Here’s some of the surprising stats observed by RescueTime:
- Taking slice of “full days” (an average of 6.71 hours per day logged on the computer), we saw:
- The average IM user shifts to an IM window *77* times per day (avg of 11.5 times per hour or once every 5.2 minutes). Tony was at 130 per day on average and quit cold turkey.
- Average number of unique web sites visited per day is 40 (that’s unique domains, not pages).
- Average number of unique applications touched is 17
- 26% of time was spent inside a browser
- 61% of time was spent on internet dependent stuff (web sites plus applications who pull/push data from the internet)… So unplugging ( a la Mac Freedom) is not a very practical option.
- Time spent in the top 120 apps and sites:
- Communication Apps (IM, Email) 38%
- “Output” Apps (MS-Office style apps, design apps, database apps, etc): 34%
- Media, News & Blogs (news, blogs, video, audio, photosharing): 14%
- Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter): 5%
- Games, Entertainment, & Shopping: 4%
Neat, eh? Here’s the interview with tony:
What’s your story?
I grew up on the east coast. After college, I knew I didn’t like the east coast, so I drove west looking for an interesting place to live. When I hit the Pacific, it was hot so I turned right and ended up in Alaska. There I met my wife and founded a custom web app consultancy (which I grew and sold in 2005). I then build/sold a web app (in the recruiting space), and sold that to a company in Seattle (which required a move south). A little over a year ago, I founded a company called RescueTime (time management software). We got funding for it from some amazing investors and now we have a great business that will be profitable this year.
On the discovery of Rescuetime
It came from a very personal desire to know what the hell was going on with my time. I felt furiously busy every day, but as a guy who felt like he was supposed to be building software I found that I was spending VERY little time in the tools that helped me do that. Where was it all going? I tried logging my time in a spreadsheet, but it didn’t seem to help (turns out when you shift focus on your computer dozens of times per hour, manual logging is a pretty ridiculous solution).
What surprises people most when they see their personal rescuetime stats?
There are two big surprises. One of them is communication– it’s BREATHTAKING how much time you spend sending communicating via IM, email, and social networks (Twitter was a painful example for me). Another is what I call “drive by meetings“. The time chewed up by people “swinging by” your office/desk to “chat”. I had one guy say, “I have an hour and a half of meeting time today and I had NO SCHEDULED MEETINGS!”. Another surprise is what I call “the long tail of information porn“. All those little sites that you spend 2-3 minutes at in a day add up. For me, for example, 30% or so of my activity is outside of my top 10 applications and sites. Think about that for a second. Try to make a list of the software and sites you use in descending order of how much you use them. It’s hard to come up with 10– and scary when you see that 2h 30m of an 8 hour day gets chewed up outside of this list.
How does seeing productivity analytics help you focus?
Well, seeing it is a first step. It’s just like a program like Quicken, Mint, or Quickbooks. Once you see how you spend your time, you tend to spend it more mindfully. Also, we think it’s a critical tool for measuring effectiveness of other time management systems/software. Think about how many tools/techniques we try to make ourselves more productive– ultimately they all purport to give us one thing– more productive time and more focus.
RescueTime can also provide some tools to nudge yourself when you hit certain thresholds. Like “nudge me when I spend more than 1h on social networks”, or “let me know when I’ve spent 5 hours on productive stuff so I can go home”.
Give your take on society as a whole and their interaction with technology
I think there are two major forces at work that are killing our productivity:
First, we’re dopamine junkies. Just like rats in a Skinner Box, we’re constantly being trained for certain behaviors. Feeling busy feels good. Opening email or IMs is just a variable reinforcement system– a random percentage of communication is rewarding (“This makes me feel important” or “This makes me feel loved” or “this is funny”), which makes us want to click on more stuff. And the fine folks at all of the social networks and “info porn” sites (news sites, largely) are optimizing for addictiveness. They are sitting in analytics apps doing multi-variate testing to maximize how much time you spend on their sites and how many times you visit them in a week. We’re pretty ill-equipped to deal with this sort of systematic attack.
Second, technology is systematically reducing the incremental cost of communication. 20 years ago, for me to communicate with you I’d have to pick up the phone and press 7 numbers or walk down the hall and knock on your door (risking that you wouldn’t be there). Now I have several 1-click interruption options. And the email is easier with cc fields and reply-all buttons to make sure to spread the wealth. Not surprisingly, we’re all buried in communication and interruptions.
