Rescue Time

Monday August 13 2012 - , , , , , ,

No, not the title of a Doctor Who episode. Time management in business is a huge challenge for many – I know it is for me. Always there is more to be done while the time available seems to shrink. In our new digital lives, there is a cacophony of noise seeking to win and keep our attention.

A wise main said, “measure twice, cut once”. Before one can improve time management, one needs to measure how time is being spent, so that a strategy can be developed based upon hard evidence. Here’s how to gather that evidence.

imageMy professional life happens almost entirely online. Occasionally I have to go out to a customer site and do something physical, but for the large part I conduct most of my tasks online, or on my computer. I’ve recently started using a utility called RescueTime, which sits quietly in the background measuring what I’m doing. The power of RescueTime is its categorization system. It notes what program I’m using and marks that time against a category. For example, editing software in Visual Studio gets categorized as Software Development. The category in turn gets a score from “very distracting” to “very productive”. In my case, developing software is part of my job, so this category, for me, is scored “very productive”.

Once installed, RescueTime sits there quietly, unobtrusively monitoring how you spend your time. It never interrupts of gets in the way, in fact you’ll forget all about it. Perfect! If you forget it is there, your results should be an accurate reflection of reality. Every week, or on demand, I get a bunch of statistics telling me what I worked on that week, and based on the categorization, how productive I was.

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You can see from the example that I spend more time working on my computer than most, and that there’s a lot of unproductive or marginal time in there. I wonder where I’m getting distracted? Well that’s easy to answer, thanks to Rescue Time:

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Ahem. Its easy to see which applications and web sites are getting most of your attention. It is perhaps no great revelation that I’m spending probably too much time on Facebook, but here it is, hard quantifiable evidence.

The great thing is that RescueTime comes with a lot of intelligent defaults and most of the programs you use will already have been categorized. You can of course override them and some amount of fine tuning will be needed – if you are a social media marketing expert then time spent on Facebook may well be considered very productive, in which case a few clicks will change that setting

There are many different ways to view the data. For example, here’s a breakdown of how productively I spent my time this month so far (the fact that I have a lot of ‘neutral’ time probably means that I need to do some categorization):

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Having worked out what’s wrong, you can go on to set yourself goals and RescueTime  will tell you how well you’re meeting them.

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Highly recommended. RescueTime is free to download and use and you can get a Lite account free forever. There is an optional premium upgrade  that gives you even deeper monitoring and analysis options and helps you stay focussed by blocking distracting sites while you work.