As a CEO of a time tracking software company, I need to know what my competitors are up to — thus, this RescueTime review. That means I’m often researching about and/or playing around with their products… you know, it’s part of the job. Here, I share my findings from that research, giving credit to those competitors where credit is due and being honest about which products I believe you really need to avoid. And so, there you have it, this RescueTime review. And in it, I try to be honest, fair, and insightful.
This Review Covers:
- What Do Users Like About RescueTime?
- What Don’t Users Like About RescueTime?
- What Pricing Plans Does RescueTime Offer?
- What are the Standout Features of RescueTime?
- Selected Positive User Feedback
- Selected Negative User Feedback
- What are RescueTime’s Review Ratings from Review Sites?
- What’s My Final Verdict on RescueTime?
How productive are you? This may be answered a million ways, but rarely can those answers be backed up with solid, empirical data unless you’re using a productivity tool like RescueTime.
RescueTime is an award-winning software marketed as a productivity assistant that records computer and device usage habits, working unobtrusively and seamlessly in the background of desktop and mobile devices. It touts time tracking abilities combined with intuitive analysis of activities that don’t require any manual input from users. With its five-step scale that allows users to define sites, apps, and programs as very productive, productive, neutral, distracting, or very distracting, RescueTime lives up to its name by saving user’s time from being spent on non-productive activities and helping them focus on the things that matter instead. Over time, this helps build healthy habits that increase productivity and promote a healthy work-life balance.
RescueTime begins tracking time and activities from the moment a user’s device is turned on until the end of the day. The data gathered by the software in tracking time and activities are organized into reports that detail how time has been used on sites visited, files opened, and the apps and programs used the entire day. It shows which actions were productive and which were distracting according to pre-defined classifications. This analysis promotes productivity enhancement by holding up a mirror to users’ time consumption habits and confronting them with the cold, hard truth of how they are using time and what they can do better to make the most out of every day.
My favorite RescueTime feature is something called Focus Session, which allows users to prepare their minds, bodies, and environments for sprints of productive activities with guards against distractions from factors such as social media, entertainment, gaming, and other things that might creep up unnoticed, stealing time away from the things that matter.
While RescueTime does work absolutely amazing as a time tracking and activity analysis software, it lacks some very important features commonly present in other software marketed as productivity assistants. Crucially, it doesn’t have scheduling, project tracking, cost calculation, invoicing, geolocation, and accountability features that severely limit its use to mostly personal goal-chasing. While it is a truly valuable productivity enhancement tool, it is not a work management and productivity solution for freelancers and businesses who need more than just the analytics that RescueTime provides.
Aside from these limitations, RescueTime also doesn’t do quite well on mobile, and the difference between its desktop version and mobile apps is quite stark. It’s also plagued with some bugs, glitches, and occasional crashes. But despite all these, it is still a well-beloved app with glowing reviews and well-deserved positive ratings on various review platforms due to its unique way of approaching productivity and intelligent design.
What Do Users Like About RescueTime?
- Automatic and unobtrusive tracking
- Excellent productivity analysis
- Great for reducing distractions
- Reports provide extensive insights
- Customizability of goals for each user
Find more on what users love about RescueTime.
What Don't Users Like about RescueTime?
- Lacks crucial features to be considered more than just a personal productivity tracker
- Mobile app needs some improvement
Overwhelming data in analytics
- UI needs improvements
- Does not record non-computer aspects of work, so results may be inaccurate
Find more on what users hate about RescueTime.
What Pricing Plans Does RescueTime Offer?
RescueTime has two plan variants: RescueTime Lite and RescueTime Premium.
RescueTime Lite is free and is intended to cover the basics of time management and analysis. With this plan, users get a personalized daily Focus Work goal, real-time tracking of daily goals and access to yesterday’s results, weekly reports of activities, goals, and distractions, and timely alerts to improve habits.
RescueTime Premium is a paid plan that costs $12 when billed per month or only $78 when paying annually — that’s a whopping 46% discount. With this plan, users get all the RescueTime Lite features, plus Focus sessions to block distractions, calendar integrations to schedule Focus Sessions, one-click entry into meetings, and meeting tracking, morning outlook with Focus Zone forecasting, history reports with date controls and spreadsheet export, and weekly and monthly progress tracking.
While the features offered by RescueTime Lite are quite enough for most solo users, the disparity between that and those offered by RescueTime Premium is too glaring to be ignored. On the other hand, if we compare RescueTime Premium’s price to similar software with project management and other administration capabilities at similar price points, I can’t help but feel that they are charging so much for so little.
