Monitoring Productivity Increases Productivity

April 23, 2012, 12:43 pm

Coffee helps too. Photo by Flickr user interpunct.

Recently, I read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, which I found to be a very enjoyable read. One of the things that resonated with me was the fact that in many experiments when they asked subjects to monitor their own behavior (such as eating or studying habits), that behavior improved. I’ve found this to be true for myself too. I used to keep a spreadsheet where I recorded my daily word count, and what papers I read. But at some point I got tired of keeping up with the spreadsheet and abandoned it entirely—and my writing and scholarly reading went down, too.

The book mentioned a program called RescueTime that will monitor how you spend your time on your computer automatically. You spend a little bit of time (very little) at the beginning classifying what activities are most productive for you and which ones are distracting, but after that, it runs pretty much with out any help from you. I almost immediately downloaded it, and even signed up for the paid account that would give me more information. And just like that, I have found that I’m getting a lot more work each day.

You can set daily goals—I am using the default of aiming for more than 4 hours a day of productive time and less than 1 hour a day of distracting time. This feature alone is helpful—for example, if I check my current stats and see that I have not yet fulfilled the four hours of productive time, I’ll figure out something that I can work on for a solid hour and get right to work.

It’s also got a “Get Focused” feature where you can set it to block your distracting sites for a certain period of time (default is 30 minutes).

So, here’s a look at how I spent my time last week:

Screencap of RescueTime Dashboard

Facebook is my biggest productivity enemy. To be fair, the program can’t tell the difference between when I’m using social networking for fun or when I’m using it for legitimate research center activity (I run our center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts). But to be honest, I use it primarily to keep up with roller derby business. Oops.

But THIS is my absolute favorite part of this program:

Screencap of RescueTime Efficiency statistics

Yes!! I am more productive than 82% of people. This feature satisfies my competitive nature and makes me feel very proud of myself. Maybe it’s a little silly, but hey, whatever works, right?

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