This post comes from the wonderful Fritz Siregar, a PhD student from Indonesia who has been studying at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. Besides being a regular at ‘Shut up and Write’ meet ups, Fritz can boast that he is nearly finished his PhD in Law on the Indonesian Constitutional Court. Of course we wish him a speedy completion – but we will miss him when he’s done and gone home! Read here how Fritz got to be so productive…

One of our challenges as Ph.D. students is to determine whether or not our days are productive. In my case there are many occasions when, at the end of the day, I wonder where all my time has gone. From participating in two “avoiding procrastination” workshops I know it’s not just me: many people have this problem! These workshops told me that we must chunk our daily list into reading, writing, editing, researching and I learned that productivity shall decline if we do one activity for more than 2 hours continuously.  I also attended a writing skills workshop where I learned that writing in “snacking style” is more productive. It is much better to allocate a specific 2 hours per day to writing rather than scheduling 5 hours per day.

Upon considering those two insights, I tried to quantify my day to maximize my productivity. I decided to make a target of “250 words” per day. So, if I successfully wrote 250 words, I would stop writing and do something else (read, edit, social media, reading news). However, if you are a research student, you might understand that writing 250 solid words into your Ph.D. dissertation is not easy to do: it requires combining referencing, checking your research and resisting the temptation to read other articles. Many days I failed to achieve this target so I changed my plan to write “whatever 500 words”. At the writing skills workshop, I learned that we must set a specific time to write, allowing the mind to flow and letting the brain write as much as possible. I can then use that “500 words” for a blog, dissertation, or another report that I need to prepare. The idea to quantify my writing output is the foundation for using the application RescueTime.

I installed the app RescueTime after reading a review on the net (I was probably procrastinating!). I used the free version for almost a year and kept using it until today. RescueTime is an app that you need to install to your computer. It has free PC and Mac versions. I used MacAir, so I did not have to bother with the university’s strict security regarding installation of new apps. If you use a PC-based or campus computer, you may need IT Security approval to install it.

RescueTime provides a report about how you use your computer. In the background, the app calculates how much time you are working with certain applications. Then it reports this through a dashboard in which you can see your Score and Reports.

RescueTime also allows you to set your Writing Goals for the day. In my case, I try to write 2 hours per day. I can assure you that it is not easy to do (the counting starts when you start to type; when you stop typing, the system also stops counting). In RescueTime you can set the level of information that you want RescueTime to collect, for example, whether the monitor will collect all data from all websites or only domains that you specify. I let RescueTime collect all data without restriction. This means that RescueTime will let me know how much time I spent in shopping websites (eBay, Amazon) or social media.

RescueTime also offers a paid version for approximately $72AUS per year. With the paid version you can access more features, such as blocking programs that you do not want to access, recording break time or receiving more detailed feedback on your activity. But I am already satisfied with the free version.

Here is a screen shot of the kind of report that I get. On one of my great days RescueTime will make high score compared to my daily writing target:

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RescueTime will let me know which apps that I  used often.

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However, in my not-so-productive days, when I spend much time procrastinating or on other distractions, RescueTime gives me a low score.

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It seems that I used more time on distracting activities!

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And I did not meet my writing goal, even though I spent more time on my computer!

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After using RescueTime for almost a year, I have made some modifications in my writing behaviour. First, RescueTime confirmed what I already knew; that is, from 12 PM – 3 PM is not my productive period. I waste most of that time on distractions such as social media or reading the news. I now schedule other activities for that time period. Second, the app let me know not only how much time I have wasted, but also what I’ve been doing while distracted – and this ‘soft punishment’ feedback helps me force myself to go back to work later in the day.

RescueTime stresses their information collecting activities, stating:

Rescuetime will record information about the currently active application or website on your computer. We record the following information: application name, web site URL, window title, start time of use, end time of use, OS username, and computer machine name. We do not (and never will) collect keystrokes, form input, screenshots, or anything nefarious.

However, if you feel insecure in this regard, perhaps you might be better not to install it on your computer. Luckily this isn’t an issue for me – I’ve found RescueTime enormously beneficial for writing my PhD

On a productive day with a higher score, I can go home with head high knowing that I have had a busy day writing. RescueTime will not tell me whether I’ve been working on my dissertation, but for sure it helps me make each day more productive than the last. If you want to consider using this application, you can download it from this link: https://www.rescuetime.com/ref/946936. (Disclaimer: if you do download from this link – I get to try RescueTime Pro for a week!)