What are the Standout Features of RescueTime?
1. Distraction-Free Focus Sessions
RescueTime Focus Sessions are designed to help users achieve distraction-free productivity sprints by preparing the mind, body, and environment to engage in meaningful work. For a specific period defined by the user, it blocks out apps, sites, and programs that the user has pre-defined as unnecessary to the Focus Work, or high-impact and mentally demanding activities that require uninterrupted focus.
Focus Sessions begin with a prep and optional warmups. The Focus Session prep is an essential step that consists of a few short questions to customize your Focus Session experience, namely about the nature of the work being done during the session, blocking options that specify which apps and sites are to be blocked by RescueTime while the session is ongoing, and music integrations with Spotify, Youtube, or other platforms to play focus-enhancing music of choice in the background as users go about the session.
After the prep, users can opt to do Focus Session warmups that help improve productivity by preparing them mentally and physically for the work ahead. These activities prompt users to prime their environments and themselves with guided walkthroughs and audio narrations. This is a particularly thoughtful touch from RescueTime that I genuinely appreciate.
During the session, RescueTime will display a countdown timer and progress bar that shows how much time remains for the particular session and what users have achieved during the elapsed time. Attempted visits to blocked sites or use of blocked apps and programs will result in a block page with a gentle notice to return to work. This is especially helpful for people who get easily distracted and can’t resist falling into rabbit holes of social media and entertainment usage during important tasks.
Once the session is finished, RescueTime will ask a few questions to help evaluate the session and provide a Focus Session report that details how a user did after their productivity sprint. This report shows users important statistics about their time spent on Focus Work activities, the number of distractions blocked in-session, and the number of days in their Focus Session streak.
When a user enters into a Focus Session, all their devices connected to their RescueTime account will automatically be in focus session as well.
2. Comprehensive Activity Tracking
RescueTime automatically tracks all computer activity 12-24 hours after it is installed. It doesn’t require users to clock in or switch tasks on a dashboard every time something new is being started, except during Focus Sessions. This takes away a significant amount of time in the workday spent fiddling with timers and trackers for every task.
Working quietly in the background, RescueTime records every website and application users open or use during user-determined periods of tracking. It can be configured to collect full window titles, document titles, and URLs for more transparent activity monitoring. Users also have the option to specify which sites and programs should be tracked via a whitelist on the Monitoring Options page to protect tier privacy. This means that site-specific data from whitelisted sites are recorded just as usual, but activities on non-whitelisted sites are recorded merely as general browsing.
RescueTime takes into consideration that not every day is a work day and that certain periods should be dedicated to things other than work for a balanced lifestyle. Users can specify which days and hours they would be working, during which RescueTime would track data as configured. On off days and hours, the software “takes a break” with the user and does not record any activity, as indicated by a grayed-out icon.
To “train” RescueTime, users can score or rank activities as high-impact and mentally demanding Focus Work, Other Work made up of day-to-day activities, or non-work Personal Activities. This “teaches” the software about users’ computer usage patterns so it can serve better analytics and be more intuitive in helping optimize productivity. Meetings are also tracked on a separate page. Collectively, these show how users’ time is utilized in various data-rich reports.
Goals encourage users to help improve their habits by analyzing tracked data and creating actionable plans from it. Focus Work goals take into consideration their meeting schedules and personal information to create — and meet — realistic milestones. Distraction and communication goals help users focus on tasks by preventing distractions caused by multitasking, particularly on messaging apps. Balance goal warns of overwork, and gently nudges users to limit activity outside scheduled work periods.
Should there be any activities essential to users’ goals done offline or away from the computer, they can be added manually to ensure that all work is accounted for and to help keep the analytics updated.
3. Meticulous Work Hours Management
Since RescueTime is built to manage users’ time consumption and build healthy productivity habits, it only checks out that it should have a meticulous work hours management feature. However, unlike the usual shift scheduling features commonly seen in similar productivity management software, RescueTime does not work as a shift scheduling tool, nor does it claim to be. Rather, it functions as a personal schedule management assistant that is geared towards achieving the best possible results both in productivity and work-life balance.
Upon installation, users can set up and define their work schedules —which days they expect to work during a week, and which hours on the chosen days. This initial information affects how RescueTime analyzes tracked data and influences how the software interprets users’ time usage.
