Rescue Your Time

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On the internet, losing all sense of time isn't that hard. One link leads to another and suddenly we realise that we've spent an hour killing little stick figures in a flash game on some ad-laden site. Hey, a good about of voilence once in a while does help exercise the heart!

Rescue Time is a time management application that lets users know how much time they spend on the computer and internet, and where that time is spent. It logs the time and places a user visits on the internet and can also log the usage times of other applications such as a media player or word processor, by recording how long these programs are active.

The application stops its logging when the computer is inactive, so any time spent away from the computer is not counted. RescueTime is essentially software that sits in a user's system tray and logs online and certain offline activity, and then uploads the information to the RescueTime website for the subscriber to later sign in an review.

Although RescueTime cannot force users to spend less time on anything, it can generate pretty graphs and charts that illustrate exactly how a user spends time on the computer and online. For some responsible folks, a straight hard look at this information can be enough to make them consider cutting back on their daily fix. For the rest of us, looking at our computer usage as RecueTime presents it is actually a very neat feature!

To get RescueTime up and running, users will need RescueTime data collector (an application which can be downloaded from the company's website and installed), and a user account at their website which will allow users to see all the collected data. The data collector is a small download that is less than a megabyte in size and installation takes only a few seconds. No browser plug-ins or toolbars are needed for it to work. All usage logging is done by the collector and works across all browsers on Window and Mac, as well as a linux version made available by third-party developers.

Setting up an account at is completely free and requires only one step. Ofcourse, an internet connection is required for the collector to send the information to the server in the first place.

The RescueTime website offers Dashboard, a page where users can see and manage all the data that is recorded. It can take a couple of days for the recorder to gather enough information to make an interesting first look, so install it and then forget about it for two to three days.

The Dashboard of a user account presents a periodic overview of activity in terms of hours spent each day and highlights the most used program for the week, day, month or year. The free subscription version only saves logged data for up to three months. For each piece of information (that is, website or program logged), users can configure tags that help bunch different programs together as one and display under a single category on a graph.

For example, if a user does his or her writing both online and off, that user could tag Microsoft Word and Google Docs as 'writing' to generalise their function. The site also grants users the ability to rate each tag as being positively or negatively productive, or effectiveness on a scale of -2 to +2.

So Microsoft Word gets a productive rating of +2 and that flash games site gets a -2. A weekly score is calculated based on these ratings to present an overview of generally what's being done, with the productive ratings taking it up, and the negative bringing it down.

Users can also set goals and alerts based on the tags for their logged programs and sites. A goal, for example, would be wanting to spend less than an hour on Facebook everyday. The site can also alert users via SMS or RSS feeds on the completion or failure of the goals they specify.

A feature recently rolled out, called Groups, allows users to set up a group of people whose data is logged as a team. This is especially useful for small business teams and it allows managers to see what is being done in their team. It works on the same basis of productivity and effectiveness points, albeit in a more general way, in the sense that members of a group can only see how their time compares to an average of their team and not with the individuals of that team. Groups of up to five people are free but cost 12.95 dollars a month per user for larger groups.

Privacy and Security
For the privacy buffs who may be squirming in their chairs with uneasiness, remember that this is strictly opt-in software. Additionally, it does not attempt to conceal itself in the system processes and can be seen as a prominent red plus sign in the system tray by any user.

The data recorder is only meant to record running processes and logging can be disabled for any length of time in the program preferences. The whole program can be uninstalled completely very easily, without jumping through several hoops of advertisements or referrals.

The RescueTime website even gives users the option of selectively or completely deleting any and all data from their accounts on RescueTime's servers.

The RescueTime Data Collector logger can also use a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol connection to transmit the data, which is an option in the logger preferences that is recommended for users to enable so that any information sent by the data collector cannot be intercepted on its way to the servers.

For additional privacy, the software also includes a website whitelist option that, when enabled, will only let the collector log the sites that it is specifically told to log. All other websites will be seen as other unknown websites in your logs and will be unkown to RescueTime as well.

RescueTime is a great zero-cost way to look at personal computer usage trends. For corporate and personal use customers, it offers the possbility of an effective time management side. It is built to run in the background and only notifies you if an update is available, so it is basically an install-and-forget application.

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