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.


  1. Tony Wright Said,

    August 18, 2009 @ 8:18 am

    You make some good points– the biggie is, of course, RescueTime doesn’t solve a problem for everyone! Still, I’d like to address a few points:

    • RescueTime does log offline time, after a fashion. Premium accounts can have a pop-up window that triggers when you’ve gone idle that say, “where have you been since 12:21pm?”. One click (say on the “biz meeting” button you’ve set up) and it’s gone.

    • Time definitely does NOT equal productivity. But it’s highly correlative, especially over long periods of time. And for teams (in our opinion), it’s an important, if imperfect, metric of productivity.

    • Regarding your IM comment, RescueTime can break down by conversations by tracking window title (premium accounts only). So my co-founder conversations are rated high in terms of productivty. With my wife, not so high. :-)

    Analytics like this can only provide so much value, though we’ve seen that RescueTime users tend to improve over their life of using RescueTime. We are moving into the world of nudges and voluntary blocking. For example, you could set rules to alert you instantly when you visit more than 30 minutes of social networking time per day, and block them entirely if you exceed 60. Or perhaps block them in the morning. Or just block the entire distracting portion of the internet for 45 minutes of focus.

    Okay, that may be the longest blog comment I’ve ever written. Thanks for trying us out regardless!

  2. Dave Said,

    January 16, 2011 @ 7:21 am

    This RescueTime thing seems similar with KPIMatrix. Well, they offer a free version as well but runs on local PC

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