Rescuing Rescuetime: Productivity ≠ Percentages!

For those who take their productivity in front of a screen seriously, RescueTime – a programme immortalised in Timothy Ferriss’s 2007 classic The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich – is something of an essential. Registered users – an entry-level, comprehensive version is free to all those who submit their e-mail address – get access to an application that logs and categorises every second of time that is spent at one’s PC, and then engenders a panoply of useful data that can be utilised as a motivational tool.

Indeed, the idea that being confronted with the fact that one’s life is being lost to viewing a friend of a friend of an acquaintance’s three year old photos on Facebook can serve as a catalyst for change has arguably never been more powerful. Away from certain authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the liberating effects of social media are rarely obvious; most users appear to be trapped in a universe of insubstantial trivia that rarely matters beyond the moment the status update or photograph has been posted. The fact that access to this universe comes at a punitive price – as of September 2011, the planet was collectively spending 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, with Twitter handling 1.6 billion requests per day – needs to be acknowledged and addressed by all those who have ambitions beyond passive consumption and active inertia.

Yet we at Mediolana feel that we should point out an important aspect of RescueTime that we think will be overlooked by all but the most zealous and imaginative users: the time spent on an activity is not actually the only significant indicator of its distractive potential. Our CSO has regularly clocked outstanding scores on RescueTime – even in comparison to the other members of the presumably clock-conscious RescueTime community – but did not feel completely satisfied with his allocation of attention resources.

This is because in the era of browser cookies and auto-completed website URLs it is possible to spend minimal time on distracting websites while simultaneously devoting a disproportionate amount of concentration to them: flicking in and out of e-mail, Twitter, and Flickr may involve nothing more than a couple of quick keystrokes, but it is a behaviour which can destroy any pretensions to productivity a person may once have possessed. This is not to say that being more productive than 68% of users and spending 72% of one’s time in the top 10% of RescueTimers is meaningless – far from it – but it is not necessarily the elysian ‘Nerdvana‘ that it appears to be, either; in this sense, the quite brilliant RescueTime is as necessary as it is insufficient.



Filed under Psychology, Technology, Weapons of Mass Instruction

3 responses to “Rescuing Rescuetime: Productivity ≠ Percentages!

  1. Super RescueTime score by Team Mediolana!

  2. I work for RescueTime, and I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment. There are a lot of holes in the simple sum of productive time vs. unproductive time. Output isn’t taken into account, for one thing. And to your point, context switching has a noticeable effect on productivity. A better measure, or at least a good supplemental one, would be how much continuous time do you spend on activities without switching to something else.

    We’re working on some new stuff to address these gaps. Look for some improvements in the coming months!

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