Can we talk for a minute about why email sucks so much?


Consider the following scenario: You’ve been working hard all day, feeling like you’re being productive, and you look up at the clock and see that it’s 5pm. A strange feeling washes over you, as you realize you have no clue how it got so late, and you can’t make sense of where your day went. It’s just an unexplainable 8-hour blur.

That feeling sucks. It sucks so badly, in fact, that it’s one of the reasons we built RescueTime, so we could understand what was actually going on with our days.

Have you ever had a day like that? If so, I’ll let you in on a secret…

If you’re like most people who spend their days at the computer, those days probably have a lot to do with email.

Email has become the glue that ties our workdays together. We can communicate with pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime. Interactions that used to require scheduling a face to face meeting or phone call can be handled asynchronously. All things considered, it’s pretty amazing. But, that ease of communication can create a deluge that can drag down your entire day if you’re not careful.

In the average 5-day work week, about a day and a half of it is spent on email

That’s right. Email takes up around 28% of the average desk worker’s day. This has borne out in several studies, and we’ve seen similar numbers across our user base. That’s just shy of two and a half hours in an eight hour day (or 11.2 hours per week) It may seem like a lot, but even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many factors that cause email to take a huge toll on our productivity, even if you have the best spam filters. Being aware of these can help you avoid falling into some serious productivity traps.

Three reasons email sucks

One: Switching tasks all day comes at a price


For many people, email is always on. It’s a ubiquitous layer on top of any other work that’s happening. Either there is a browser tab open with Gmail, or Outlook is running in the background, just to make sure nothing important gets missed. It’s pretty easy to think “it’ll just take a minute to respond to this email, that’s not hurting my productivity that much.” Besides, if you aren’t responsive, aren’t you dragging down other people’s productivity who may be waiting to hear back from you?

First of all, all those quick responses throughout the day add up. We tend to be really bad at estimating the sum total of time that it takes.

But it gets worse… that one minute it takes to respond is just the starting point. You then have to get back to what you were working on, and that’s surprisingly harder than it seems. That “re-focusing time” has been the subject of numerous studies, and has been shown to last anywhere from one to twenty-three minutes. Even more troubling, there are many tasks that are simply never returned to after dealing with the interruption.

Part of the reason for this refocusing lag may be that the way we use email forces our brains to work differently. The randomness of email, and our desire to be responsive, causes our brains to switch to a state of high-alert, continually on the lookout for new input. Most of that activity takes place in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is where our fight-or-flight response comes from. That’s different from how our brains tend to act when we’re in a state of flow or deep thought, with most of the activity occurring in the pre-frontal cortex. [source]

With that in mind, the cost of always-on communications starts to become more apparant.

Two: Email is always unfinished business

infinity-emailChances are, if you look at your job description, “managing your inbox” probably isn’t listed as one of your primary duties. But the problem with email is that it’s a never ending task. There are always new emails coming in, and when you respond to an email, it usually results in a response back. The cycle just keeps spinning. Since your inbox keeps filling up, it’s easy to let it occupy a permanent, growing space in your mind. As you work on other tasks (probably the ones that actually are on your job description), your inbox which may or may not be exploding with something important sticks around in your mental space, causing a huge distraction. I’ve often found myself mid-stream on a project, then unconsciously tabbing over to my email, sometimes several times a minute. It’s infuriating.

There’s a psychological explanation for this, called the Zeigarnik Effect, which summarized as:

“It seems to be human nature to finish what we start and, if it is not finished, we experience dissonance.”

Three: Email is a one-stop shop that’s full of distractions

wenger_giant_knifeI’ve heard email described as “a firehose that we have to drink from”, and it’s certainly ubiquitous. It’s become a hub for our entire work day. It’s a single place that we’ve organically grown to use for many different reasons. It’s for communicating with your colleagues. And your customers… And personal communications… And it’s your task list (“I’ll just leave this in my inbox so it’ll remind me to follow up”)… And it’s your knowledge base (“I’ll just email this to the group to spread the knowledge around”)… Sometimes it’s a file system (“I’ll need this file tonight at home, so I’ll just email it to myself”)… On top of all of that, it’s the default notification repository for pretty much any other system you might be using.

