RescueTime: Where Does Your Computing Time Go?

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For the last couple of days, I’ve been vigorously trying out a range of productivity tools. Given that I’m going to be at home for the next couple of weeks — I figured it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get some work done. :-) So when a couple of friends Twittered about RescueTime, I was immediately curious. With buzz words like “web-based time management” lurking their homepage I anticipated another project management web app with the to-do list and time tracker and the usual feature-full things that are supposed to make me more productivity, but it’s something completely different.

Founded by Tony Wright after selling his AJAXy job search engine Jobby to Jobster in May 2006, the project has raised funding from Y Combinator and goes after the idea of “ridiculously easy time management.” We wrote last year about Wakoopa, a service that tracks your software usage a la Last.fm for music, and while similar, RescueTime takes the concept a step further: instead of just telling you, it wants to make your more productive with this data.

The way that the service works is that users sign up, and install the RescueTime tracker utility for their OS (Windows and Mac both supported.) RescueTime then sits silently in your system bar (or taskbar in Windows), watches, and reports back to its servers as you spend countless hours answering e-mail and watching stupid funny videos on YouTube.

Let it do its thing for a day or so, and you get this in your RescueTime dashboard:

Perfect! Now the whole world knows how much time I spend watching useless celebrity gossip channels on Slingplayer. :-)

But of course, the tool doesn’t end there. Once you’ve collected a slew of data, RescueTime lets you tag particular applications and categorize them in this way (i.e. work, personal, media, useless, etc.) And here’s the cool part — you can then use these tags to set up special goals and alerts for yourself when you’re spending more time than you need to on them. For example, I set up a goal stating, “I want to spend less than 3 hours per day on entertainment.” Now I can subscribe to an RSS feed or get RescueTime to SMS my phone everytime I’m over my goal limit.

Undoubtedly, RescueTime is one of the coolest and most intuitive time management utilities I’ve tried out. What makes it so is its core idea of “ridiciously easy” and “no data entry needed.” Additionally, for the first time, computer users can finally measure their real productivity and act on them — as opposed to constantly training their mind to “watch less YouTube videos” or “stay out of Facebook.” For the value it provides, I’d definitely pay for such a tool, too, if that’s the direction they want to take for the future.


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