(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Give me a ballpark estimate: How much of your time is wasted every day on idle web browsing, social media, and other time sinks? If you said 25 percent, you'd be in agreement with a survey conducted by Salary.com. That's a huge chunk of time, and if you'd like to find ways to reign in your inefficiency, consider using software that tracks your online time automatically. After all: Knowledge is power.
RescueTime tracks the way you use your PC in fine detail and generates granular reports that you can use to assess, audit, and improve the use of your time.
If you've ever worked somewhere that has asked you to track time yourself -- such as for invoicing purposes -- you know that it's a system that's guaranteed to fail. Manual time tracking is highly error prone, after all. RescueTime, on the other hand, tracks everything automatically and silently. To use it, just visit the website and create a free account. Then install the desktop client, which immediately starts monitoring how you use your PC. RescueTime frequently sends this data to the a comprehensive dashboard view on the RescueTime website, where you can review graphical reports on how you use your PC.
RescueTime helps you see when you're on the web (and which web sites you frequent) versus when you're actually doing work in Word and Excel. That's great information to have, but you can do a lot more with the service as well -- you can download the data as a CSV file, for example, which you can use for real-world invoicing and time management duties. No more manual time tracking!
It's also highly configurable -- you can tell RescueTime to monitor your PC's usage 24/7, or just specific times of day. You get a basic array of features for free, but you can step up to the pro version for $9/month. The basic service, for example, will tell you that you were working on four business documents for 3 hours, while the Pro subscription lets you see exactly which documents you were working on, and how long for each. There's also a team edition which lets you access this kind of data across multiple seats, to monitor how an entire team is performing.
If you are actively looking to improve your productivity and you're looking for ways to understand where you time is going, RescueTime is an excellent resource.