RescueTime Pro Tip: create an “email blackout” schedule

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about understanding your level of communication overload. Here is an easy way RescueTime Pro users can start to manage their time spent in email, instant message, etc…

Step one: Figure out a time of the day you’d like to minimize your communications.

One of the problems with ‘always-on’ mode for communications is it eats up your day in lots of tiny chunks. Many seemingly quick breaks to check email notifications add up. Not to mention the cognitive strain that comes with task-switching. A good, easy strategy for minimizing that time is to batch all your communications time into a few large chunks throughout the day. Then during the rest of the day, you are free to focus on other things.

So figure out a time you’d like to be free of communications. For this example, let’s start small with the hours of 1pm through 4pm, Monday through Friday.

Step two: Create an “Email Blackout” schedule.

In RescueTime, you can create filters for your time called schedules. It’s pretty self-explanatory. These allow you to see how you are spending your time for a specific period. In this case, we want to create a new schedule for the time period you’ve chosen in step one.

Go to and click the “Add a schedule” link at the bottom of the page.

Create a new schedule called “Email Blackout” (you can really name this whatever you like). Set the days for Mon-Friday, and the hours for 1pm to 4pm.

It should look something like this (click to zoom):

When you’re done, click “Save”.

Now, you can look at any of the time reports, and select the “Email Blackout” schedule from the date and time selector. Here’s my overview report, which shows the high-level categories my activities have fallen into.

You can see I’ve got some work to do since Communications is my top activity!

Step three: Set up an alert for when you aren’t sticking to your plan.

Now, you could just review the reports every so often to see how well you’re sticking to your communications blackout plan. But a much more effective tactic is to create an alert and let RescueTime keep track of it for you. You don’t have to think about it all the time, and you’ll get a little nudge when you aren’t keeping up with it.

To do that, set up an alert. Go to your alert settings page and create a new alert with the following values:

In this case, you are saying you want to be alerted when you’re spending more than a half-hour on communications activities during your communication blackout period. If you want to be stricter about it, you can set the number lower. Note: The alert will never fire if you set it to zero, but you can use a very small number like 0.01 hours.

Step four: Track your progress over time with a goal.

Finally, you can tell RescueTime to keep track of how well you met your goal over time by setting up a goal. Goals are very similar to alerts. You can set that up on your goal settings page.

Once a goal is set up, you’ll get a summary of how you are doing in your weekly email report. You can also track your progress on the website.

Note: we think we can handle goals much better than we currently are, and will be making some improvements to it over the coming months.

That’s it, you’re on your way to a saner work day!

Most of this method (the alerts and filtering your time by custom schedules) are available only to RescueTime Pro subscribers.

You can sign up for a RescueTime Pro account here.

If you’re an existing user on the free plan, you can upgrade here.