How to Track Time Without Wasting a Minute

wastedtime.jpgIn the great quest for the Holy Grail of productivity and streamlined efficiency, I’ve…

Well, I’ve failed, to tell you the truth. I can’t track my time for the life of me. I start the stopwatch and forget to turn it off. I get frustrated opening programs and entering data. I switch between tasks too quickly to stop and mark what I’m doing. Let’s face it – tracking time is damned boring.

More than once, I’ve tried to figure out what I do in a week so I can figure out where to whittle down, delegate or outsource. I want more free time and a better work/life balance. I want to be more productive, too… without the hassle of spending time to gather data and analyze it.

When someone asks me how much time I spend managing the business, checking emails or writing, I guesstimate. I often clock 60-hour workweeks. Others, I count 30 hours. Or is it 35… Hm. Maybe it was 47.

I often wonder where my time goes and how to ease the workload. Ican’t do that without knowing how much time I spend on each task. Where should I cut back? What’s eating up my minutes? What’s costing me and the business? Good questions.

Now I have answers.

Sharon pointed me to Rescue Time, the neatest, sweetest application I’ve ever seen. This is exactly what I need. It’s free, it’s functional, and I can forget about it. Perfect.

Rescue Time is a free download that you install on your computer. After you create an account, Rescue Time does some cool data mining while you work.

It knows when I’m in Word or when I’m in Adobe. It knows when I’m surfing – and the sites I’m visiting. It knows how long I stay there. It knows when I read email or chat with Harry on projects. Rescue Time knows freakin’ everything I do, down to the second. It’s like Big Brother watching me, only in a polite, unobtrusive and helpful way.

At the end of the day, I click once on the icon to submit my data. Or once a week. Or whenever I feel like it. Doesn’t matter – there are no rules with Rescue Time.

One more click and Rescue Time shows me this:


(click on image to enlarge)

Holy Toledo, Batman. I spend a small fortune of time on dealing with emails. (For those of you who want to attain inbox heaven, see here and here.)

The beauty of Rescue Time is that with least effort on my part, I have a beautiful graph of my work habits – and within minutes of installation, if I feel like it. I’ll be able to see exactly where my time goes (and not where I think it goes) and I’ll see precisely how much of my time I spend on individual tasks.

If you’re into productivity, then you can’t go wrong with Rescue Time. It’s a damned nifty lifesaver… or should I say timesaver?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Wow… thanks for that resource! I just downloaded it, and it looks like it will be really useful. I never know where all my time goes! (Although I suspect a good chunk of it goes into reading MwP!)

    Allison’s last blog post..Taste and Create 5

  2. @ Allison – You’d be surprised. I swore black and blue to Harry that most of my time went to reading feeds and commenting elsewhere. Turns out, that takes me less than an hour a day. It’s really surprising to see where stuff goes.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention – they send a sweet little weekly report that sums up your whole week’s activity :)

  3. Great review, James. The longer I use RescueTime the more I love it. Like you, I discovered that I spend a shocking amount of time on email. However, any day where my top activity is writing is a good one. :)

    Sharon Hurley Hall’s last blog post..Writing Talk February 2008

  4. Great tool and thanks for sharing this. I could have sworn this Tina Russel; left exactly the same comment on my blog. :-)

    I’ve been good today writing all my blog posts for this week. Well, not all but I’m getting there which will free me up for clients and finally getting my new blog design uploaded and populated.

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..A Letter to My Parents

  5. Actually, Monika. I think she left it on mine, too.

  6. @Monika: can’t wait for the premier of the new design, I hear it really rocks 😉 Would you like your martini shaken or stirred?

    @Sharon: Rescue Time is truly a godsend – I don’t use it, but anything that makes James’ life easier, makes mine easier too.

  7. @ James – thanks for the tip, this looks like a great application.

    I’m with Allison on this one, I suspect it will say I spend all of my time reading MwP and posting comments… 😉 not that there’s anything wrong with that!

    Brett Legree’s last blog

  8. Tina Russel’s gone. In my fight to keep up with spam, I tend to glance quickly and if it looks sane, I switch it over. Thanks for the heads up that it was just another shitty spammer. (Tina: If you’re not a spammer, learn how to comment effectively so your comments don’t get deleted.)

  9. Awesome tool! This may be just what I’ve wasted my ‘productivity time’ searching for.

  10. That’s a lot of email!

    I’m definitely gonna download this app…looks great.

    Chad | ProFreelancing’s last blog post..Building Credibility as a Freelancer

  11. @ Monika – I just read your latest post and I have to say “wow”. Thanks for sharing that. And your “Self Employed in 7 Months” is also very inspirational. Thanks for that.

    (Do you moderate your comments, just a question as I had tried twice to post a reply, so either that or I hit your spam filter… ask James about that one! I promise I won’t hold your blog hostage…)

    Brett Legree’s last blog

  12. BTW. I told the RescueTime folks about your review, James. Hope that’s OK.

  13. Yay– thanks for the love!

    It’s blog posts like these that keep us slaving away on RescueTime (you should see OUR graphs– they are scary). Many thanks.