Describe your working arrangements. Simple? Zen’d out? Messy?
Simple. 2 big monitors (Mac OS X with a Windows 7 Virtual Machine). One notepad for meetings. I’m zealous about Zero Inbox and a modified GTD style of productivity. I think one of the real challenges with getting busy is that your to-do list gets too long. The only way to deal with it is to say “no”… That is, “no, I’m not going to respond to that email” or “no I’m not going to READ that email” or “no, I’m not going to do that” or “no, I’m not going to have coffee with you– but I will have lunch, ’cause a guy’s gotta eat!”. And, of course, “No, you can’t interrupt me”!
Coffee or Tea person?
I like both. My wife roasts coffee at home, but I’m not really snobby about it. I drink a few cups a day but I take a week or two off any time I feel addicted. I don’t want to be that guy who can’t function without his coffee.
Any favorite Gadgets for productivity?
I punted the iPhone because it failed to reliably make phone calls. I have a Droid (love it), but use it for phone calls mostly. It doesn’t really help my productivity except that I always call parents/friends when I’m driving (with a headset of course– it’s the law!) and I try to take care of my “info porn” needs on the bus and when waiting for a meeting to spin up. Basically, I’ll just check my RSS reader or Twitter on these occasions so that when I sit back down to work, there’s nothing new to see.
The best thing I ever did for my productivity was to punt IM. 4 people can IM me now (versus dozens of IM friends that I had previously) and it’s understood that I ignore IM 95% of the time. If you want to interrupt me, call or come over, but do it only when you think your question issue is worth derailing whatever I’m working on. An IM is the ultimate disregard of people’s focus and flow (unless it’s a scheduled chat or a super-time-sensitive issue).
Besides RescueTime, what’s your favorite app for getting focused?
I’m a huge fan of to-do lists. I think they should be public and stack ranked. So if you want me to do something, you can say, “Hey, here’s something I think you should do. Probably not as important as your 1-3, but maybe more important than #4″. Public ordered to-do lists are a great defense, too. “Oh, you want me to do that ASAP? Would you like me to do that before and after these three OTHER ASAP tasks?” RememberTheMilk is one of my favorites here, but there are lots of them. Software geeks use these all the time (BugTrackers).
We all love 4hww and GTD, including me, but do you have any other good productivity books you’ve read?
I love both of those books, but I generally don’t read productivity books. I think they can be “aspirational non-fiction”. Just like most of the readers of “Success” magazine aren’t all that successful, I think most people who read productivity books aren’t that productive. I don’t think we need more techniques. If you work on stuff that you care about, have a good to do list, make sure people respect your flow, and are realistic about what you can do (by processing your inboxes quickly and saying no to most things) I think you’ll be more productive than 99% of the planet.
What’s your purpose?
Hrm. I love to build/design stuff. My biggest motivators are happy customers who talk about RescueTime. I suppose I’d like to be rich, too– but I’ve done okay in the past just building what I’m interested in.
Give us some insight into your daily routine
As a founder of a smallish software company, I have a pretty varied schedule. I get up around 7. Check/process any email (20m) over coffee and then I start working. Using designing in Photoshop, hacking CSS, or writing stuff. We have a regular 15m team meeting (in person or video conference) at 11am. I’ll usually grab lunch afterwords. My lunch docket can get full, because I religiously refuse “coffee dates” with other folks in favor of lunch. I have a pretty firm cut-off time for work of about 6pm (work/life balance for the self-employed is hard!).
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
For work? Something geeky. Maybe a game or maybe a travel site of some kind. If I wasn’t working, I’d be traveling!
Overall thoughts on getting focused?
I think you’re spot on when you say that to be focused you need to eliminate distractions. No alerts for email, no interruptive IM, and an understanding with your peers that when you’re working, you’d like to stay that way unless there’s a time-sensitive issue. Meetings are a problem, too– keep them short and goal-focused. Meetings that are about making a decision are good. Meetings about “keeping people in the loop” are generally bad. Number one piece of focus advice I have is to do LESS. Got too much to do? Too many emails to read? Start saying no. Skim/archive “FYI” emails. You have to be absolutely ruthless about saying no.
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