The number of use-cases you can shoehorn email into is impressive. There’s a certain elegance to it, too. It’s this single place that you can keep an eye on everything. The downside of that, is that every time you go into it, you have to contend with that “everything”, even if you’re only trying to focus on one specific thing.

Instead of a boutique shop, it’s a Wal-Mart.

So what to do about it?

Ok, ok, It’s real easy to opine about how much email is overwhelming and problematic. There are countless blog posts about it. I even spoke at a conference devoted to it last week. The trickier part is figuring out practical ways of dealing with it. In most cases, you generally can’t easily just stop using it. It would be really disruptive to your company, and unless you’re the CEO, you can’t really get away with being that weirdo that says “oh, don’t send me an email, I won’t read it.”

The bummer is, there’s not a single solution that works for everyone. That said, with a little trial and error, it’s easy to find some strategies that will work for you. Here are several ideas and resources to get you started.

Optimize your inbox to support good habits

If you use Gmail, here’s a way to set up your inbox that pretty much forces you out of the habit of letting things just pile up. If you read a message, it disappears unless you take action on it. I’ve been using this one for the past few weeks and it’s great.

Set up some metrics to monitor your inbox health

Here’s a look at how one knowledge worker visualized the state of his inbox to understand how it was getting out of control.

With RescueTime, you can see exactly how all that time adds up. Here’s a post explaining one of our communication reports that helps you understand your communications time.

If you want to get hardcore about it, use Beeminder to make a financial commitment to shrinking your inbox (and get some interesting stats along the way).

Turn off all your notifications

Many changes to your email use require cultivating a new habit, or getting used to a new piece of software. This tactic is great because it simply means turning a bunch of stuff off. Take 10 minutes to go through all your devices and turn off everything that beeps, buzzes, blinks, or bounces in your dock. I did this last year, and after a few days the difference it made was so great that I’ll never go back.

Shift your communications elsewhere

When I read Claire Burge’s recent article about funneling all her communications away from email to other systems, I was skeptical. I mean, pushing all your personal communications to Twitter or Facebook seems even worse, right? You’re moving your communications to a platform that has distraction baked directly into their business model! And isn’t having your business communications spread across five project management systems obviously much less efficient than having everything in a single place?

On the other hand, if you are going to Facebook to deal with personal communications, it doesn’t really matter that you’re getting distracted, because social interaction is the whole reason you went there in the first place. Similarly, when you go to Basecamp to interact with a customer, you’re in an environment that’s walled off from anything not related to that customer. Perhaps most interestingly, when you do this, you allow email to stop being this over-crowded place that constantly needs monitoring. Breaking it up into smaller silos, it forces you to treat communications as a set of distinct tasks, rather than a single monolith that won’t ever be finished, no matter how much effort you put in.

So try moving your personal communications to Facebook, or your work-related discussions to LinkedIn. If it’s practical, try to shift your project related discussions to a dedicated project management environment like Basecamp or Asana.

For more inspiration, here’s another account of a CEO’s journey into a world without e-mail.

Let the robots do the work for you

Boomerang gives you some power-user tools that let you offload some of the mental overhead of email. The company who makes it also makes Inbox Pause (which does exactly that, pauses your inbox until you’re ready for new messages), and the Email Game (a nifty little game which forces you to work through your inbox).

You can also use a service like or Sanebox to move all your bulk email to a single place, allowing you to focus on personalized communications while you’re in your inbox. AwayFind is another option, letting you set up smart notification alerts so you don’t have to worry about missing important emails.

That’s not an exhaustive list of tactics, but it’s a starting point. Here’s some further reading:

What do you think?