On the days and hours that users designate for work, RescueTime enters into “work mode” and tracks as usual, logging time and activities in the background. All Focus Work logged during this period will count towards users’ Focus Work goals. Outside that, RescueTime goes into Recharge Time, which is meant to ensure that users do other significant things outside work, such as getting enough rest, taking care of themselves, spending time on their passions, and reconnecting with loved ones.
Any activities done during Recharge Time will not be credited towards users’ Focus Work goals or recorded in the Overview and Activities pages unless they click the “Back to Work” button. The use of Recharge Time would reflect on users’ Balance Report, which details how time their time usage is affecting their work-life balance.
RescueTime has default settings for work week schedules that users can utilize straight out of the box, or they can edit it to match their unique working styles and needs to the T. They can choose how many hours they want to work in a week, how many hours to devote to daily focus goals every day, the duration of daily break time, the beginning of the work week (either Sunday or Monday), preferred time format (either 12-hour or 24-hour), and when they want daily reports to be delivered.
While these features do not resemble or function like the usual scheduling systems where managers can create shifts and assign them to team members, RescueTime’s work hours management system is a valuable and highly enriching method to create — and ingrain — the habit of showing up when needed.
4. Daily Reviews and In-depth Reports
As previously discussed, RescueTime offers quick views of productivity on a daily basis through the End of Day Report, as well as through more in-depth reports that present collected data in various ways to inform users of patterns that affect their productivity and influence their habits.
The End of Day Report, also known as Daily Review, is generated by RescueTime and sent to the user at the end of the day or at user-specified times. These reports contain information about all of the activities done within the workday, such as time spent on Focus Work and if Focus Work goals have been met. It also shows the number, duration, and top activities of Focus Sessions, time spent on distractions and communication, as well as the number of times users shifted from Focus Work to other activities.
Similarly, the RescueTime Weekly Review displays information about logged activities at the end of the work week and shows a breakdown of how the week’s total worked hours were spent. It lets users know what time they were most productive during the week, how many Focus Sessions they had, how much time was spent on Focus Work, and what the top focus activity of the week was. It also records the total hours spent on meetings, how many times users shifted from focus work to communications, and the average of how many such shifts happened per hour.
Other reports also offer data-rich views into users’ time-spending habits. The Detailed Activity Reporting shows users how much time they spent on any particular site or program, and with Page Title Tracking enabled, RescueTime can also record and present specific information about files and webpages in the programs they use and the sites they visit.
RescueTime can also categorize activities intuitively according to input sources to give a deeper understanding of time expenditure. Activities done on mobile devices, desktops, and offline are separated in the reports to show which activities are most productive or distracting, and where they happen.
Trending reports show how users’ habits evolve and are particularly useful when learning a new skill or trying to ingrain a desired habit. Using an easily understandable graph, RescueTime displays trends for any chosen period so users can compare and contrast progress accumulated over days, weeks, or months, and where to make necessary adjustments for better results.
5. Productivity Pulse
RescueTime’s Productivity Pulse is a productivity meter that calculates the score of any certain period — say, a day or a week — on a donut graph that displays how many productivity points out of a hundred a user accumulates according to their time expenditure. The score is calculated as the time-weighted average of the five different categories of activities previously discussed, ranging from very productive to very distracting. If users spend more time doing activities defined as productive, the score will rise. If users spend more time doing activities designated as unproductive, the score will shrink.
RescueTime understands that no one is 100% productive all the time, and users are not encouraged to shoot for 100% at any time — as human beings, time spent recharging and doing other things aside from work is absolutely essential, and maintaining balance is a must. The average Productivity Pulse score across the RescueTime user base is around 70% and usually hovers around 58% daily.
This feature provides a visual and easily understandable representation of time utilization and is especially helpful when users need to quickly check their productivity score or to keep track of progress and set up scores to beat. Having a number to surpass is a surefire way of motivating users to do better; RescueTime’s Productivity Pulse provides just the challenge to keep them on fire.
