Three productivity hacks we learned by visualizing our work hours

For the past few years I’ve used RescueTime, an app that monitors which apps you use and rates you for how 'productively' you spend your computer time.

While the reports and graphs that RescueTime delivers are great, I’ve never gotten in the habit of regularly checking on them. However, I recently discovered that Zapier has an integration with RescueTime. This means that it’s simple to visualize RescueTime data using Reflect’s data visualization platform.

Plugging our productivity data into Reflect allowed my coworker Brad and I to visualize all sorts of patterns that we hadn’t previously noticed. Below are three of the most interesting things that Reflect, Zapier, and RescueTime showed us about ourselves and how we work.

Writing code is a fraction of our day

RescueTime lets you classify different activities in terms of how productive they are. Some activities are very productive, some are very unproductive, and others fall somewhere in between.

Clearly, as an engineer, writing code is a productive use of my time. But visualizing my RescueTime data made me realize how many of my non-coding activities are still productive. I didn’t realize how often I spend participating in Google Hangouts, writing emails, having Slack conversations, researching the latest React components, and helping customers via Intercom.

I think this is to be expected at early-stage companies, as everyone on our team wears multiple hats. It will be interesting to check back some time from now and see how our time spent writing code changes as our team grows.

Surprisingly, the data showed me that over time my team and I spent almost ⅓ of our hours logged on activities that weren’t coding related.

Productivity isn’t measured in total hours

It’s easy to think that by working more hours you’ll be more productive. But measuring productivity in terms of hours isn’t right. Productivity should be measured in terms of how productive the hours you spend working actually are.

It’s easy to see once we visualize it that our productive hours metric stays relatively static over time, no matter how the total number of hours changes. If you want to be more efficient, don’t work more hours. Instead, take better advantage of the hours you’re already working.

Taking breaks increases productivity

Sometimes it’s hard to justify taking breaks and spending time away from a computer. Without actually measuring the impact, it’s hard to tell how taking a break can actually affect your overall productivity.

We actually noticed that when we take breaks, our productivity immediately increases in the days after! For example, on 2016-04-08 we took the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, an island off the coast of Washington state. You’ll notice that the next few days were some of our most productive in recent history.

How it works

Even though my job consists of writing code, I didn’t have to write any code to visualize this data. I used four off-the-shelf tools to collect, transform, store and analyze this data.

At Reflect, we want to make it easy for anyone to visualize data like this. We invite you to sign up—you might be surprised by what your data shows you.

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