Rescue Time: Automated Time Management meets Web 2.0

rescuetime.jpgTime Management as a distributed concept is not new, from long corporate training days with free lunches (the lunch often being the highlight) through to earlier software packages, and even through to today, with a wealth of Web 2.0 options focusing on providing the user with the tools to better manage their own time and that of team members.

Whilst I’ve been a user of a number of packages over the years, notably Basecamp more recently, the structure of these offerings are mostly reliant on manual user input. In the pursuit of more efficiently managing your own time you’re actually using this time to input what you are doing, and in my case thats often only resulted in one thing: that I don’t have enough time to input the data and use the time or project management tool.

Seattle based Rescue Time actually tackles the issue of having to input data into a time management tool for the time poor head on by offering a web based personal time management service that takes its input via software. The software tracks what you are doing on your computer at any given time, then uploads the data to the service for later review.

Tony Wright from Rescue Time, now on his third startup, having sold Jobby to Jobster in 2006, told me that core mission of Rescue Time is to allow information workers to understand how they spend their time in an easy way. “We feel that the knowledge of how you spend your time will make you more productive and will nudge you in the direction of spending your time more deliberately and thoughtfully”.

He asks a very good rhetorical question, one I know many readers will relate to: “Every information worker has finished a day saying, “Where the heck did my day go? I got a lot less done than I thought!”, Rescue Time gives users the ability to understand where the day went.

The service is more than just activity tracking. Goal setting is built in with the ability for the system to send alerts, both based on excessive use defined by a user in one area, or conversely improved use, for example if I was spending too much time browsing Fark one week, and the next week that time dropped, an automated pat on the back can be generated.

Collaboratively, users are able to compare their time management skills with others, for example developers might like to see how they compare on average with other developers.

Whilst I find personal interest in the individual time tracking functionality, Rescue Time also comes in a corporate flavor: RescueTime for Groups and Business. The tracking software can be rolled out across a business or team with data centralized for group tracking. It sounds a little Big Brotherish, however I’m told that focus is not to track individual time usage, but overall team tracking, a good tool in being able to measure work place policies and even Change Management by providing feedback to Management on the net affect of their business decisions.

The backend runs on Ruby on Rails and SQL, with an open API platform currently in development. The site is currently in closed Alpha testing but will be open to the public later this month.

As a business idea, it makes a lot of sense. The promise that technology will make our lives easier has never held true, most of us are more time poor than ever before and the marketplace reflects this: site such as LifeHacker gain their popularity off the back of a global desire to be able to do things more efficiently, simply and better. Rescue Time holds a great deal of promise in becoming a must have tool in the never ending quest to better manage our time.