your goal progress and trends across the year
  7. The percentage of your time spent on your most important activities

With this data in hand, it’s time to stop reflecting and start looking forward. Set a timer (3–5 minutes is good), and write down your answers to two questions: 

  1. What’s on your “big list” for 2020? What are all the things you want to accomplish, change, or contribute to in the new year? Go crazy. Nothing is off-limits here. I like to look at my top activities from the year and work off of those. 
  2. What’s the “shortlist” version of those goals? Look through your crazy huge list. Now, circle the 3–5 things that, if completed, will make 2020 a success to you? Don’t overthink this too much but try to project yourself to this time next year. What would you have liked to complete? 

With your core list of “must-do” tasks for 2020, you can now spend a few minutes writing up an action plan for how you’re going to hit them. Think about the milestones you want to hit to make sure you’re on track, the habits you need to build, connections you need to create or strengthen, and the things you want to give up that are getting in the way.

For the nitty-gritty of goal-setting, check out our in-depth guide here. It’ll run you through the fundamentals of setting ambitious yet achievable goals, tracking your progress, and getting across the finish line.  

With so much of our time spent on digital devices, it’s pretty incredible to be able to look back at how we spent the past year

I hope this short guide helped you better understand how you can use RescueTime to build an end of year review for yourself, track your progress, and set a plan for a productive and successful 2020!


  1. Thank you for writing this. I have use RT in the past for my yearly reviews, but was not aware of many of the advanced reports that you demonstrate here. Hope to gain more insights this year-end around. 🙂

  2. Dear Robby;

    I am a student taking five online courses from the same website. Since RescueTime compiles/logs time based on which website I’m on. How would I be able to track the time that I will spend on the four separate courses that I’m taking from the same website?

    Please click on this website.
    1- If I click on tabs/courses within a website (such as the one above) will that be consolidated as a separate website or is it still the same website?
    2- If I wanted to time things in my life that are not web-based (like “exercise”, “music”, “painting”); could I use this software to incorporate them in my time management, and keep a log by the minutely, week, month and year?
    3- Do you have compatible app for iPhone to track my progress seamlessly?

    I’ll fill in my information in the email box.

    1. Sorry for the late response, Bem!

      1. With RescueTime premium, you can log time for individual pages on a website, and these can be viewed and categorized differently than the main website. So you can get *some* visibility into things on a per class level, but it might be a little clunky. If your classes involve multiple pages within a single section of the website, there’s not really an elegant way to group multiple pages together as a single activity.
      2. RescueTime premium has offline time tracking, so you could track things that happen away from the computer. See for more information
      3. We are working on an iOS application.

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