Beach at Gandía (Valencia, Spain), 30.05.2015

I starting using the software “Rescue time” last February. For those of you who don’t know it, see https://www.rescuetime.com/dashboard. The company is based in Seattle and apparently started in 2008 (not single a single female is on the Rescue time team though, which is a surprise). The program spies on you, keeping records on everything you’re doing on the computer, down to the minutes you spend using a word processor, reading newspapers or buying stuff.

What did I do?

Starting from the dashboard of Rescue time, I looked at the monthly data and copied them into excel. I assume this is easier if you have the Rescue time premium, but I don’t. February was not complete so I only used March, April and May. During the same months, I also tried to set up a “fitness function”, following the ideas of Buster Benson, and scored each day from 1 to 3 along with objective data about the day (see http://wayoftheduck.com/selftracking-challenge-draft).

How did I do it?

For the rescue time data, the read-out for each day lets you know which software you were using the most, for how long (in hours and minutes), and a comment on productivity (very productive, productive, neutral, and very distracting, for some reason only “distracting” is not an option). It also groups programs by type and gives you an idea what you spend more time doing (e.g., word and power point are classified as “design and composition”, using excel and rescue time is classified as “business”). Once I had the monthly data in Excel, I re-calculated the total time in minutes (the format they provide is not very useful, i.e., 2h13 min).

For the fitness function, I asked myself what kind of day I had, after including objective data on the following; date, place where woke up (home or travelling), how I slept (rated 1 for good or 2 more difficult), waking up (1 for good, 2 for difficult), writing (whether I wrote for myself, not for work, that day or not), class (whether I gave class or not), eat (whether I ate well or not), move (whether I walked outside or not, normally more than 8000 steps), family (whether I was with my family during the day), friends (whether I saw or talked to friends), and music (whether I consciously listened to music). Finally, I scored my day as either (poor day, not happy), 2 (average day, not bad) and 3 (great day, would like more of those please).

The data I just mentioned above for Rescue time was monthly. To get an idea of the relationship between time use on the computer and my fitness function, I also copied some daily data from Rescue time for April and May (from April 7th to May 22nd), into Excel. That included total time spent on the computer, the productivity indicator, and percentage time spent using software related to design (Word, PowerPoint, 750 words), and communication (mostly Outlook).

What did I learn?

Based on the monthly rescue time data, I spent most of my time using MS Word, MS Outlook, Windows Explorer, 750words.com, MS Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat and a teaching platform we use the university called Moodle (see Table 1). The most surprising thing for me was that the numbers are quite consistent, the use of Word and Outlook is very similar, around 25% of total time, then comes PowerPoint, Excel and Abobe. I was also surprised by Windows explorer. I thought it meant the internet Explorer, which was wrong, I use Google Chrome, so I assume that is the time I spend searching for files on the hard drive. I had no idea I spend 13% of my time on the computer searching for files!


For the fitness function, there was little correlation between the objective data for each day and the Rescue time data, but it was clear that I scored a day as better (subjective measure) when I was more productive (objective measure from Rescue time, see Figure 1). I think that the lack of correlations between objective measures of the day and computer time is quite interesting. I interpret that to mean that the time I spend on the computer is not really affected by travel, how I sleep, writing, giving class, eating, steps, contact with friends, family or music. The only other thing I found of interest was that the total time I spent on the computer was higher when waking up was easier, compared to days when it was very difficult to get up.


So, what does all this mean? I think I’ll keep using Rescue time, it costs nothing and keeps tabs on my performance, and is not very invasive, doesn’t ask me to do things. In the future I can then tell, for whatever day I like, how close my productivity is to the average day. For the fitness function, I think I’ll make sure I put down a general day score for every day. I sometimes forget or don’t have time to write down all the other scores, but I think I should keep a general day score.

The whole thing about defining a fitness function for one’s life could appear to be quite fake or contrived, but what are the other options? Otherwise I feel like, as many findings in the field of psychology have pointed out, big parts of time are just forgotten, or covered by a made up story. I don’t want to get too anxious about lost time or a biased mind, but just be more aware of misconceptions. I don’t think that its really fair to rate whole day as bad, average or great, it depends on the moment and which self we are tyring to keep content. But it can be useful.

David McRaney states it well in his book “You are not so smart” (2011), what gives us a general sense of contentment is a mixture of gratifying the current self (the “now”), as well as the remembering self that craves for memoires. Finally, here I’ve mostly focused on work days, and the work self, which is probably easier to measure than the family self, the husband self, the dad self. Those will probably need another type of fitness function. Wish me luck.