The Problem with Rescue Time

Last June I wrote a post outlining my typical day, with the post-end call to action to bring more balance into my life, specifically by not working so many hours. Back then, I was typically sleeping 4-5 hours per night, working 7 days a week (that was a very unhealthy 120 hours per week), and very rarely taking time out to spend time with family or friends.

I haven’t solved the problem — far from it — but it has gotten a little better. On average these days I work about 80 hours a week. I try to make sure that involves taking at least a little time off over the weekend to get outside away from the computer. Having my mom live nearby now makes this easier: 1) if she calls and asks me to do something with her, I feel guilty saying no, and 2) if I drive to the store I often stop to say hi since she lives across the street. So that forces me to get out a little more. Starting the WordPress meetup group in Savannah also creates a little enforced interaction, though it’s not exactly a break from work to spend 2 hours helping people learn to use WordPress. I also started using Rescue Time, and I try to force myself to stop working before I hit 80 hours. There’s a problem with measuring yourself with Rescue Time, though. Several problems, actually. Here’s the chart for me for the past week:

My efficiency compared to othersMy efficiency throughout the day

The first problem is not that big a deal. My job involves reading, commenting, and writing on a lot of blogs. hosts more than 100 private P2s for the company, and though I don’t track all of them, I’m in and out of quite a few. By default, Rescue Time thinks blogs are Very Distracting, so unless I go in and change the status on individual sites that are work-related, a lot of my work blog stuff gets inaccurately rated, hurting my efficiency rating.

The second problem is the thing that really bugs me. Mornings are really efficient for me. No one else is awake usually, since I start working at 6:30am right after I make Morgan’s lunch and send her off to school. My routine involves playing whatever TV downloaded the night before while I blast through the accumulated emails and P2 posts from work blogs (this is also the default for a chunk of my weekend work time). I get an email with every Trac comment/commit, every P2 post from the team blogs that I do follow, plus all the email I get from WordPress community members.

Trac and P2 emails don’t usually require my full attention to skim through, deleting the stuff that doesn’t require follow-up and saving the stuff that does. I spend an hour (or sometimes 2, depending on how busy the other side of the world was while I slept) doing this initial skim propped up in bed with my laptop while half-watching some show or other. Because I use a Mac, I have the handy ability to act on the mail and/or browser windows with two-finger scroll, even when that window is not in focus, just by hovering over an area of display. This means, for example, that I can make the Quicktime window be bigger by having it in focus/on top of the mail/browser chrome, so that my peripheral vision picks up more of the visual story while I power through the inbox, deleting away though it’s never brought into focus.

Rescue Time tracks the in focus window. So despite clearing though a hundred or two emails and reading through a few dozen P2 threads, Rescue Time thinks I’m just watching Very Distracting video, not doing any work.

This also hits me if I grab a sketchbook to draw some ideas for a UI or to make lists. If I’m doing that, I’ll often put in focus so that if I don’t like a song I can skip it more quickly, or I’ll pull up one of those downloaded TV episodes so I can listen while I draw (I try to have ambient sound at least half the day, so I don’t go into hermit mode more than I already do).

Does it really matter that the tracking isn’t completely accurate or representative? No. Whether it thinks I’m 80% efficient or 60% or 30%, I know how much I get done in a day. And I still need to ratchet down the number of hours I work, and rather quickly if I’m going to get down to the equivalent of one full-time job before the Jitterbug opens. Still, I’m enough of a Type A that getting an email that downplays what I’ve done rankles just enough to matter. So I might stop using Rescue Time. Right after I get the weekly summary down to 50 hours per week or less.

A Typical Day

I am always busy. I don’t work from home, I live in my office. Many people know this and are patient with me as I slog through each day’s list, and kindly pester me (specifically, they pester me kindly, not aggressively or with accusations) if I don’t get to them quickly enough for their own deadlines. Other people get snotty, demanding, insulting, and rude (which makes me feel great about helping them at the expense of others, including myself). Because of this, my days bear little resemblance to what they once were when I was a designer and got to concentrate on a task until it was finished, then leave the office and go back to a personal life. These days it’s ping-pong-ping-pong from the time I get up until I go to sleep (often this means falling asleep with laptop in bed).