Selected Positive User Feedback:
- “I hardly need to fill in anything, the app provides all the details of sites and apps I use on my computer and, my phone … it gives a clear overview of your productivity on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.” – Nicolet G. (Source Capterra)
- “This software helped me to objectively and quantitatively identify which distractions were doing the most damage to my daily income. By seeing it in front of me and putting against it, I was able to instantly cut those activities out completely or minimize them.” – Kevin (Source Software Advice)
- “By far, the best part of RescueTime is how streamlined and easy it is to use. Painless. Install it, install the browser extensions, then it runs quietly in the background, tracking and capturing data.” – Sam K. (Source G2)
- “The daily and weekly reports help me to evaluate how I use my time. The software also has an affiliate program and that’s beneficial to me as well.” – Anonymous (Source Software Advice)
- “It’s brilliant because it tracks time by the app but also by websites visited. So I can include research time and reading time in the time I spend on projects. It tracks multiple devices which is great because I tend to switch between devices when working on projects.” – Kudzai (Source Software Advice)
- “Rescuetime has often surprised me by showing stats being very different from how I perceived them. It can also be motivating to see a highly productive day unfolding and feeling competitive with yourself.” – Iris (Source Software Advice)
- “Reports and analytics are easy to understand, and the software allows a lot of customization when it comes to recorded activities and their categorization.” – Eero L. (Source Capterra)
Selected Negative User Feedback:
- “There are only one or two generic filters for declaring which days and hours to run the tracking. I have noticed that the categories are geared mostly toward organizations more than individuals.” – Verified Reviewer (Source Capterra)
- “If RescueTime added in geolocation and/or device tracking, that would provide for more insights into productivity choices.” – Sam K. (Source G2)
- “Also, it’s pretty clunky getting through the report of how you spent your time. You either have to look at it by category (Very Productive, Productive, Neutral, Distracting, Very Distracting) individually, or by task (Communication, Business, etc.), there’s not just a way to see a full list of everything.” – Jessica (Source Software Advice)
- “I do wish it had some sort of ability to better determine whether work you are doing in certain places is productive time or unproductive time.” – Elizabeth S. (Source G2)
- “It would be great if it had more tracking options and it could set up a project and task tracking within the app so we can group our activities.” – Kudzai (Source Software Advice)
- “Not visually organised reports. Project management is not available. (RescueTime is not a replacement for time tracking for contractors).” – Jorgen (Source Software Advice)
- “I would like if there was a different way to categorize specific files from different projects into projects within rescuetime … if I could tag certain portions of time towards specific projects it would give me further insight not only on the type of work I am doing (development, communication) but into the specific project that time was spent on.” – Bryan M. (Source Capterra)
What are RescueTime's Review Ratings from Review Sites?
(As of December 2023)
- PC Magazine: 5/5
- Capterra: 4.6/5
- G2: 4.1/5
- Software Advice: 4.5/5
- TrustRadius: 8/10
- Google Play Store: 3.5/5
- SoftwareSuggest: 4/5
What's My Final Verdict on RescueTime?
RescueTime is an excellent time management and productivity-boosting tool that lives up to its name by helping users take back their time from unproductive practices and habits that they may not even know they have. It holds up a clear and truthful mirror to users by faithfully logging all activities from the moment their work day begins to the moment it ends. The data gathered from tracking activities across periods are organized into user-defined categories that rank them on a five-point scale of productivity, from very productive to very distracting. This allows users to reflect on their time utilization and adjust their practices as needed. Over time, RescueTime helps users build healthy productivity habits that not only ensure that they are focusing on productive activities and minimizing distractions but also getting enough downtime and the rest that they deserve.
Having said that, I would like to reiterate that RescueTime is not a replacement for traditional project management tools, as it lacks many important features that limit its use to the realm of personal use and motivation. It does not have any shift scheduling capabilities, billing and invoicing features, project progress tracking tools, and accountability safeguards, among others. And while it does provide very detailed analytics, too many numbers and report variants may just prove to be too much for users looking for simpler and to-the-point reporting.
Other issues that caught my attention are the usual bugs, glitches, and crashes, some very much-needed tweaking in the mobile apps to address less-than-desirable mobile experiences, and stronger assurances that users’ privacy would not be compromised by its all-encompassing activity tracking.
To sum it all up, I’d say that you should definitely get RescueTime if you want to really understand where your time goes, and want to become more productive and develop a healthier work-life balance but don’t know where to begin. But if you are looking for a traditional time tracking and project management tool, look elsewhere as RescueTime is not that… but even so, get it. A better grasp of your precious time paired with a conventional tracking and project management software will only benefit you in the long run.
What I really like about RescueTime is the Focus Session.
If you get distracted a wee bit too easily when working, the Focus Session feature can help by letting only allowing access to websites that are productive for the work at hand, and limit access to those which are not. Notifications from phone apps can be limited as well which is handy for keeping productivity levels high.
A downside when it comes to RescueTime is that it does not have the usual project management features such as geolocation, billing, invoicing, and project time tracking. I believe that these features can really up the game for the software’s time tracking tool.