My first week using RescueTime

I spent a lot of time at my desk. I mean, a LOT of time. I'm really trying to cut down on the numbers of hours I spend at the desk and I'm going for the ‘Work smarter, not harder' approach. So one of the things I thought I should do was track how much time I'm spending doing different activities. So in order not to spend more time trying out a bunch of different tools, I asked Twitter for a recommendation. I quickly got back a handful of responses suggesting I check out RescueTime. I signed up for the free account, installed the Mac app and away I went…

The first day I installed it, I let it run for about an hour and then went to the dashboard just to make sure it was working. Sure enough, I could see it was recording how much time I was spending in my email client, in a browser, on IM, etc. So, I let ‘er roll.

The following day I checked back and was already really liking the information it was collecting. I did a little research and found that the paid version offered an even better set of reporting, including some custom reports that I'll talk about later. It was enough to get me to purchase a subscription. I pre-paid for a year, set up some custom reports and went back to work.

The next day I got my first “weekly” report. Since it only had about 1.5 days recorded, I decided to not even bother with it and would wait for another week before really digging in. So here we are a week later. Let's have a look, shall we?

What I learned

  1. RescueTime will block you from accessing sites that are marked as Very Distracting. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and I'm sure plenty others. But, it didn't block me from using TweetDeck. It did, however, stop me from clicking on any links that tried to go through the redirect.
  2. I cheated, and it screwed up my stats. Rescue time has a nifty little feature where you can tell it to pause for 15 minutes, 60 minutes or until tomorrow. When it is on pause, you can go to all those great time wasting sites. My problem is, I'd click pause to go check Facebook and then forget to start the clock again once I got back to work. So because of that, my stats for this week are pretty low. For the next week, I'm going to try and not use the pause button for anything other than 15 minute Social Media breaks. I will also try and limit them to a couple per day.
  3. I spend a LOT of time dealing with email. This one wasn't actually all that shocking to me. Although, I was a little sad to see that my top 2 activities were email and IM. when do I get any work done??? I'm working on some solutions for that issue as well. IM is a vital tool for me since I manage remote developers and that is one of our main communication methods, but I need to lower the amount of time I spend on it.
  4. Custom Reports are awesome! With custom reports you can set up to track time you spend on individual clients by adding a list of keywords that the software will look for. So, if you are writing code and saving it to a directory named ‘client-abc', you can easily track that time. I need to refine my custom reports a bit, but, I believe over time it will become a way to better track how long each client project takes. This will help with estimating the cost of future projects.

Moving forward I'm going to go ahead and let RescueTime run 24/7 to get a better understanding of how much time I'm spending on the computer and when that time is productive and when it's not. My goal is to raise the productivity number while lowering the total hours. Although, I have a feeling this next week is going to see a big jump in hours as I try to leave the pause button alone.

Overall I'd have to say I'm really happy with RescueTime. Sure, some of what it's showing me I already new (Damn you, email), but there have definitely been some eye-openers as well. Now, to use this knowledge to make changes for the better.


  1. Phil Simon  (@philsimon) on April 30, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Interesting stats, John!

    I’m a bit afraid to see what I really do when I’m at my desk. I suspect that I’m much like you, although I try to minimize IM and email with varying degrees of success.

  2. Sean McLean on April 30, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Hey John, that’s fantastic. I’d love to do exactly that but my situation, the very nature of my job, skews the results. But the idea is the same: identify those things that are productive and not productive and pay attention to the time spent. My job involves time-wasters. Seriously. So a report saying that I spent all day screwing around on tumblr and therefore wasted time is mostly incorrect — that WAS my task for the day. On the other hand IM is no longer business critical to me and that IS a time waster.

    Either way, the idea is outstanding. I’ll see what I can do with that.

    • John on May 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      Sean, you can modify the settings for how productive/distracting something is. So, if Facebook were your job, you could mark facebook as being Very Productive, so your results would be more inline with what you are supposed to be doing.

  3. Ana F. on May 4, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Thanks for this post, John. Will definitely keep this app in mind and give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sam on May 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Hi John,

    I also started using rescue time. So far i am happy about the reports and I found it is a good way of keeping me reminded that I have to focus. As a young entrepreneur working mostly from home this helps.

    Some other non internet methods I use is creating strict promise to myself that I will go for 1 hour walk every evening to break away from internet, some time off for cooking etc. However my target is yet to be achieved (work pure 6 hours/day, strictly work – nothing else, then take as much as time for personal life).

    Are you using paid version of Rescue Time?

    • John on May 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Hey Sam,

      Yeah, I am using the paid version. I like the custom report/tracking features.

      I’ve found that spending 15 minutes at the beginning of each day and writing down a list of the things I want to get done that day. I do this before I open email or anything else. Then, when I open email, I slot in the things other people need from me around the things I want/need to get done. Seeing the list on paper each day has really been helping me stay focused.

      • Sam on May 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm

        Fully agreed on the listing.

        Well wishes from Sri Lanka!

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