I’m curious what strategies you’ve found to cope with email overload. Have you found anything that seems to work particularly well? If so, let us know in the comments!

Weekly productivity links: the information overload edition

Next week, I’m speaking on a panel at Overloaded 2013 called “Can technology save us?”. We’re going to be discussing some of the ways technology can help to keep us from getting totally overwhelmed by our ever-expanding access to information. In preparing for the conference I’ve come across some interesting perspectives on how today’s abundance of information affects our lives. Here are some examples.

"Pictures tell a thousand data points" - source:

“Pictures tell a thousand data points” – source:

Matt Cutts: What I learned from time away from the internet and email

Matt Cutts is an engineer at Google, and he’s been doing a series of 30-day personal experiments. In his latest one, he takes a step back from email, social media, and news. He learned that he was able to get more things done, and still didn’t miss out on important information. He also made the observation that he can make his communications ‘scale’ better by responding to emailed questions in a different medium, such as with a public video or a blog post.

Seven Productivity Myths, Debunked by Science (and Common Sense)

In this post, Lifehacker breaks down several often-repeated ideas related to time management and productivity. Several of them relate to information overload, how do deal with it, and the scary things it may (or may not) be doing to our brains.

Why You Should Work From A Coffee Shop, Even When You Have An Office

The office itself can be one of the biggest sources of information overload, and sometimes the best thing to do is just get away from it. Office environments, even with awesome co-workers, usually mean a fairly steady stream of interruptions. Ducking out to a coffee shop for a few hours a couple times a week can give you some time away from the usual work-related distractions. And it may be just enough of a shake-up to help you bust out of normal work routines, like constantly checking email, and actually get some real focused work done.

How Productivity Tools Can Waste Your Time

It’s no surprise that there are a huge number of services, tools and methodologies for dealing with distractions and staying focused. The amount of information we have to swim through on a daily basis requires us to have some kind of system, right? This article in the Wall Street Journal examines the fact that no productivity system is for everyone and looks at some of the things you should think about when looking to adopt a new approach.

There’s also an interesting discussion going on at Lifehacker about this subject.

Information Overload’s 2,300-Year-Old History

It’s pretty easy to think of information overload as an entirely modern phenomenon. I mean, how overloaded could you possibly get before the internet started shooting you in the face with a never-ending firehose of news, status updates, and pictures of kittens? Turns out, it’s been an issue, in one form or another, for a good long while. Here’s a look at information overload from a historical perspective.

2013 Annual Letter from Bill Gates

With all the talk about how information overload is this big, complicated problem that needs to be fixed, it’s important to remember that information has opened the door to some pretty amazing things. Each year, Bill Gates publishes an annual letter, where he discusses his thoughts on issues the world should focus on for the coming year. This year, he’s focused on information. He makes a strong case for using measurement tools to make real, lasting, positive changes on many global issues. He provides some great examples of how having more information generally leads to better outcomes. He’s focused on large, world-changing issues, but I think some of the principles he talks about work equally well on a smaller scale, as shown by the QuantifiedSelf movement.

Doing beautiful things with self-tracking data

These days, there’s an mobile app or device for just about anything you might want to track about yourself. RescueTime can track your time on the computer. Fitbit lets you track how many steps you’re taking. Foursquare will track the places you’ve been. The list goes on and on.

Tracking that information can help you get in shape or stay productive, but it also can just look really, really cool. Data tells a story, and is fantastic subject matter for fine art and graphic design projects.

From The 2010/2011 Feltron Biennial Report

From The 2010/2011 Feltron Biennial Report

Nicholas Feltron is probably one of the most well-known designers doing projects like this. His gorgeous personal annual reports showcasing his obsessive-compulsive personal tracking have been making the rounds in design circles for years. They even inspired Facebook to create the Timeline.