I recognize that this is my fault. I’m not good at saying no, and added to the Yankee work ethic that was drilled into me growing up (I was working 10+ hours/day when I was a nanny at 13), I wind up with too many projects and not enough time. Because I by default don’t feel okay about putting myself before others, this also means I work far too many hours, don’t take care of myself, don’t get enough sleep, and miss out on having fun the way I used to.

Being a workaholic in some cases is considered to be on the OCD spectrum, as obsessive thoughts about obligation can get in the way of stepping away from work. The next time you hear or say, “If you want to get something done, give it to the busiest person you know,” think about this, and think again.

About a month ago I kept track of what I did for a little more than 24 hours. Here’s that typical day.

9:30 am

  • Check emails that came in since 4am when I went to bed
  • Review updates from internal blogs that came in since 4am
  • Respond to WordCamp ABC re their proposed space and money request (day total: x3 so far)
  • Team blog – post request for individual updates
  • Go to .com to check out forums, get distracted by Freshly Pressed post on 10 best indie movies, take quick detour to wikipedia to look something up
  • Turn on, put cookies in oven (cheater cookies, just throw pan in oven)
  • Chat with Matt re announcement post for distraction-free writing and ui update

10:45 am

  • Check email
  • Start post for DFW and UI
  • Take cookies out
  • Email Ben re new tmce icons
  • Write post for DFW and UI
  • Write .com ux notes to follow up on sometime
  • Continue with post for DFW and UI
  • Post to .com team blog re faves menu
  • Accept UPS package (keyboard)
  • Continue with post for DFW and UI
  • Press this on tools page review

12:05 pm

  • Continue with post for DFW and UI
  • Credits page review
  • Report core bug and help with troubleshooting (mark will fix)
  • More press this graphic investigation
  • More icons follow up
  • Talked to Andrew to get dfw fixes in before merge
  • Continue with post for DFW and UI
  • Discussion with needyish community member
  • Finish post for DFW and UI, send to Matt to review

1:21 pm

  • Email slog
  • Realize I should eat, go make bagel
  • Review WordCamp ABC budget, cry
  • Read oatmeal cartoon to perk up
  • New hire hr check
  • Update hr on team meetup status
  • UI group mtg
  • Core trac scrub in -dev
  • Team meetup date determination with team members (people who have new date conflicts every time make my life harder)
  • Talk to WordCamp DEF organizer, agree to fill speaker cxl with 3.2 preview
  • More trac scrub
  • Revise credits list

2:50 pm

  • Art for WordCamp DEF order shirts
  • Edited swag store page
  • Contacted past designer re permission
  • Kid got home; ate a tuna sandwich while she described school day and ate cookies
  • MT not around, so make shirt art
  • Order shirts and send art to printer

4:05 pm

  • Replied to iphone app trademark infringement issue

4:15 pm

  • Looked into team meetup rentals
  • Called Palomar group sales re wcsf housing, will have proposal by end of week
  • Looked at other sf hotels, decided to call travel agent to have her do it instead
  • Talk logos with MT, how to rep multiple brands brainstorm
  • Words with friends, made joey for 47 points
  • Discussed shirt printing instructions with Mike from lo-fi

5:20 pm

  • Ask hr about using travel agent, new hire follow up
  • Core leads chat re [sensitive community issue]
  • Pinged organizer, discussed WordCamp GHI
  • Start laundry
  • Make answer key for practice math exam, set kid to problem solving

6:15 pm

  • Go to pick up dinner

7:00 pm

  • Check email, see more kerfuffle over [sensitive community issue] in inbox, shake head, look at how long i’ve already been working today, shake head again
  • Discuss .com/3.2 beta merge timing with Ryan Boren
  • Feed kid, eat dinner
  • Put laundry in dryer

7:30 pm

  • Check email
  • Look at potential team meetup rentals, send reservation inquiries

8:00 pm

  • Check on kid’s math progress, do some planning with her, discuss weekend plans

8:15 pm

  • Investigate cost/time of flying vs. driving to WC DEF
  • Talk logistics for merch table in Raleigh w/Lori
  • Begin reservation process for team meetup housing
  • Write to flipkey to ask about price guarantees on rentals (b/c the one I want has diff prices posted)
  • Post to team blog with instructions for team members to look up flight prices for specific dates

9:15 pm

  • Researched alternate meetup housing (wp users!)
  • Sent availability inquiry
  • Email check, p2 comments

9:45 pm

  • Flight research for team meetup
  • Review team member A’s flight options
  • Chat with team member B about time management, rescuetime, and capes

10:00 pm

  • Download Glee (suck it, haters!)
  • Check email, Skype, decide I need a break
  • Eat cookie, drink iced tea
  • Watch Glee while answering emails

11:30 pm

2nd wind!

