Archive for August, 2009

Rescue Time: Process vs. Product

A wile ago I signed up to try Rescue Time, a service that monitors how you are spending time on your computer and then crunches that data to show you how productive you are being. Recently the service has undergone some major changes, all of which make it easier to use, more intuitive and more useful. Nonetheless, I don’t use it much and may be putting it aside entirely soon.

The problem is that Rescue Time addresses a problem I’m not particularly interested in solving. I don’t really care what applications I’m running, what websites I’m visiting, etc. Am I wasting time reading newsfeeds or checking Twitter when I could be working? Yes. But I already know this and when I need to put those activities aside I’m usually able to do so.

The really tough distractions often occur offline (interruptions from the phone or in person taps on the shoulder) or online through apps that are otherwise productive (email, IM). Sometimes a 30 minute IM session is productive, sometimes not. And Rescue Time doesn’t know the difference.

The biggest problem is that time does not equal productivity, because productivity is not measured by the time you put into a process but what comes out of it. Sometimes a focused burst of activity can be more productive than hours of unfocused labor. What I want is an application that measures the product of my time rather than the process I’m engaged in. Did I produce more in the morning or the afternoon? Should I be coding at the beginning of the day and concentrating on design later on? When am I going to be most effective in communicating ideas to other people? Unfortunately I don’t know of any software that can answer these questions.

For many people, Rescue Time may be just the ticket to getting more out of each day. For me it’s mostly an additional distraction.

Update: ResueTime’s own Tony Wright has addressed a lot of my problems in his comment on this post (thanks Tony!). He points out some features I wasn’t aware of and makes the excellent point that RescueTime is great when measuring people’s time (esp. in terms of team management) is the goal. There’s a real fine line between a tool that is indispensable and one that just doesn’t produce enough return to justify the investment required for setup and maintenance. For me RescueTime falls on the wrong side of that line but I can see how it might be invaluable for folks with different requirements.

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Jason Fried On Momentum, Productivity and Business Success

37 Signals recently added a page for talks given by their staff where I came across a presentation that Jason Fried gave at the Business of Software 2008. Fried is never afraid to speak his mind and be controversial and there’s much here I would disagree with. Just because what he does works for 37 Signals doesn’t mean it works for everybody, but there were some ideas that really grabbed me.

Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity

Fried talks about how creative people need large blocks of time in which to work and that interruptions cut into this time. 37 Signals has dealt with this problem by maintaining an office that nobody works at; everybody works remotely, meeting only occasionally as a group in their office space. This eliminates some common forms of interruption like the tap on the shoulder or the address from across the room.

The Four Day Week

All 37 Signals employees work a Monday through Thursday with Friday off. Fried says that productivity has increased since they cut Fridays, his explanation being that people have had to cut out the non-essential work and focus on what’s important.

There are certainly many jobs that can expand to fill the time allotted to them and distractions can eat up a lot of time. Still, I’m not so sure that cutting out a day of work would automatically eliminate this kind of waste. 37 Signals clearly is committed to creating the most effective work environment, and it’s this kind of support that seems most crucial.

Momentum

This was the overall theme of the talk: how building momentum creates good work and great companies. It seems that there are a few components to this, but a big part of it is creating easy opportunities for success. Smaller projects, attention to detail and constant iteration: these tactics create successes that can be repeated such that people are always motivated to do better work.

This talk is well worth viewing. Check it out below.

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Think

I’m not going to be one of those bloggers who uses a whole post to apologize for not having posted in so long, so let’s jump right into a look at Think a mac application from Freeverse.

Think

Think does one simple thing: it hides all applications except the one you’re working in. There’s a whole lot more to it and more sophisticated features but I’m not going to talk about that. Instead I’d like to address how surprisingly useful this application is.

It’s A Bug, Not a Feature

I remember when I could only do one thing at a time on my computer. The last time was probably when I had a Mac Plus that ran applications off a floppy disk. If you wanted to run another app you had to quit whatever you were doing, eject one disk and insert another. Over time computers added more and more memory and designers came up with ways to switch between applications running at the same time. Now I regularly run around a dozen apps on my computer simultaneously, often switching between them constantly. Rather than making me more efficient this constant switching of tasks and contexts makes me scattered, tired and unhappy.

One Thing At a Time

Of course, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. I’m not going to go back to only running one application at a time. The time spent quitting and starting up apps would seem immense, even if it made me more efficient overall. I just don’t have the discipline to take that kind of step. Likewise, I don’t have the self control to just work on one thing at a time when all those other apps are clamoring for my attention in the Dock and around my Desktop. So what’s a guy to do?

Help Is On The Way

Think has effectively solved the problem of app overload. Seeing just one application at a time (with the rest of the screen blacked out) has an enormously calming effect on me, making focusing on the task at had much easier. There’s still times when I flit between apps, although I’m trying to keep that to a minimum. But when Think is doing its job I can turn off all the noise of multiple applications, desktop background, etc., and just. do. one. thing.

If this appeals to you, check out Think. Oh, and it’s free.

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