Laurie Frick: Walking, week 42

Laurie Frick: Walking, week 42

Another artist doing some amazing work is Laurie Frick. She takes more of a fine-art approach to her Quantified Self explorations, which explore mood, temperature, weight, sleep patterns, heart-rate, and location data in a variety of media. Unlike the very polished corporate graphic design quality of Feltron’s personal reports, it’s not immediately apparent that Frick’s pieces are based on data. To me, that adds to their appeal. They work on their own as abstract pieces, but the underlying story told by the data makes them even more interesting.

Here’s a video of her discussing her process.

I’m noticing more and more examples of this type of data-driven approach to creative projects. Here’s an interactive annual report by Jehiah Czebotar showcasing several personal data points. And here’s a series based on GPS tracks. And yet another based on the location of the mouse over a period of hours or days.

So how can you use data in your creative projects? has several tutorials that are a great introduction to several of the technologies that you can use to create visualizations.

Six beautiful things you can do with your data, right now

In many cases, developing the creative and technical skill sets for your own projects isn’t necessary. Here are six services that will let you create a variety of great-looking visual pieces, just by plugging in your own data.

Notch: a way to visualize your health


Notch makes dynamic infographics based on your fitness data. You can connect it with your Fitbit, Runkeeper, or BodyMedia account. Once you’re connected, you can generate and share a number of beautiful visuals based on your activity levels.  Here’s one of mine.

LastGraph: Create a poster of your music listening history


I’ve been tracking my music listening habits with for the past several years. It’s great, because the data lets personalize my radio stations. But I can also make a really awesome chart of my listening history using LastGraph. Just enter your username and give it a few seconds to index your history. Then head over to the “posters” tab and you can generate a “stream graph” of your listening history for a given time period.

IOGraph: Abstract art from your cursor movements

This image was created while writing this post.

This image was created while writing this post.

IOGraph is a nifty little application that records your mouse position over time. Let it run for a while and watch a picture of your computer time build up. It makes for some pretty fantastic abstract compositions.

It’s fun, and you don’t have to have a pre-existing data set to play with. I created the image above while writing this post.

Meshu: 3D-printed jewelry from your geographic history

Meshu - Gallery

Meshu takes geographic information about you and uses it to make customized jewelry. For example, you can enter every city you’ve ever lived in, or connect it with your Foursquare account, and then it will generate a custom design for you based on the connections between those locations. The finished product is abstract, and won’t be recognizable as a map to others. In other words, a really good conversation piece.

Visually Create: custom infographics from your social media info


So you may not already have a pile of data laying around covering your fitness, sleep, music, or location histories. But you probably use social media, and the infographics directory has a bunch of different designs you can plug your social data into.

Vizify: Make a personal mini-site based on your data


Vizify lets you pull data from a bunch of different sources to create a series of graphics telling your life story. Works great as a resume, or just a way to let people quickly learn more about you.

I’m curious, are there any other services you’ve found that do interesting things with your personal data?

Weekly Productivity Links: The don’t get distracted edition


I’m having a hard time getting this blog post written today. You see, today is the first day of the NHL hockey season and I’m watching a game, checking Twitter, skimming blogs, and all manner of hockey fan nerdery. I’m glad the season is finally underway, but now I’ve got a lot to be distracted by.

Here are some posts about distractions, how they affect us, and how to manage them:

3-second distraction doubles work errors

That buzzing phone in your pocket may not seem like a huge distraction, but all those small nudges add up to a pretty big cognitive load. This study of 300 people showed that interruptions of no more than 3 seconds double the error rate on a series of cognitive tests. That’s about the time it takes to check your phone to see if that beep you just heard was a text message, Twitter mention, or an new email. That gets pretty scary when you think about all the critical jobs that people do under such conditions. Our advice, ditch the notifications.

