July 2, 2008 in 4 out of 5 stars, Hosted software, Productivity

What is it?

RescueTime: A time management and analysis program.


Who makes it?

RescueTime (3 guys rocking it with some YCombinator funding to start)

Why is it the killerest?

Because it achieves the holy grail of being fun to use, and darned useful too.

It consists of two parts. An application (software) you install on your computer (PC or Mac) and a website which reports on your time usage.

Rt The software logs the applications you use (a plain text log). By default it logs in two-second increments to paint a pretty accurate picture. Then every 30 minutes it beams this information up to the mothership. The mothership is a glorious reporting site you can pull up to see how you're using your time. It features all manner of reporting graphs and charts. It shows you how productive you're being, where you spend your time, how you're doing on your goals, and more.

While it's pretty helpful even with zero configuration effort (just install and let it go), you can really make it come alive if you spend a little time telling it about the things you do through simple tagging, and rating for productivity. It's an intuitive process that unfolds as you want it to. The usability is solid.

The first benefit to me was realizing just how much time I was frittering away with useless garbage. It was troubling information. Well, harrowing is more like it. And it has already changed how I use my time. As an entrepreneur, being accountable even if only to RescueTime is proving to be very valuable. The old "what gets measured gets improved" adage once again proves true. I'm rigorous about measuring so many other things, it's a little embarrassing I haven't applied that better to my time until now. I guess I just needed the drop-dead simple "do it for me" solution that RT provides.

In addition to measuring time, RT lets you set up goals, which it then tracks for you. Some example goals might be "spend more than 3 hours per day working on my secret project" or "spend less than 1 hour per day on email." 

They also have some paid features that allow groups to use it together so you can compare how you spend your time versus the average member. I haven't dived into that. Everything I'm using is free.

I've really resisted having a big crush on RT, but have so far failed. I love it.

What could be improved?

This is still immature software, and it's important to know that going in. I sincerely hope they can make their revenue model fly so that they can evolve this to the point where they build on the killer progress they've made so far.

In fact, if they would address the issues I'm about to outline, I would be perfectly happy to pay a modest fee (say, $4/mo) to keep my records indefinitely (right now they only keep a 3 month backlog) and have the following features:

1. I'd like to do intra-application tagging. For example - if I'm writing a poem about my dog in Word, I'd like to tag that differently than a work proposal for a new client. As it is today, they only break things out that way for the web browser.

2. I'd like to be able to manually enter time. Right now it only tracks your time at the computer - which it does spine-tinglingly well. But if I have an off-site meeting, I'd like to enter that in as productive time to gather a more accurate picture.

My other lingering concerns are privacy, and support.

Privacy: You're sending some potentially pretty sensitive information up. They've got some mechanisms in place to limit what you send if you want. For example, they've got a web site whitelist so you can say "only send specifics from this set of websites" so you'd specify the top 20 or so websites you frequent, and everything else would be sent as generic web use. You can also easily turn off logging for a period of time, you can tell it to ignore certain data (which is claims to delete and ignore), and  finally if you have a panic attack, you can delete your account and all data, which presumably deletes it all from their servers.

However, even with all this, the privacy policy still feels a little weak. Essentially stating, "we'll never look at your data, unless we need to" [link]. for example says something more like, "we won't ever look at your data, and couldn't if we wanted to" [link]. Obviously deals with more sensitive data - but for many users, that doesn't matter.

Support: This is a pretty minor concern, but I'll mention that I ran into some odd logging times, sent an email to support, got an almost instant personal reply (under 1 min) with some information, and a request to send some debugging logging information to them, which I did, but I never heard back (it's been about a week now). It wasn't a critical issue, it's free software, and it actually seems to be behaving properly now (I may have just done something stupid) so I didn't push it.

How much does it cost?

Free for individuals, unlock some groupy/teamy goodness starting at $7.95/mo for the first 6 users, and $7.95/mo more per user after that.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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100% agree. It's a very useful tool.

