RescueTime – So perfect yet…

Problem How to measure the time spent on a task? There are a variety of methods, ranging from time keeping in a paper journal to little notes of paper and electronic variety that have been proposed and used. But each of these requires the individual to take note of the start and end times.

This requires a significant amount of discipline to do, which in spite of good intentions might not be feasible when juggling multiple tasks.

Especially for those tied to a computer, with the cost of shifting attentions and applications being couple of key strokes, its easy to get distracted onto something else.

And at the end of day, or the week, when the time arrives to submit timesheets, or even work out number of hours a client needs to be invoiced, its easy to get lost searching through the mails, notes etc to see where time was spent.

Solution Enter RescueTime.

RescueTime is billed as a personal productivity app, allowing a user to see where time is spent while huddled away on their computers. The app has one of the smoothest user experiences I have encountered, especially for a task as intrusive as timekeeping.

Implementation A small installer for the client machine does the job of time-keeping. This data is then sent to the RescueTime website where this data is shown in pretty, yet functional, charts etc.

My experience What I liked immensely about this app is the totally effortless way in which I could know the break up of time spent. Below is an actual chart after using the app for a day. RescueTimeChart

What is missing?

Though the app has been a pleasure I have had to stop using it. The reasons are:

  • Capturing times on applications used is not enough – This has been the big reason for me. I use Outlook to co-ordinate work on multiple task streams. To say I spent 3 odd hours on Outlook is just inadequate. That said RescueTime seem to be addressing this, according to a question in a feature survey, by capturing the name of the file one works on. But even this would be insufficient. 
  • Lack of calendar integration – This is big. When I have a scheduled meeting, any file or app I touch should be implicitly linked. That leads me to the most important reason of all..
  • Lack of Activity context – Multiple activities, each with their own timeline, often overlap and override planned priorities. Each activity will require me to touch multiple apps, mails, files. From a reporting perspective I view each of these artifacts as belonging to the same logical task. I want my reports to be at the level of my activity. Individual entities or applications I have touched should be there but they are not my focus. Allow me to define my activities and switch them easily. Even better infer activity context based on semantics, say based on email subject know that am working on a deal for Acme Corp.
  • Lack of Outlook integration – How many of my activities are planned? How much time was spent on todos/tasks on Outlook?

All said, RescueTime should definitely be given a try. If awareness is the first step towards any meaningful goal, then RescueTime provides you remarkable insight into how you spend your time. What you do with that information will still be upto you!

[update: Other posts from the web that cover RescueTime]


  1. The real sticky challenge with a lot of your suggestions is to make it REALLY lightweight. WE don’t want to make a time-management tool that takes 30 minutes a day of babysitting to get meaningful pile of data…

    We are definitely doing some heavy experimentation/exploration to try to get more insight into “activity context”.

    Great and thoughtful ideas– thank you!

  2. well, i saw this similar and better solution called kpimatrix ( at techcrunch lately. they can be viewed from iphone as they dont use flash

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