  • Email

11:45 pm

  • 3.2 feature chat with Michael Pick for launch video

12:30 am

  • Internet dies

1:30 am

  • Go to sleep


6:15 am

  • Slept late, gah! get up, make lunch for morgan, get her off to school

6:45 am

  • Email WordCamp JKL organizer re WC sponsorship eligibility rules
  • Email scrub
  • Read daily digests for a few team p2s
  • Review dfw support page
  • Comment on HE p2 re dfw page, social p2 re ui refresh
  • Identify must-dos for today: launch dfw, get .org guidelines up, reply pending WCs, style update work with Daryl, review/edit prev organizer survey, WC sponsorships, pending emails, write to the not-100%-GPL-WC-sponsor, book meetup travel, post call for WCSF speakers, draft WCSF sponsorship levels, contact potential WCSF speakers, nail down weekend WC travel logistics, food shopping, talk to Caitlin’s mom, confirm Morgan can stay with her, bring ibuprofen to school nurse for Morgan, cat food, clean house
  • Forward all emails to WC PHX relevant to AG complaint
  • Ping Matt to review dfw post, make a couple of corrections on readthrough

7:30 am

  • Review plugin requests for from WordCamp MNO
  • Note issue with plugin forums re author links
  • Need to write up rules of the road for plugin repo, add to list

7:45 am

  • Read tv gossip blog article about new Torchwood
  • Try to get laptop sound to work again, no dice

8:00 am

  • More email
  • Team travel costs review (all have been posted now)
  • New icon sprite handoff
  • Chat with Peter re commit access, review commit screen, posted sys request for list

8:40 am

  • Make and eat bagel
  • De-dread hair with massive amounts of leave-in conditioner, decide to cut off hair and donate it by WCSF
  • Iced tea and a cookie
  • Review [would-be WordCamp sponsor that is not 100% GPL] backstory
  • Order cat food, sugaring kit, SDHD cards
  • Call hotel re shirt shipments
  • Chat with Ryan Imel re inaccuracy of ‘split GPL’ term (‘split license’ is accurate)
  • Talk dfw post w/Matt
  • Email
  • WordCamp stuff
  • Shower
  • Email
  • Review local vs shipped-in speakers for WC DEF, purse lips

11:00 am

  • Look for errant WC app
  • Check on WordCamp trademark status
  • Get dressed
  • Sign FedEx, square readers arrived
  • Email

11:20 am

  • Move outside
  • Chat matt
  • Confirm merge plan w/Ryan
  • Go back inside, too bright
  • Reboot laptop on freeze

11:45 am

  • Make and eat tuna sandwich

12:00 pm

  • More WordCamp drama emails
  • WCSF Kimpton follow up — too spendy this year, cheaper hotels online
  • Find designer to do icon swap
  • Reserve team meetup cottages, post details
  • Core – icons, links, errors
  • Register for WCDEF
  • Forums issue

1:33 pm

  • Hands/wrists give out
  • Head to high school for student-teacher conference

Not good, right? I never get all the must-do items done in a day. I now have a new team member who is taking over all the WordCamp coordination, so that’s good, but there’s still more work to be done than can fit in a day without feeling massively behind. I’m going to be trying to cut back on the hours, and actually do things like clean my house that have gone ignored, as well as go back to having a personal life that includes more than driving the kid places.

So if I seem less available than I used to, that will be why. I’m also going to practice saying No. If I say no to you, please don’t be annoyed, and recognize that I’m doing it for my health. If I tell you no for something, I’ll at least try to point you toward someone better able to say yes.

Wish me luck!