Regarding tracking offline time, I myself have the problem of spending lots of time both in meetings and on the phone, so I wrote a little Applescript hack to manually squeeze those hours and minutes into RT. The RT team liked it, for a few months they even featured it on their frontpage. :)

I hope you don't mind me posting the link here.

Cheers from Germany,

Posted by: Carlo Zottmann | Jul 2, 2008 12:51:43 PM

Cool Carlos, thanks.

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jul 2, 2008 1:09:51 PM

It's Carlo. No "s". It's the Italian version of the name. :)

By the way, I really like the blog. The reviews make for a nice format. Very enjoyable.


Posted by: Carlo Zottmann | Jul 2, 2008 1:13:01 PM

Hah, very well, sorry Carlo. Thanks again.

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jul 2, 2008 1:18:26 PM

Thanks for the great post! Many of the features you're after are in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Regarding support-- apologies-- I found the email thread in question and it is still awaiting some attention. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, we're just 3 guys. That's not a very good excuse, but you hit us right when we were launching a back-end overhaul that was pretty all-consuming (and potentially scary for tens of thousands of users if we screwed it up)! Still, shouldn't stop me from saying thanks for the log info and providing an ETA on attention. Soooo, mea culpa. :-)

Anyhoo, thx again! -Tony (RescueTime)

Posted by: Tony Wright | Jul 2, 2008 4:19:25 PM

Thanks Tony! Looking forward to that pipeline rolling out.

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jul 2, 2008 5:05:58 PM

The only problem that the software does not address is what to do with the data. I am a CPA who used to be obsessed with tracking time and posting to projects/clients for billing purposes. Give it all up and bill based on value you provide to your customers. Although I agree that it is interesting to see where your time goes, tracking your time is also a "waste of time." Concentrate on those tasks with the largest return on investment in your time, and you won't need to worry about what you do each minute of the day. Just my 2 cents!

Posted by: Donna Bordeaux | Jul 13, 2008 12:57:23 PM

This seems to be a great time management software. I will try it out and let you know how it went. Thank you very much for doing a review on this! Seems pretty great from what you've said and because it's free, it's even greater ;)

All the best to you,
Razvan Dobre

Posted by: Razvan Dobre | Sep 7, 2008 3:38:08 AM

My daily routine used to be all over the place, since I made the switch to time-management software, I seem to be able to do a lot more in a shorter space of time. Great Post

Posted by: Goldie | Oct 21, 2008 9:04:30 AM

Thanks for the review of RescueTime. I heard of it at work - But unfortunately we cannot install it at work for privacy issue. If only it was offline.

Anyone knows of an offline product that can track your computer usage?

Thank you

nice blog I found it from Google :)

Posted by: Marco | Nov 14, 2008 3:46:45 AM

Very useful tool! I need this to keep track of my time. Sometimes I get too involved that I forget I have a schedule to watch.

Posted by: Marie | Jan 28, 2009 3:09:42 PM

When I was freelancing I tried it out. The problem is: How Do you Spy on Yourself?
What I did learn is that I do not have any "distracting activities". Really. None. Zilch. Nada. So it is totally useless to me.

What you need to do is learn to really use a timer to track time spent on projects. This works. This is what I do.

Pray you don't work in an office where this is policy..
Big Brother is watching.

Posted by: Tai | Nov 11, 2010 11:42:37 PM

Is there a time-tracking tool similar to Rescuetime that doesn't block Facebook at work?

Posted by: Maria Jorvonivich | Nov 16, 2010 12:30:04 AM

Check out the comparison of Rescue Time & TimeDoctor to have a better view of what software will best work for you.

Posted by: garapatangbusog | Nov 18, 2010 5:09:00 AM

well, I saw a similar solution called kpimatrix ( they have a free version as well

Posted by: dave | Jan 16, 2011 7:26:35 AM