Do you know you could increase your productivity up to 80% if you could assess and remove your most distracting activities from your work schedule?
With an ever increasing dependence on computers and PDAs for fulfilling our work and entertainment requirements, it is hard to keep track of when you digress and spend your precious time on unproductive activities. RescueTime literally rescues your time from the clutches of monsters like non productivity and gently nudges you towards more productive and gratifying activities.
RescueTime tracks your digital activities and shows you through interactive graphs the amount of time spent on different types of activities. It helps you point out which activities are given larger share of your time and which of your daily activities need more time to help you stay productive.
I've used rescue time and can boast that I've spent most of my time in productive activities (proof attached :-p), but enough of me, lets haggle Robby Macdonell, the Head of Product Development for RescueTime.
Mohit: Okay Robby, our readers have a fair idea of RescueTime, but they'll be thrilled to hear it from you. How does it work?
Robby: RescueTime helps people understand how they really spend their time when they are in front of a computer or mobile device. We do this by keeping an accurate log of the different applications that a person is engaged with, then categorizing and scoring that time to help people get a richer picture of where their time is actually going.
Often, once someone understands where their time is going, they want to optimize it in some way. They may want be to be more productive, or simply more balanced. We have a bunch of tools to help people change their behaviors. There’s no one method that works for everyone, so we give people several options to choose from.
Mohit: We've seen dozens of services created by startups which often delegate the responsibility of customer support to other firms. But you actually have yourself responding to queries and making help pages. How does that turn out?
Robby: I can’t imagine ever outsourcing our support. We’re lucky to have a lot of people that use RescueTime, and they generate a fairly large volume of support and product discussion. It takes time to deal with, but if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t really understand the problems that people were running into. I’m not just talking about problems with RescueTime. It’s important to fix bugs of course, but understanding what someone is personally trying to accomplish or overcome when choosing a tool like RescueTime is one of the most important things for us to hear about.
Mohit: Sure Robby, in the beginning stage every firm must have a firm understanding of what people want from your product, which can very well be understood by answering questions through customer support. But what if, in the near future, you become something short of an internet giant. Would you still go forward with answering such plethora of questions with an ever increasing user base?
Robby: Well, I've worked at some of those "internet giants" before. In the most successful one, the CEO made it a point to speak with at least one customer a day. Obviously you have to structure things differently when working at a larger scale like that, but like I said before, I can't imagine ANY scenario where we would choose to completely cut ourselves off from that feedback channel. It's just way too valuable.
The Business Part
Mohit: First time users often take a shot in the dark when they use RescueTime. How do you encourage new users to try your service?
Robby: We've been really fortunate to have had a lot of people say nice things about us, so that certainly helps. We work really hard to give people a good experience and actually solve problems, and if we’re doing that correctly then our users become the best amplifier of who we are and what we’re doing. If I’m having a one-on-one conversation with someone, I tell them to think about the last time a manager or colleague asked them what they've been working on lately. Was it a struggle to remember? Did it feel awkward? That feeling was the reason we built RescueTime in the first place. We were sick of tripping over our tongues looking for answers when people asked us things like that.
The Technical Part
Mohit: It is awfully difficult to integrate one service into so many environments like PC, Android, iOS etc. But for RescueTime you have to do it for efficiency's sake. What were the challenges you faced when you try to integrate a service in several environments?
Robby: The big challenge is figuring out how to manage the data across different devices. We chose early on to go with a cloud-based approach, largely because we were all better at building web applications than we were at native apps. It turned out to be a really good decision, because it means that to support a new platform, all we have to do is write a relatively lightweight client that tracks data and sends it back to the server for further processing. It’s helped us stay focused on the overall experience.
Mohit: Talking about receiving data, you must receive a huge amount of data from an equally large number of users. How do you ensure that the personal data you receive from the users are stored safely and cannot be hacked by or leaked to other parties?
Robby: That's not really my area, so I'm light on the details, but we use industry-standard secure data practices to isolate the data in a private network, and control access to it through authenticated and encrypted trails with an audit path.
On RescueTime Blog
Mohit: You also have a RescueTime Blog where you often discuss its applications. What role does a blog play in creating a positive image for RescueTime?
Robby: It gives us an outlet to tell the story of RescueTime from our perspective. Working with this type of application, we get to explore a lot of interesting things, and we love sharing what we find. Sometimes it’s a new way to use RescueTime. Other times it’s interesting things we’ve learned from researchers studying attention and productivity. We don’t have a structured content strategy. We just post the things that we feel like sharing with our users.
Mohit: I have been using RescueTime for quite some time and let me tell you, it has shown me ways to shut non productive distractions and focus on the rewarding ones. Visiting your testimonials confirmed that this view was shared by many. Did you envisage your service to be so popular and utilitarian?
Robby: When we started building RescueTime, we thought it would only appeal to complete nerds like us. But when we started telling people about it, we found that the problems we were working on are pretty universal. People spend a LOT of time in front of a computer (or some other digital device), and there are so many competing things going on, all vying for our time, that it’s REALLY easy for it to start to feel like a black hole. RescueTime gives people a way to feel more in control over their time, and that’s something that it turns out a lot of people can appreciate.
That’s all for today, I on behalf of our readers would thank Robby for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering our questions. Do you know he battled blizzards (and emerged victorious) at his town to send us his answers? But that is for another time.
If our readers have some questions that they would like answered; add it to the comments below and I’ll make sure it reaches Robby. The last interview was made interesting by one of our readers who added an insightful question, which was answered gracefully (have a look at the interview with the geniuses at Degoo.com).