  14. Definitely okay :) Thank you, you’re cool.

  15. @ Tony – Hey, thanks for stopping by! I’ve been searching for something like this for a long, looooong time. By the way, do you have a donation center so I can pay you guys back (just a little) for your hard work? Maybe others who might benefit from your application would join in. We could have a Men with Pens Rescue Fund :)

  16. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but I keep background programs to a minimum and usually distrust things that need to run in the background (except things that I KNOW are legit, like my anti-virus). Plus, this behaves a lot like spyware. I’m glad that this is making people more productive, but I just can’t willing download spyware.

    It kind of reminds me of weatherbug – you download this program, thinking “yay, easy access to weather reports”, but before you know it, your computer’s performance is sacrificed.

    I don’t mean to go all lecturing computer person on you all, but just be careful.

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Invincibility

  17. @ RLD – Understood and very logical – my whole business is at risk with applications, so I’m generally pretty cautious about what I put into it.

    Maybe Tony can enlighten us?

  18. I echo RLD’s concern. Why is there is need to submit the data to a third party when the app is already collecting it?

    It’s not like you need a supercomputer to crunch a ton numbers.

    There are already programs out there that track time, BUT certainly not with the convenience of this “Set it and Forget it” appeal (to borrow Ron Popeil’s marketing phrase).

    I would certainly like to hear the reasoning as well.

    Nez’s last blog post..The ABC’s of Blogging

  19. @James – No donation center just yet. We’ll always have a free version at least as good as what you see now, but will be adding some premium features. Best way to “donate” is tell your friends. Which, uh, you’ve already done! :-) Enthusiasm like yours really does provide the energy we need to work the way we do (sounds cheesy, but it’s true).

    @RLD Well, at the end of the day, you have to trust the software you install to not be sly– we’ll do what we can to help you trust us. Here are a few points that might help:

    – I have my cell # on the web site. I get a few calls a day with questions. Feel free to be one of ’em.
    – We’re funded by YCombinator, one of the most prestigious seed funding outfits there is.
    – The data we do send is sent in YML format, so the user can actually SEE what we do and do not send (it’s largely just app/site name, start time, end time, and window title).
    – If you look at our feature list, you’ll see that our users get a lot of control over what data gets collected and what data we retain. In fact, they have literally as about as much control as they can stand. We’ve got more on the way here.
    – Our privacy policy has some more detail– but suffice it to say that this is not a “data asset” business. This is a “help people be productive” business. Really not much different than Google Search– which collects a TON of data (and links it to your account if you have one).

    On the performance front– Well, there’s always room for improvement– we want the app to be as light and simple as possible. I keep it running 24×7 (I do a lot of design work and a touch of gaming) and have never had any performance issues… Most of the heavy lifting is on our web server.

    Feel free to shout out any questions to team @ rescuetime dotcom (or here– I’ll try to come back and check once in a while!)

  20. James, thanks for pointing this one out. Of all the OCD tendencies I have, organization is unfortunately not one. I’m going to give this thing a go, if only for curiosity’s sake. I tend to be hesitant with the downloads — especially since I recently had an account hacked — but this one looks legit (not that I’m an expert by any means).

  21. Downloaded!

    This looks awesome, James! Thanks for the resource.

    I especially like how this comes about five days after you asked me “How much time did you spend on that?” and I say “….uh…time? Was I supposed to…uh…track…that? Somewhere between…mmm…14 and 137 hours.”

    Charlie – Ignite Living’s last blog post..How to take criticism like a champ. Or not at all.

  22. I had to wait until I got home to download and install, and so far I must say it is a pretty nice application.

    Although, my Dashboard so far only shows me reading various web pages… perhaps by tomorrow morning I’ll look a little more productive! 😉

    Brett Legree’s last blog

  23. @ Charlie – Hehehe… Well, I like to be fair. You should enjoy this application very much, knowing you. It’ll give you something cool to blog about, too.

    @ Those who worry – Considering the amount of cookies that get dumped on my computer and absolutely invisible data miners and spyware I discover on my daily cleanup, Google and Gmail that suddenly fill my screen with ads for pirate costumes after I make a joke about pirates to Harry, a program that clearly tells me it’s going to data mine versus going behind my back really doesn’t worry me much.

    I’d rather choose who mines my data versus discover six months down the line that someone did it without my knowledge. Nothing looks shifty and the program does what it does.

    Also, it’s cheaper for companies to host data online (I believe) and Software As A Service (or SAAS) is in incredibly high demand now, what with all the web workers who work from anywhere. I like the convenience.

    @ Tony – Thanks for that extra info and keep checking in indeed! 😉

  24. @ Brett – Tag your web pages. It helps. And yup, I love seeing results in minutes. True entrepreneur that I am… 😉

  25. @ James – thanks for the tip, that will actually help a lot as there are certain pages that improve my productivity (such as this one 😉 ) and then others that don’t (reddit…)

    Brett Legree’s last blog

  26. Plus, they have pretty gosh darned good customer service! I wrote a little note in their feedback box about a problem I was having, not really expecting a response, and Tony responded with an email, telling me how to temporarily fix my problem and that they are working on a permanent solution for it! Just fantastic. :)

    Allison’s last blog post..Taste and Create 5

  27. This is totally off topic, but I just love how the comment luv thing is showing Brett’s last post… it looks like it’s saying that Brett’s last blog post rocks! Hehe. (Good job with the title, Brett!) Which it does by the way. 😀

  28. @ Allison – thank you very much for your compliment!

