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Do you often ask yourself where the time went? In the computer age, it’s not easy to account for those lost minutes from the previous day. That’s why, “We built RescueTime for ourselves. We were tired of trying to answer that question, ‘What did I do yesterday?’” says Joe Hruska, founder and CEO of the time management and productivity tracking software.

Image“We knew more and more people were spending a majority of their day in front of a computer, so we wanted to build a tool that would take advantage of technology to help those people understand exactly what they did when they were at the computer,” he says. “Just like a monthly bank statement can reveal potentially bad spending behaviors, RescueTime gives people a detailed, second-by-second accounting of where they spend their time on their computers and many other devices.”

As Hruska and his two other co-founders developed an initial alpha version of RescueTime for themselves, they launched a public signup page. Just based on a screenshot and their description, RescueTime collected more than 2,000 email addresses in less than a month of people wanting access to their early beta.

“We were featured on TechCrunch in May 2007 even before we launched our beta. It was shortly after that point that we decided to quit our day jobs and focus on building RescueTime as a real business,” says Hruska, who was the president of a 20+ person IT consulting company in Anchorage, Alaska.

“For an IT consulting company, you live and die by the billable hour, and getting accurate billing information was a constant battle,” Hruska says. “Forcing employees to fill in time sheets at the end of a day and do custom project reports added a lot of overhead and stress. For me, RescueTime was a way to automate a lot of effort and give people a tool that would let them look back at any time period and quickly see what they were doing, with no data entry.”

RescueTime is developed specifically to be lightweight, unobtrusive, and to provide the maximum amount of feedback with as minimal amount of distraction. It does have interactive features, but they can be disabled or muted to allow each user to decide how they want to use RescueTime. 

Since founding RescueTime in April 2007, Hruska’s two co-founders have moved on to pursue other startup ventures but continue to be trusted advisors. “We've heard some great feedback in the last five+ years, and the one that still makes me a bit emotional is hearing from a father who was able to spend more time with his kids each week because of what he learned by using RescueTime,” Hruska says. “If RescueTime helped him get four more hours a week with his family over a period of a year, that guy potentially gained a whole work week of time that would have otherwise been spent away from his family.”  

“On average, we see people spend four hours a week less on distracting activities and boost their overall productivity,” says Hruska. “That doesn't mean that people are working four hours more a week, it means that they now have a choice on how they want to use those extra four hours.”

For companies, RescueTime promotes that same self-understanding for the individuals within a company, while giving a higher-level overview for management to see how a team is functioning in the aggregate. It also shows why we’re unproductive, as this RescueTime blog post shows.

Fortunately, goal setting is built in with the ability for the system to send alerts based on excessive use or improved use defined by the user. Users are also able to compare their time management skills with others, block distracting sites, track time spent away from the computer, and get custom reports and email summaries.

Image“We've had organizations use RescueTime to help them save money on software licensing by being able to tell how many people actually use specific software packages,” says Hruska. “One of our very first business customers was able to use RescueTime to show management that specific people were as productive or even more productive when working at home.” 

Come September, RescueTime will be announcing the single largest change since its launch as well as some exciting news for mobile device users. “Our goal is to make it easier for our users to get value out of the data that they are collecting about themselves,” Hruska says. “The way that we present analytics on our website will be more narrative and easier for the typical user. We will still have all of the second-by-second data for those people that want all of the nitty-gritty details, but with a much friendlier interface that will support a broader range of devices.”

Social Startups is a weekly Social Media Today column written by Shay Moser about the newest and most innovative social companies. Look for the next installment next Wednesday morning. Logos by Jesse Wells.