RescueTime is a web application with a background “collector” that runs on your computer to monitor what you have been up to through the course of the day. It’s great for reviewing how “productive” you are during the day – a nice way to audit your time.

The things I find particularly helpful are:

  • Finding where you are losing time (where did you spend more time than you intended?)
  • Figuring out when you work best. I tend to slow down in the afternoons, after an early morning start (and some lunch). You can use this to focus on the most important things at the right times.
  • Setting goals to see if you are spending enough time on the things you should be doing each day.
  • Identifying which applications you spend most of your time in. Great for knowing if you email or instant message more than you should.

It does a fairly good job of recognising productive/unproductive tasks, but as you would expect, it needs tweaking. For example, depending on the video, watching YouTube may either be highly unproductive or somewhat productive (e.g. watching a tutorial). However the biggest tweaks required are for classifying unrecognised activities. You need to spend a few weeks getting these in order before you get fairly accurate results.

Since it simply collects data, is is possible to cheat the system, if you so choose, but I figure if you are going to the trouble of collecting data about your time, you want to be as honest as possible.

All in all, very informative, with one caveat. It obviously can’t capture what you do off your computer through the day (e.g. meetings) so keep that in mind.