Freakish Spy App Or Ultimate Cure For Wasting Time?

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Ever go to a nutritionist?

Before your first visit, many will ask you to keep a food journal for a week.  Because, in order to know what to change, you’ve first got to know what your current behavior is.

And, it turns out, most people so poorly estimate what they think they eat that, when they actually record every sip and morsel that enters their mouths, they are horrified and immediately begin to change their behavior. Especially knowing someone will see their journal in just a few days. Measuring, alone, is a powerful catalyst for change.

If it works with managing food, how about time?

Not surprisingly, there is a similar phenomenon with our misperception of the way we spend our time.  There are a gazillion books and systems that tell you how best to allocate your time, increase productivity, yadda yadda yadda.

Problem is, most don’t work because, until now, there’s never really been a highly-accurate way to “automatically” measure exactly what we’re doing (and not doing) all day long, especially as we dance mercilessly between windows and applications on our computers.

And, if you can’t easily measure it, no matter how much you know about what you “should” be doing, you’ll never change. Because you don’t have a realistic picture of what you “are” doing.  Put another way, you need to know where you starting in order to plot where you want to go.

Enter, one of the coolest free tools I’ve seen in years.

RescueTime is an application that downloads onto your computer, then pushes information about everything you do on your computer to the “ResuceTime cloud,” where it is then parsed into reports that reveal how much time you actually spend doing each thing you do on your computer.

Can’t figure out where the day went? Fear not.

Now RescueTime will show how the 20-minutes you thought you spend on twitter every day actually added up to 3.2 hours. Or, how the time you spend on IM or gmail or working on that proposal in MS Word was really way more than you thought.

RescueTime tells you precisely where your time went.

And, you don’t have to do a thing to record it. Having this information is likely going to be really eye-opening and potentially shocking and upsetting.  Still, this awesome little service gives you a way to finally measure how you really spend your time.  And, we all know…

If you don’t or can’t measure something, you can’t improve it.

Now, what about the freaky big brother aspect to this? Do you really want all that info being pushed into the amorphous cloud for some roving band of geeks to share with their friends at will? And, what about spying?

Won’t big brother now have a way to spy on everything you do?

Okay, so newsflash, big brother already knows everything, if you don’t like that, get off your computer. And, to a certain extent, you do need to just trust that this is a legit service that’ll maintain safeguards. Plus, the service and software have been very intentionally designed so that users are very aware that it has been installed and RescueTime is “watching.”

So, it’s not the best tool for spying.

Go check it out at At the very least, even if you don’t go any further, it is guaranteed to open your eyes to any number of major time sinks that you may have previously viewed as minor distractions. And, with that knowledge, you’ll be armed to change…or slurp down a another Red Bull.

So, what do you think?

Amazing tool, freaky spy-app or somewhere in the middle? How valuable do you think this info might be to you?  And, what other commercial uses might there be? Should they add a smart-phone app?

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16 responses

16 responses to “Freakish Spy App Or Ultimate Cure For Wasting Time?”

  1. Brad says:

    I’ve been using RescueTime for about 4 months now, it’s a good service. They still have a lot of features that I would like (such as a time “budget”; what’s the point of having a nanny that doesn’t tattle on you?)

    The nice thing is that it’s *very* easy to set and forget, I’ll go a month without logging in, get an automail from them and spend 20 minutes checking out what I’ve been doing for the last 30 days.

    The one thing I *don’t* like is the potential privacy problems. I actually stopped using the service because of this; I’d love to have a record of how much time I wasted reading blogs in 10 years, but it doesn’t out way the possibility of Big Brother abusing my information.

    I might try it again using a pseudonym in a few months.


  2. This sounds like a great idea. I was scared they wouldn’t have a linux client at first, but it looks like they do! It was developed by their community of linux users so it’s not officially supported, but it’s better than nothing.

  3. Um. I’m afraid to download it. Jonathan, why are you trying to make me RESPONSIBLE for myself?!

    Ok, off to give it a whirl!

  4. OK Jonathan,

    With RescueTime now some of my time is going to be devoted to checking on how I spend my time. Oh no!

