How to do a personal annual review with RescueTime [Updated for 2018]

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?

We’re big believers in the power of reflection. And a year-end review is one of the best opportunities to look back at how you spent your time over the past 12 months and commit to changes for the year ahead.

We like to think of this as something like a personal annual review. But instead of your boss or manager going over your performance, 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.

To get you started, here are a few pointers for how to run and get the most out of your own annual review using RescueTime. Use the links below to jump to a specific section or follow along with your own account.

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.

How to run a personal annual review with RescueTime

  1. Write down your biggest goals from the previous year
  2. Check your annual dashboard for a full view of your year
  3. Break your time down by work hours
  4. Find your top activities for the year
  5. Look for trends in your productivity across the year
  6. Use the percentage view to see your time in a different way
  7. Look at your daily trends to uncover your personal productivity curve
  8. Check your current goal progress and compare to what you wrote down
  9. Use the category view to see what activities ate up your time
  10. Bonus: Go deeper with custom reports and the RescueTime API

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 2018.

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 work day
  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.

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:

RescueTime annual dashboard 2018-min

You can use the date picker to choose ‘2018’ and you’ll see a roll-up of all your time for the year.

RescueTime - Pick year view

Please note that the annual reports can take a while to load.

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 Android app)
  • Your top categories 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 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 to find deeper insights. 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.

RescueTime annual review work hours

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 2018?

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

RescueTime annual - pick a quarter-min

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.

RescueTime annual review - top categories long

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.
  • 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.
  • 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).

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” > “Productivity” > “By Week”:

RescueTime annual review - productivity by week-min

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

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 across the year to see how they trended.

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.

If you want to know the top days, instead of weeks, you can do the same process, but you will have to use the quarterly reports instead of the full annual view.

RescueTime annual - Trends - writing by week-min

Go into your quarterly view and scan through each one to find the day that stands above the rest for the metric you’re interested in.

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.

RescueTime annual review convert to percentage

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 2018 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).

So, on this graph, you can see that I’m most productive from 9am – 12pm.

RescueTime annual productivity by hour-min

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”:

RescueTime annual review - goal view

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 289 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. So, while knowing I spent almost 230 hours on communication feels like a lot, it’s more meaningful to know it’s only 13% of all the time I logged for the year.

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.

RescueTime annual review - percentage view 1

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.

RescueTime annual review - percentage view 2

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:

https://www.rescuetime.com/browse/[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 2018 by changing /by/week/for/the/year to /by/month/for/the/year

Bonus Bonus: Use the API for the most control

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.


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 help plan for a productive 2019!

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Robby Macdonell

CEO at RescueTime

4 comments

  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?

    https://www.ilc.org/en-ca/home

    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 https://www.rescuetime.com/rescuetime-pro?detail=offline for more information
      3. We are working on an iOS application.

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