    The interaction with CommentLuv was a totally unintended coincidence, but I’ll take lucky breaks any time I can :)

    I noticed it some time yesterday, and spent most of today smiling every time I saw it…

    Now, if I start naming my posts “still rocks” or “totally rocks”, you’ll know I’m up to something. 😉

    Brett Legree’s last blog

  29. @ Brett – Haha we all know you’re putting off posting, just so it will still say your last post rocks. 😛 Just kidding, but that sure is a great coincidence!

    Allison’s last blog post..Taste and Create 5

  30. (Ack! Allison figured me out! Quick, Brett, say something clever…)


    Brett Legree’s last blog

  31. Oh that’s too funny – you guys have sharp eyes and that’s the coolest thing ever. Damn. Now why didn’t I think of that?

  32. Michael Martine, Blog Consultant says:

    Damn, that is useful! The real gem here is knowing so you can adjust your fees accordingly. Thanks for finding and spreading the word on this! Tweeted and stumbled!

    Michael Martine, Blog Consultant’s last blog post..What Makes a Great Video Blog?

  33. After a frustrating week in which I’m not sure where the time went, I’ve been looking for some way to reclaim some of those hours that I know I’ve spent at the computer without having anything to show for it. This is an awesome application, and I’m looking forward to putting it to good use. Thank you!

    Kate’s last blog post..AdSense Policy Change

  34. Looks like a pretty useful tool. I should check it out.

  35. Ok I am way too scared to download that application. Scared as in I reallydontwanttoknow how much time I waste. But maybe knowing Big Brother is watching is just what I need to get my ass into gear.

    Sunili’s last blog post..why I need Flock like a hole in the head

  36. Bill in Detroit says:

    I gave the matter of data mining a couple minutes thought before installing it. Here’s what I came up with that made it ‘okay’ for me.
    1) there really isn’t any such thing as internet privacy.
    2) the program needs to be hosted in order to accommodate the management functions of comparing one person to a group.
    2b) smaller businesses might benefit from these numbers without having appropriate tech support to run the needed servers
    3) as long as I stay away from the pron and anarchy sites, I really haven’t much to hide.

    I -am- concerned that there could be a keystroke logger tucked away inside but so far Avast hasn’t cried foul and it was loaded first.

    Is the Linux version GPL’d so that I could look at the source code?

    Bill in Detroit´s last blog post…The Other Night, Dear

  37. Hey great idea! love the concept- I might not like the numbers that come out of it…… I have a used a timer which is great for watching what you are doing – “Cool Timer” from harmony hollow – real effective and loud

  38. well the rescue time looks cool, especially for people who always get lost in track of time. In my experience, I have a list of schedules pinned on my board so I just look at it, but I guess I need to upgrade my lifestyle and jump in with this idea for still I am using old school methods LOL..

    by the way I think this site is a compliment of yours, The Freelance Writer’s GPS is a new e-book that tackles how we can start our career in freelance writing industry, I found it very useful so I wanted to spread the word about it..

  39. really nice post and useful tips. Another variation of post title something like

    “Save Minutes without wasting seconds”

    Did you like it? :)
    .-= Vamban´s last blog ..Janet Jackson Blames Doctor for Brother’s Death =-.

  40. I love your post about saving time. Really useful and applicable for everyone who respect for time.
    .-= Stick Bills´s last blog ..Post Your Complaints, Classifieds and Business Listings Absolutly Free Here – Add One Now =-.

  41. Interesting concept. I went to their website and loved the idea of their tool for “focus time,” which doesn’t let you go to distracting sites for a period of time that you set. Genius. Of course, that’s the premium tool that costs $80 per year. $25 a year (like, my favorite photo tool) and I would have signed up immediately. $80 seems kind of steep to me. hmmmmm…

  42. I think the software at is better than rescue time for teams because the manager can see what everyone is doing at any time, and it also allows you to know for example exactly how many hours you have worked.

  43. Dallas says:

    I would need to agree with Rob actually. We have used Time Doctor for a couple of months now. It confirmed that most of my team are doing a great job, but it also showed me I had someone who was quite dishonest, probably spending only 1 hour at most on our work. We discovered he spent most of his day on Facebook, online games, adult sites and working for other people while being paid by us! Without time doctor, we would never of known this.

  44. Nice Post. I love this post, and have a knowledge how to save the time.
    .-= John´s last blog ..Poor Customer Service. They Didn’t Supply Ordered Products =-.

  45. Really helpful post I haven’t installed it yet but I’ved already downloaded it. It looks like it will really help me a lot Thanks.

  46. I can relate to the comment from Dallas. Some people will gladly steal time given half the opportunity.

    Joe 😀


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