Lifelogging: is it worth the effort?

Barry Collins spends a month logging everything about his life using a variety of apps and gadgets. Did he learn anything worthwhile? Here’s how he tracked his productivity

Keeping track of work

Any home-working freelancer will tell you that half the battle is convincing your other half that you’re not sat on the sofa all day watching Cash in the Attic. RescueTime was the app I hoped would provide the nose-to-grindstone evidence I required to maintain the domestic upper hand. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is no criticism of RescueTime. Once registered and paid up – it’s $9 per month (around £5) to access the Premium reporting features, although there’s a free Lite version – RescueTime installs a small applet that sits quietly in the background, logging everything you’re doing on the computer.

I normally start work at 8am, take an hour for lunch, and finish around 6pm, so I was pretty confident of hitting my modest goal of six hours of “productive” time per day. In four weeks of testing, I hit it twice.

Work chart

Part of the problem is that RescueTime and I disagree on what counts as “productive” use of my time. Outlook, for example, was labelled as “distracting”, even though part of my work involves answering queries from editors, sending pitches and handling emailed queries from my photography business.

Likewise, most of the tech and photography websites I visit to keep abreast of the latest news – including the PC Pro website – were earmarked as “very distracting”. RescueTime does allow you to recategorise such apps and sites, but even I couldn’t justify choosing the “productive” dropdown for my second-biggest time thief: Twitter.

I sit here all day with TweetDeck running on my secondary screen, kidding myself that it isn’t really a distraction. RescueTime proved otherwise. It monitors the active window, and second only to Microsoft Word – in which I’m working 25% of the time, according to RescueTime – is TweetDeck, with 11%, or 11hrs 27mins over the month. More than a full working day.

It was, to be honest, a much-needed wake-up call (and certainly a much more useful one than the actual wake-up call from SleepBot). Now, I find myself frequently engaging RescueTime’s (Premium) FocusTime mode, which blocks access to all those “distracting” sites and apps, so that I’m not tempted to divert attention from work whenever I see a Twitter alert flash up.

RescueTime not only logs the applications you’re working in, but also tracks individual documents – which is an excellent way of monitoring how much time you’ve devoted to a project, and helps a freelancer such as myself work out how much to charge to make a job worthwhile.

Its reporting tools are superb, allowing you see at which times of day you’re most productive (I’m definitely a morning person), and on which days (my two most productive days were both Mondays, after restful weekends). Of all the apps I’ve tested for this feature, RescueTime is the one I’d be loath to part with.

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