Expanding your app-titude

A monthly look at apps and websites that can make the CPA’s job and life better.
By Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Hi. My name is Greg, and I am a horrible time manager. There, I said it. And now I'm taking action.

I have turned to an app called RescueTime to track my time so I can better manage it. But why choose RescueTime from the dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of time-tracking apps available? Because this app runs in the background of your devices while relentlessly tracking, measuring, and categorizing your activities, and then brilliantly reports its findings. It measures. You manage.

RescueTime is a freemium model app with the premium upgrade providing more specific reporting and extra features. I chose the premium version because it offers offline time input. Both versions give you a reporting dashboard with your data evaluated, analyzed, organized, sliced, diced, sorted, and presented in myriad charts and graphs — all to help you manage your time (see a sample of one of my dashboards below).

Rescue Times screenshot

The app watches which windows have activity, and times the activity in those windows. You get 100% automatic tracking, which means your data are complete, correct, and useful. I was especially impressed that RescueTime doesn't add extraneous features such as billing. The app focuses purely on management. Note that the app is designed to track what you do, not who you do it for. It tracks which application you are using (such as Outlook or Word) but not what you are doing in that application. It tracks which webpages you visit, but you designate which ones are needed for your job and which ones aren't.

The Offline Time Tracking feature allows you to select a time period that is unlogged and fill in the blanks. That's very efficient for noncomputer time such as calls, meetings, or even off-site activities. And you can customize the buttons to make logging offline time easier.

RescueTime is quick and straightforward to install. It works by grabbing and combining data from all sources (PC, Mac, and Android — the company says an iPhone app will be released soon) and simultaneously pushing the data to the online dashboard. The premium version does immediate analysis while the free version takes a day before it's ready to access. The system automatically reports your time usage daily. You can deep-dive into the reports using filters and overlays to identify areas for improvement.

I found these reports absolutely fascinating initially and, eventually, as "measurement resulted in management" and some of my habits changed, I decided to opt to receive those reports weekly.

RescueTime has helped me measure my activities, and from there it's up to me to manage them. Focus is as much about what you don't do as it is about what you do. The most important part of time management is to focus on the right things — and that's 100% our responsibility. Sorry, there's not an app for that.

  • Website: Rescuetime.com
  • Cost: Freemium model; premium features with a monthly subscription — $9 per month/$72 per year.
  • Operating systems: Android, Windows, Macintosh (iOS version in development)

Greg LaFollette (greg.lafollette@hq.cpa.com) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs.

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