Staying Focused with RescueTime

Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to stay on track when you have so many distractions around you.  Tweets popping up, emails coming in, and YouTube videos being shared can all catch your eye. Then before you know it you’re watching the complete first season of Mad Men on Netflix as your deadline whooshes by.

Have you ever wanted to just turn off the internet, so you could finish the project you’re working on? Wouldn’t a tool that would allow you to do so be just what you’re after?

Enter RescueTime.

RescueTime is a great tool for those of us who feel we aren’t being as productive as we’d like to be.  After a quick install on your Mac or PC, you are able to get a log of your daily/weekly activities. How much time did those “quick” emails really take?  You thought you were on YouTube just for a second or two, but at the end of the day, you were on there for 45 minutes. Know where your time is being spent so you can focus on getting what needs to be done, done. We’ve touched on it a little bit in the past — and at our sister site, FreelanceSwitch, but since I am currently playing with it, it might be worth sharing the experience with you all.  You’ve only got 168 hours in a week — you might as well try to make them productive.

There are three types of accounts available with RescueTime.  Solo Lite, Solo Pro, and Team Edition.

Solo Lite – “free forever” – the basic tools to see where you are spending your time online

Solo Pro – $6 – $9/month – a few more tools, additional and longer term storage of your data, and the ability to track your offline time (phone calls, meetings, bio-breaks)

Team Edition – Starting at 2 seats for $30/month – I won’t be reviewing this side of the project, but from the info online it looks like it offers all of the features of Solo Pro, with some additional tools for a manager to use to track time, enforce “focus times,” as well as detailed analytics.  You can read more about it here.  I like that they recommend that you discuss this product with your team before you install it.  It’s not a “gotcha” program; it’s a tool to help everyone perform better.

The installation process is pretty simple.

  1. Go to the site, sign up for the free version, and get bumped to the pro version for the first 2 weeks.
  2. Download the data collector (Windows, Mac, Linux – pick your favourite flavour).
  3. Run the install file.
  4. Click on the icon in your system tray to configure the preferences.
  5. Since the app you installed just collects data, all of the settings are configured online.  You can choose when the app monitors your productivity, or just have it on 24/7.
  6. Categorize your activities, and choose whether they are productive or not (just an FYI – WoW should be listed as very distracting).


The dashboard is actually pretty interesting.  There are graphs to show you your efficiency summary (and it ranks you against the rest of the RescueTime users), you can see your daily productivity (perhaps there is a day of the week that you just don’t accomplish anything.  You can choose to fix that, or maybe use that day for other projects).

The All Activities graph breaks down your time spent on different applications, so you can see where your time is being spent and in which program.  You might find there are compelling reasons to stop using the program that you’ve always used, and switch to a program that is more efficient for your current and future needs, or you might find that your estimates for your projects are way off, and that you are seriously undercharging for your services.  (Sure, I guess it’s possible you might be overcharging, but your clients are probably able to notify you if that’s a concern)

What I like about RescueTime

For me – it measures the time that I am actually writing.  A large part of my work requires research on the internet, and communication via email, Skype, Twitter and Facebook, but the part that is most important to me is the writing component.  That’s what I enjoy doing, and it’s what I actually get paid for. RescueTime allows me to look and see how much time I actually spent writing, and I can use that to determine if I am being efficient and effective.

I think I like the “Focus Mode” component of this tool.  It allows you to turn off the “Very Distracting” parts of the internet for a user specified period.  You can choose the honour system, where you can go and turn it back on if you really need to watch that “kitten falling off a stool” video, or you can have it set to totally block you until the timer counts down to zero.  I don’t think I’ve got ADD, but….look at the pretty birds there… (guess we know which setting is right for me!)

Automated Project Tracking helps eliminate the duplicate paperwork that can eat up your time, you just download a CSV file with the time you’ve spent on your project and use that for your billing software.  The ability to set an alert to poke you when you’ve spent over x amount of time on social media/email/IM/online video poker can really help you be productive, too.  For example, I will (and do) receive an alert via a pop-up and an email to notify me when I’ve spent over 1.5hrs on all tasks deemed as “distracting” during the course of the day.  I chose Monday – Friday, 6am to 8pm, but you can make it 24/7 — or weekends only — whatever floats your boat.  My goal is to use that 1.5hrs each day – but only after I’ve completed my other projects.  After all, you know what they say about all work and no play…

What I Don’t Like About RescueTime

There are some great features within this product to help you see where you are going astray, but you need to be diligent and actually do something to fix your distractions.  An earlier comment from one of the founders of RescueTime said it’s “the time management equivalent of a cholesterol test – we can tell you you’re not quite healthy and we can let you know when you’re making progress. But we don’t have a ton to offer to get you fixed up!”

You can choose the productivity level for each program/website/tool you use, but this is pretty easy to cheat.  I do think it’s a bit funny that it listed as a “very distracting website,” and gave me negative efficiency points for viewing it while I was writing this article, but I can change it from “very distracting” to “very productive” with a couple of quick clicks.  Yes, I shouldn’t do that, but the reason that I am looking into this app is to help me get away from the things I shouldn’t do.  Anyone have some discipline they can loan me?

(Funny enough, was listed as a productive site by default.)

Another concern is the privacy cost of this tool.  You can have RescueTime monitor every website, and track the amount of time that you spend on them, or you can have it monitor only “whitelisted” sites; sites you’ve manually entered to measure how long you are on them, as well as what the name of the sites were.  While you probably shouldn’t be spending that much time on “certain” sites, you might not want anyone to be able to stumble across it in your RescueTime dashboard.  Another concern that could come up involves subject lines from web-based mail clients.  They might be tracked, but this is a feature you can turn off.

And lastly – there will be a bit of productivity lost in learning how to use this tool properly.  The time I spend reading and learning about the different graphs and options is currently marked as productive time, but it is still time taken away from the projects that pay me.  It will be one step backwards and two steps forward in the long run, but I do know it will be its own distraction in the meantime.

The folks at RescueTime have given WorkAwesome a coupon for 25% off, but you have to sign up before the end of January.  The free version is always free, but even if you find yourself saving at least one hour per month, it’s well worth the cost of the Pro version.

Looking forward to your comments.  What’s the best/worst thing you’ve found while working with RescueTime?  Is it helping or hindering your success?

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After spending way too long in the corporate world, Jason has switched to full-time freelancing. With any luck you enjoyed this article - and if you need one of your very own, give him a shout! @brandscaping on the twitter, or at


  1. TrafficColeman on the 4th January

    I’m using it as I write this really keep track of the productive time your using. Its an must have if you fill like you can’t stay on task.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. dave on the 16th January

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

  3. Jason Grimes on the 13th January

    Thanks guys for such a great post on workawesome and RescueTime! In these days when you can choose to write about many companies we are sincerely humbled that you mentioned ours.

    Here’s to a happy and productive 2012! Keep rocking guys!


  4. wesley on the 19th January

    What’s the coupon code? I don’t see it here.

    • Pooja Lohana on the 22nd January


      That post is from last year and the coupon is no longer active.


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