A handy weapon in the war on procrastination

Confronting any writing task is a recipe for procrastination. After all, most writing requires some level of research, and that means jumping on to the internet – and while you're there you might as well check Facebook, and quickly find out when that new movie is showing, and what's news in the football draft, and...

Then there is the challenge of staying focused on a difficult writing task. The challenged mind starts to wander off, body in tow, to greener pastures – a quick coffee, walk around the block or even, in a home office, a load of washing.

Is it any wonder you can get to the end of the week and wonder where the time went and why you don't have much to show for it?

Information is power

For me, one of the front line weapons in the war on procrastination is information. Knowing how much time I've already spent on distracting activities can keep me focused, as can aiming for a targeted amount of productive work in a day. However, the problem with keeping track of your time can in itself be a form of procrastination.

That's where RescueTime comes in for me.

RescueTime is a behind-the-scenes activity tracking tool. Using a small application that sits on your computer, along with your internet connection, it tracks how much time you spend on your various software applications and websites. By classifying apps and sites on a scale from 'very distracting' to 'very productive', you can get an honest summary of how focused you were on any day, week or month. (Warning: this can be confronting.) As an extra incentive it compares your productivity against that of the aggregated RescueTime population.

The best thing about this tool is that after an initial setup it is genuinely 'set and forget'. As long as the local client is running, I don't need to do anything to track my use of computer time. The tool does it all for me, right down to the last second.

For me this works well because I spend almost all my working time at my computer. When I step away from the machine and return, a box pops up and asks me to tell it what I've been up to. If I want to, I can go into the website and report on 'away' time in more detail.

Keeping yourself honest

RescueTime allows you to set targets for yourself, which appeals to my self-competitive nature. So, for instance, I have a target for productive time in the morning and for the day as a whole. If I fall short in the morning, I'll tend to put in a bigger effort in the afternoon to catch up. I also have a target for maximum time spent on distracting activities.

I suspect RescueTime works best with certain personalities. It does for me, but then I am a bit of a numbers nerd. On the other hand, even if you only use it to track how much time you're spending on social media there could be something in it for you – and you can do that for free. (The paid 'Premium' service is $72 a year. It has a number of features I haven't mentioned here.)

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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