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    I am definitely trying it out for a month or so, but I also have the same concerns about privacy. I guess my big question is why they can’t just make it a desktop app/program, instead of pushing it to the cloud.

    My guess is the answer has to do with the way they plan to monetize the platform.

    I’ll e-mail them now and see if they’ll drop by and comment. Stay tuned…

  6. Tony Wright says:

    Hey all (thanks for the great review, Jonathon)

    Tony from RescueTime here– figured I’d weigh in on the “scary” aspects of RT.

    Privacy is pretty important to us, and we’ve got some great features that speak to that. Users can delete any data they want, including nuking their whole darn accounts. Users can pause the data collector at any time. We’ve also got a great “whitelist” feature ( ), that allows users to track only the sites they WANT to (all other data gets sent to us as “Non-Whitelisted Web Browsing”).

    There are lots of reasons we went with a web-based offering:

    – The biggest is that we think this data gets more interesting if it’s social– being able to see your own data compared to the whole userbase, compared to groups that you might create or join, etc– we think that makes the information more REAL.

    – Another reason is on the technical side. Installable software is HARD and expensive to develop. By making it web-based, we can build a better application for less money (and thus give our users better software that we charge very little for). We can also serve up VERY targeted advertising based on the tools you use– which further helps us avoid charging an arm and a leg.

    – We’re also interested in the aggregate data (though given how much our users can control their own data, it might not be accurate enough to be valuable). We will NEVER publish or sell individual data (anonymized or no)– that’s straight out of our privacy policy. We might publish data like, “the average user uses email 3.2 hours per day” or somesuch, but will never say, “here is the attention profile of user #49876a”.

    In terms on monetizing RescueTime, we’re focused on an offering for business teams (and have a growing pile of customers signing up every day).

    Anyhoo, thanks for the great feedback– don’t hesitate to drop us a line if you have any followup questions!

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Tony – Now that’s what I love to see! A start-up that’s as passionate about its product as it is about communicating with those who want to talk about and try it out!

    On the monetization thing, the first thing that actually occurred to me, as a recovering lawyer, is how amazing it would be for attorneys to be able to dance between work for different clients and have that time recorded automatically, since they literally bill on micro-increments. Food for thought on the commercial installation side.

  8. Bob Weber says:

    This is a great idea. I recently have been thinking that I’ve been spending too much time on unproductive activities. Now if I only had someone to follow me around during the day and let me know when I was being uproductive. Guess I should get married…

  9. But Jonathan, I already KNOW I waste more time on my computer than actually getting anything done.

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Bob – Dohhh, can’t let my wife see that comment! 😉

    @ Aaron – yeah, but now you can waste even more time seeing how much time you waste COMPARED to how much time other people waste.

    So, I am curious whether anyone came up with other commercial applications for something like what I laid out for lawyers in my earlier comment.

  11. Oh crap. I’m scared to know. My hope is that while I’ll discover that I waste monumental amounts of time on a regular basis, the actual writing that gets done is pretty efficient. Here goes nothing…

  12. Anthony Kuhn says:


    A great tool for those who need a reality check. We make time for the things we want to do. Plain and simple. If this program allows people to see what they want to do, maybe they’ll start focusing on those things instead of wasting time not doing something else!

  13. Justin says:

    As long as the program isn’t sending the information to other people, I wouldn’t consider it as spy application. That is pretty awesome though, although I am afraid to see how much time I actually waste. I’m sure a lot of people are.

  14. Naomi Niles says:

    Interesting! I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time. I track a lot of things already, but this would probably still be a real eye-opener.

  15. Will says:

    Why does my information need to be on their servers in the first place? There’s no reason for it other than they are using it to collect user data for some external purpose.

  16. Hi Jonathan – We’ve recently introduced a new version of our time and activity analytics solution, Slife v2.0. It’s now available for Mac/Windows and you can extend it to multiple users with Slife Teams.

    It’s similar to RescueTime in some ways. Give it a try – the Slife client is free. We would love to know what you think.