The Asset of Time (Hacking)

I can’t remember where I picked up what I’m about to share. Maybe it was something I heard or a study I read. The source for its origin I could not even begin to tell you. I don’t even know if it’s true. Tell me what you think.

It went something like this…

Do you know what one of the best methods for deterring speed is when you’re behind the wheel of a car?

It’s not the speed limit signs. It is also not tickets. Nope. It’s the feedback sign posted right next to that speed limit sign which reflects your current speed.

You’ve seen them. You’ve, maybe, probably slowed down if you were going too fast – that is, if this story is true. I don’t know about you, but I do slow down. Not always, but enough to be aware that feedback is, in fact, altering my behavior. 

The point of that story is this. Punishment is not the best deterrent. Your own personal regulation is. When you see what you are doing and identify it’s “wrong,” or sub-optimal, you’ll more often than not make the more informed, logical, better choice when provided that feedback.  Results may vary.

Now, here in the real world, at 44 years old, I’m realizing now more than ever how precious the asset of time is. The feedback mechanism of mortality is making yours truly much more aware of time. The days are long, and I see now, the years are short indeed.

Even though Albert Einstein said, “Time is an illusion,” he also said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” And, the reality is, you and me, we’re allocated a lot of our time to a screen. How much time? Well, let’s dig in, you time bandit, you.

The 2016 US average for screen-time among Americans was ten hours per day. I’m pretty sure it’s not less in 2018. I’m also not mad. I just happen to look at that number with a new awareness that those ten hours are a 60% allocation of your “woke” hours in time’s portfolio.

To be clear, I don’t think allocating ten hours a day to screens is necessarily a bad thing. The innovation, talent, and creativity that lives on the internet – it’s astonishing. And, for the first time, obviously ever, children around the world are growing up in a computerized world. Google it. The new reality, too, is that Google already knows almost everything about you that I’m going to teach you how to wrangle — your data.

What Google Sees: Exhibit A

Candidly, it’s time you get with the program and that’s quite literally what solved a big problem with my time invested on the screen — a program called RescueTime. With it, I’ve learned how to hack life’s most precious commodity – time. Or, at least how to be more self-aware, thereby making my investment in time spent, time spent well.

As it turns out, maybe the best deterrent for making “bad” decisions with your screen time is this simple feedback mechanism…


Know Thyself

RescueTime is something you probably already heard of if you’re a tech nerd. If you do, good for you. I hope it’s working for you too. For the rest of us time-bound mortals, RescueTime tracks your computer time — your screen time.

Steve Jobs, 1967

As Steve Jobs famously coined, computers are, indeed, a “bicycle for the mind.”

Now, don’t call what I’m about offer “advice.” I don’t give advice on the blog. Instead, let’s say this is simply me offering a potential insight…

Maybe we should look at how you’re spending your time on your bicycle.

I can tell you when I looked at my investment on the screen through the RescueTime lens, I learned a lot. I slowly, then suddenly, have much more “time” now, even though I don’t. We all get the same amount of hours.

To be clear, I’m not a productivity god. I’m working on it. I’ve been using this method since November of last year. And in that time all I can tell you is, it’s been a game changer for me these last three quarters. I’m simply here to share how this hack works, and what it did for me. And, I hope you’ll agree that it’s pretty cool.


This is RescueTime.

You have a daily dashboard. This dashboard reports your computing time. Most likely, that means your laptop & desktops unless you’re an Android user, then Google is ready to share all of your personal information with RescueTime as well.

Apple fans, you won’t be able to sync your mobile time into RescueTime, but now you have ScreenTime in your mobile device settings to start tracking and modifying your behavior on your Apple devices too. That being said, your phone and iPad time is a whole other conversation, and we’re not here for that. Another time, another post.

So, today, let’s review our computing screen time. This dashboard is showing us what I did on my computers. This was me today. I was 78% productive. Not my best work. 10% of my time was unproductive – on the news and social networks.

I’m not mad about this particular day. I allocated that time mindfully because I know the recent volatility in the market is probably pulling my clients onto the news too. The news isn’t our problem, but if it’s yours, this program is going to help. You’ll be able to see your daily, weekly, monthly, and eventually yearly trends. You’ll also not only be able to see your time spent but also be able to set goals and quiet your distracted time.