This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day

Sometimes, however, distraction isn’t such a bad thing. It’s possible to “positively procrastinate”, at least according to some researchers. Generally speaking, procrastinators aren’t lazy, just distracted. In fact, one of the principles investigated is: “anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” If you accept that and stop trying to fight it, you can learn to play your tasks against each other and work on one meaningful task when you’re supposed to be working on another. Or, a quick hack to focus on your primary task is the “nothing alternative”, which only has two rules: 1. You don’t have to work on your task. 2. You’re not allowed to do anything else.

TED TALK – Paolo Cardini: Forget multitasking, try monotasking

It’s hard not to get distracted these days when there are so many different signals competing for our attention. This short TED talk by Paolo Cardini takes an interesting approach for blocking out distractions. Special phone covers that will downgrade your phone into “monotask” mode, where you can only perform a single function.

Transitioning Projects

One of the problems with distractions is the time it takes to get back on track once you return to your original task. It’s disorienting bouncing from one thing or another. This applies to small things, like bouncing back and for the between writing this post and watching the hockey game, or larger projects, like switching between long-term projects at work. Here are some ideas about how to smooth the transitions between projects to maintain a sense of flow.

Boost from Facebook may cut self-control (but boost self-esteem)

A study of more than 1,000 Facebook users showed that browsing Facebook negatively impacts self-control. Participants who spent time on Facebook where more likely to choose cookies over granola bars (yum!), and give up sooner on cognitive tests. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Somewhat buried in the headline was the observation that sharing content with your close social circle also boosts self-esteem.

How I Gave up Email and Reclaimed 3 Hours a Day

Email is one of the hardest distractions to deal with. It arrives randomly, you never know if it’s going to be important or not, and it’s the default way that everyone communicates. So it’s not like you can just cut it all out, right? Right? Apparently, you can. Here’s an account of one productivity specialist’s switch to a “No email” workstyle. Moving communications away from email and into more specialized applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, and and Basecamp initially seems like it could just make matters worse by increasing the number of places you have to go to keep up with incoming information. But it seems to work, and I think it’s an idea that could use a lot more examination, especially considering that email tends to take up around 30% of the average worker’s time.

Weekly productivity links, the new year’s resolution edition


Welcome to 2013 everyone! It’s the first week of the year, which means it’s the week that most of us set some shiny new productivity goals (many of which we will have completely abandoned by mid-February 🙂 ) It’s also the week when just about every blogger everywhere has something to say about setting and reaching those shiny new productivity goals. Here’s a collection of posts to help you refine your resolutions to be more sustainable, give you some good ideas if you’re still trying to decide what to focus on, or in some cases dissuade you from setting any goals at all this year. Enjoy!

The science of new year’s resolutions: Why 88% fail and how to make them work

The smart fellas over at Buffer get all science-y and explore why new year’s resolutions typically don’t work out. Once you’re armed with the knowledge about why our brains have a hard time keeping resolutions, you can start to re-frame your commitments into something that’s more likely to succeed. Some of the keys: keeping it simple, focusing on habits instead of aspirations, positive feedback, and social accountability.

Quantified New Year’s resolutions: Take an information-driven approach to lifestyle changes

We’ve been doing some thinking of our own about how to stick to your goals. In this post, we examine the use of self-tracking systems to create feedback loops that help you form habits and build up data points that will help you turn your efforts into a game.

New Year’s Resolution Tips for Busy People

It’s all well and good to set goals, even grandiose ones, but the keys to reaching them are focus and iteration. Both can be really difficult, especially given our increasingly busy lifestyles. Tackling your goals in small chunks, with reviews and deliberate next-steps in short cycles along the way.

New Years Resolutions: 11 ways to increase your productivity in 2013

Here’s a list of bite-sized resolutions for entrepreneurs or anyone else who wants to advance their career in 2013. Ideas range from keeping your inbox at zero to reading the Wall St. Journal every day, to pledging to stop bringing your computer to meetings. They’re all over the map, so pick and choose a couple that seem interesting to you and see if you can form some new productive habits.

