Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
Do you waste too much time on your computer?
It’s an easy question to brush off, but think about it for a moment. Even if you use your computer mainly as a productivity tool, there are always games you can waste time with at the office; everyone has spent an hour or two on Minesweeper and Solitaire without thinking about it.
If you’re interested in seeing just how much time you spend inside different programs on your computer, instead of actually getting work done, read on to find a few tools that will help you track and curtail your wandering to get your time back.
Track Your Usage With Motivate Clock
Motivate Clock is a great no-frills tool that anyone can utilize to track their Windows usage. The download is quick and doesn’t offer any third-party crapware to watch out for, thankfully. You do have to install Adobe AIR to use it, which is a safe runtime still in use unlike the aging, insecure Java plug-in.
Once it’s all installed, you’ll be greeted with the application’s main window. There are two modes to use — manual and project-based. In manual mode, you simply use the two tabs at the top of the screen to mark whether you’re working or taking a break. Once you click Work, the timer starts tracking how much time you’ve spent. It’s up to you to click the Pause button for temporary stops or Rest when you give it a rest.
At any time, you can open the statistics window at the bottom of the app and see the breakdown of how much time you spent in either state. With manual mode, you don’t get any information on what programs you spent time in; it’s on you to switch the modes. If you forget, you’ll throw off the statistic, so this mode isn’t great if you’ll neglect the timer once it’s started.
Most people will probably find the project mode more appealing. To use it, enter a New Project on the main screen with a name of something you’d like to accomplish. Once you’ve named it, you need to mark some applications to monitor in the session.
The app will list all running programs for you to choose from — you’ll want to choose everything that you’ll be working in. So, if you’re working on an image masterpiece in Photoshop or learning to code in Android Studio, make sure to check their boxes so that Motivate Clock knows you’re pushing towards your goal when in those apps. When you have any other running window in focus, it adds that time to the Rest counter. So here, add any non-essential apps you might wander off to, like Spotify, Slack, or Telegram.
While this mode is much more dynamic and helpful with its statistics, it still isn’t perfect. Since programs are wholly marked as either Work or Rest, you could, for example, have Skype marked as Work because you’re talking to a colleague about your current project — the app won’t count time you waste talking to your significant other in Skype, though. You’ll have to be wise in how you use these potential problem apps.
The last piece of the puzzle is website tracking. By clicking the Web tab on the application list, you can tell the app which websites should be considered Work — all other fall under Rest, just like with programs. All you have to do is drag and drop URLs into the window or (or copy/paste them into the text box) and they’re added to the list.
There’s also a browser extension, which I honestly couldn’t understand the point of — you can add websites to the list without it, and it tracks different sites just fine without the browser extension. You probably already have too many browser extensions, so just skip this one.
My creative process. Sit at computer. Waste time. Get snacks. Check social media. Pinterest. Start writing. Get in groove. Times up.
— Trina McNeilly (@lalalovelyblog) February 2, 2016
The app doesn’t have many other features. You can export your logs to PDF before you reset them, giving you a nice archive of your productivity over time. There are also a few settings to monkey around with, including whether the app should pause or count as rest when you’re inactive. You can also choose to be alerted when you’ve been working or resting for a certain length of time, which is a great way to try the Pomodoro method.
Overall, Motivate Clock does what it sets out to do well, and is worth a try for a few days to see where you’re spending your time. It’s not the most flexible app, but it should help keep you on track.
Recover Your Time Using RescueTime
RescueTime is another great option for tracking time spent on your PC. Unlike Motivate Clock, it does offer a paid version, but most of its extra features are either extraneous for personal use (tracking morning commute or times in meetings) or available elsewhere for free (blocking distracting websites, which you can do with other tools). If you’d like to have it all, you can view the full list of Pro features and decide if upgrading is worth it for you.
To get started with the free version, you’ll have to create an account and download the software. Once it’s downloaded onto your PC, that’s actually the end of the desktop part — RescueTime’s main functionality is on the Web, and the desktop app just tracks your usage. Once you’re set up, you can visit your dashboard to view your statistics and change options.
When you start with RescueTime, you’ll be asked what your top three most productive and least productive categories are, including Software Development, Business, and Social Media. While you can change these or add to them, they recommend that you stick to the defaults as much as possible. If you do work outside of these categories, you might find this frustrating, but for most people it should “just work.”
RescueTime has a good balance of working out of the box while also being flexible. For example, it might see spending time on Google as distracting, but I’m using Google to find relevant articles to link to while I’m writing. If you notice an issue in the way the app classifies your time, you can just correct it.
Bakari covered the finer points of RescueTime well, so I won’t be redundant. The ability to monitor your most and least productive times of the day, have the app automatically detect and keep track of which websites and apps are distracting or not, and set custom goals is pretty awesome. If you thought Motivate Clock was a bit lacking, RescueTime should satisfy all of your tracking needs.
There’s one last huge advantage of RescueTime — app integration. The service offers several services that can be hooked in, including IFTTT (which is already amazing for productivity), Slack, and Git. If you spend a lot of the day coding, linking GitHub or Git with RescueTime will let you keep track of your progress via commit history. Some integrations require a Pro account, so it’s an incentive to upgrade if you want to go all-in with this service.
Me: *opens computer to get work done*
Me: it'll take a second to start up *uses phone to waste the next several hours of time*
— Jenna Jorgensen (@jennaj67) February 25, 2016
Do throw RescueTime on your computer for a week and see where your time is really spent. If you want to get even crazier, you can download the app on other devices you use — Mac, Linux, Chrome OS, and Android are all supported. Every device on your account will be aggregated into your reports, so you can see how much time you actually spend on your smartphone, too.
Let’s Get Productive
After you’ve used either or both of these apps for a few days, you should have an idea of what programs kill your productivity. Now, take action: remove these apps from your taskbar or other conspicuous places so you’re less tempted to use them. Consider blocking some software from running at certain times of the day, and try using a different browser that doesn’t have any passwords saved or accounts logged in so you don’t waste time on social media when working.
I'm making an effort to get off the computer and not waste time on the internet at night.
Bye for now.
— Large Bear (@Gralgomar) February 5, 2016
These tracking apps can open your eyes to where your time goes, but only you can make a change to spend more time being productive! If you don’t feel like productivity apps work for you, know that you’re not alone and there are ways to stay productive without them.
Wasting time doesn’t end with your PC. Remember to steer clear of mobile apps that can waste your time, and know how track how much time you spend playing video games, too.
I want you to try one of these apps for a few days! After you’ve done it, do let me know where most of your time was spent? Tell me where you excel and struggle in the comments, and we’ll talk about it.
Image Credits:Using Laptop by Andy Dean Photography via Shutterstock