This is how it works.

It’s pretty simple. You download the software onto each of your computers. Parent’s you can also load it onto your kid’s computer (I am this weekend). That’s the easy part. Now, here’s the hard part. Trust.

click to embiggen

You have to trust that the information you’re about to share is what you want to share. All I’m offering you is the truth, nothing more.

I am trusting RescueTime with my data. RescueTime has the potential to see quite a bit about you. Fortunately, they do respect and protect your privacy. And, whether you like it or not, I can assure you other companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon already have most of your data and are using it to monetize and influence you with their feedback mechanism.

That being said, when you download this software it’s tracking pretty much your every move, which for some is probably a little too “big brother.” I get it. As I said, this is the hard part… trust. You are able to block what it tracks and set other limits too, like when. You can also exclude items from being tracked. Fun fact: 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related. So, *clears throat* you can set limits and track as much, or as little, as is useful for you. Maybe someday I’ll regret my decision, but I clicked yes.

The hard part isn’t just about trusting RescueTime though. It’s also about trusting if you’re ready to see your truth. Are you ready to trust yourself to make the changes you don’t like?

If you are ready, here’s what you’re going to see…


This is Spotlight.

Spotlight is also on your dashboard and lets you dive into the details. Let’s review.

I invested 5 hours on my computer at work today and 1.7 hours of that time was spent on email. The average person spends 4.1 hours per day. Email isn’t evil, but, by design, I spend no more than two hours a day on email so I can use those two extra hours on other more productive efforts.

The bigger point is, wouldn’t it be nice to know how much time you’re spending on the email machine? I know it was for me. The beauty of Spotlight is it tracks your activity during work hours and during off-hours too.

Outside of work, I’ve been on a computer for an hour at the time of this snapshot. I can assure you I will devote another seven hours of my time to the computer gods.

Now, the hour I’ve spent after-hours is still actually pretty focused. And will remain as such because I have work to do. I will not be on Facebook. Not on YouTube. Or Twitter. I will not be shopping. Not that any of those things are bad. I have my days. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. For me, though, those are not my goals today. Whatever your goals are, this is how you build them.


This is Your Goals For This Day.

These are my daily goals: spend less than two hours a day on email, less than an hour a day on distracting things, make sure I’m productive on my “bicycle” for at least four hours a day.

RescueTime automatically categorizes everything it can, and lets you re-categorize things if it gets it wrong.

That being said, this exercise is about taking a long hard look at yourself and seeing your trends. As you can see by the very elementary goals I’ve set for myself, today was a pretty good day.

The next day, I was 82% effective. I’d spent 20 minutes less time on distracted matters. Or, put another way, an extra hour every 3 days, another 2 hours every week — or 4 days every year. As you can see, the minutes add up.

I achieved this focus by simply blocking off my access to distracting sites using a setting called FocusTime, which blocks all my distracted access for the period of time I want to focus.

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” -Warren Buffett

One of the biggest gifts of this exercise for me has been seeing the sum total. I’m much more mindful of the minutes now. Those distracted minutes over the last year have added up to over a week of my time. I found that really disturbing. I’m making changes because that’s simply not acceptable to me anymore.

Your trend is really nothing more than the culmination of decisions, or habits. Morgan Housel shared his wisdom recently about the power of showing up. He said, “It’s better to be good consistently, than occasionally great.”

When I started this exercise, I was less productive and inconsistent – it’s just that simple. I was occasionally great.

Today, while I still have work to do on my distracted time, my focus went from less productive time to very productive time simply by being more consistent. As a result, I am doing much more with the same amount of time. 

Now, I can’t promise you results. The journey is yours and the work is up to you. But, I can tell you, that this simple feedback method has worked wonders for me. Maybe it will for you too.

Add RescueTime your toolbox today.

➤ Thank you for reading. You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

What I’m currently consuming:

The Behavioral Investor – Dr. Daniel Crosby

One of my favorite Steve Jobs stories:

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