Google Zeitgeist 2012

Google takes a nostalgic look back at the major events of 2012, but also takes a look to the future with this neat interactive map that let’s you view people’s new year’s resolutions from around the globe. Play around with it, get inspired, and add your own resolutions to the list. (hint hint, can you find RescueTime’s resolution on there?)

5 Reasons Your New Years Resolution is Destined to Fail

File under “resolution tough love”, LifeHack gives you five reasons your resolutions are likely to fail. Do you really care about what you’re committing to? Are you willing to make the necessary changes to put your self in a situation where you’re likely to succeed? Do a little soul-searching, then modify your goals as needed.

What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways

You know it’s coming. That day when you look up and say “that was a good run, but I totally failed at that resolution attempt”. Sometime’s our good intentions are much loftier than we can handle. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens. Read this article for some ideas on how to respond to a ‘resolution relapse’ and get back on track.

3 reasons to nix those New Year’s resolutions

David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame isn’t so fond of making new year’s resolutions. Here are three reasons why.

Consider Not Setting Goals in 2013

More exploration of the “goals are bad” idea. Instead of goals, just pick some areas that you’d like to focus on, and commit to working at them, without an explicitly defined end-goal. Chances are, you’ll get where you were wanting to go anyway, and you’ll give yourself the flexibility to make the proper adjustments along the way.

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and productive New Year!

New Year’s Resolution ideas for your workplace productivity

One reason New Year’s Resolutions are so hard is because they involve making time for a new activity in your daily routine. It’s difficult to find time to go to the gym or learn a new skill because you’ve already got a tight schedule. Since you’re likely already devoting at least 40 hours to work each week, why not take advantage of that time and make some resolutions to optimize your working time?

Here are a few ideas for New Year’s Resolutions that you might consider to boost your productivity:

Go on an email diet:

If you want to get more out of your day, one of the most straightforward things you can do is cut back on email. Unnecessary communications are one of the biggest time-wasters, and the saddest part is that many people feel powerless to do anything about it. There’s often constant pressure to keep managers and colleagues informed, and over-use of email, instant message, and other communication systems unfortunately becomes ingrained in many companies’ cultures. But, you can make some small tweaks to start taming the email monster.

Take a look at for some easy-to-remember rules that will help you reverse the email spiral.

Consider using a service like Sanebox or to clear some noise out of your inbox.

Take a look at some compelling health reasons for limiting your email intake.

Or, read an account of one CEO’s experiment with ditching email.

Switch to a standing desk:

More and more studies are confirming that sitting at your desk all day is really bad for your health.  An obvious solution, stop sitting. The problem is that most standing desks will set you back several hundred dollars. But many people have improvised and come up with some creative ways to hack together functional (and sometimes even pretty) standing desks. Will you be able to ditch the chair? Only one way to find out.

Take a look at this cheap, functional, and none-too-shabby-looking standing desk setup made from IKEA shelves.

There are many recaps of other people trying standing desk experiments. Read up on them for tips and things to watch out for.

Cut down on distractions:

Between email, Twitter, Facebook, and all the apps on your smartphone, you have about a million things vying for your attention each day. The problem is, each one of them takes you away from something you were already working on. Even if it’s just for a few seconds, switching back and getting into a state of flow can take several minutes. Even worse, over time all those bleeps and buzzes train you to always be on guard for new incoming information. Next time you are at a restaurant, do a quick scan and note how many people are looking at their phones, or have them on the table next to them so they can be ready for the next incoming notice.

Consider turning off all notifications. It will feel weird at first, but after a few days you’ll notice a pretty dramatic shift. I made the switch last year and I’ll never go back.

Or, consider taking steps to block out distracting web sites that you frequent. Here’s how some prominent authors block out distractionsHere’s a shell script to turn off websites you’d rather avoid. Or, you could always use RescueTime’s Get Focused! site blocking. 😉

What are your productivity-related New Year’s Resolution ideas?

p.s. If you’d like to keep track of your productivity for the new year, sign up for a RescueTime account today!

How I Saved 4 Hours Per Day Using RescueTime

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Maneesh Sethi, a RescueTime user, productivity hacker, and author of the blog He’s experimented with several creative ways to increase his productivity, and has decided to document the whole process as he goes so others can benefit from what he’s learned. If you’d like to follow along with his productivity experiments, you can sign up for his mailing list at

It’s not easy growing up in a culture of distraction.

You’ve noticed it—it’s never been harder than today to focus on one task at a time. As I sit in this cafe, writing this article, my phone is buzzing with Facebook notifications, Twitter mentions, and–oh, hey! my Klout score just increased!

Fifteen years ago, none of these distractions existed. If you wanted to waste time at home, your options were to read, eat, or maybe watch television—if anything was on. Now, it’s never been easier to spend a day (or a week, or even a year) doing absolutely nothing.

What do you do online every day? Where do you waste the most time? Everyone has a different answer, but most people honestly have no idea. RescueTime was invented to help people track their wasted hours and determine what they should stop doing. So, ask yourself now—“Where do you waste your time every day?”

Growing up in an Indian family, I’ve always been driven to be more productive, but I’ve never been able to succeed. Recently, I sat down with Tim Ferriss, the master of productivity, to talk about how to get more done—and I realized that I was having the same conversation I had when I was thirteen years old.

“I just feel like there is nothing I can do. I waste all my time chatting and browsing reddit. Imagine what I could do if I just learned to focus!”

“Remember man,” said Tim, “that you’re going to die. Do you want to want your time spent to have been wasted—or spent producing something? Focus on output.”

Small Changes That Cause Big Effects

I don’t want my life to be filled with unmemorable Skype chat and funny cat pictures. It’s a waste of living. So, I began to undertake a series of productivity experiments to determine what actually works—what small changes could I make to effect massive change. Over the past year or so, I’ve used RescueTime to measure the results of my online productivity. The results have been astounding.

I want to discuss a few experiments that I’ve done, and let you know that I’ll be conducting several more over the next few months. I’ll be revealing my stats, writing about what works and what doesn’t, and attempting to help others join the movement to improve their habits.

If you’re interested in following along, sign up over at

Hiring a Craigslist Slapper

I spend a lot of time online every week, and the majority of it is unproductive.

38% productive. That means that almost 19 hours of my time last week were wasted—disappeared, never to be seen again.

So, what could I do to fix this? I decided to outsource an authority figure and hire someone to watch over me, and if need be, hurt me.

I used Craigslist to hire a girl to sit next to me. Her job? Every time I used Facebook, she would slap me in the face.

Yes I know. I’m weird. And yes, she actually slapped me.

But the results were astounding. My average RescueTime productivity skyrocketed from 38% to 98%.

But not only did my productivity skyrocket—the quality of the work I did skyrocketed as well. Kara forced me to complete my first guest post, The Sex Scandal Technique. She also helped me push through an application for a secret project that I applied to—an application that won, out of hundreds of applicants.

It was certainly a funny experiment, but it also seemed to be relevant around the world—the HackTheSystem article I wrote about it ended up being featured in NPR, on ABC News, in the Telegraph, Venturebeat, and the front page of Yahoo. Clearly, the whole world recognizes the amount of time we waste using Facebook.

The Bet-Switch Mechanism — $50 For A Cookie

[Before we move on, I want to remind you—to follow along with future RescueTime experiments, please sign up at . I’ll help you improve your productivity—guaranteed.]

Another of my most successful experiments involved using competition to improve my productivity and my health.

I decided that I wanted to lose 10 lbs. So I made a rule—every time I ate something that wasn’t healthy—anything that wasn’t meat, vegetable, or eggs—I owed my friend $50 / item.

I wrote an article where I described what happened: The Bet Switch Mechanism: The One Simple Social Tactic That Will Get You In The Best Shape Of Your Life. The difference was astounding—instead of looking at food and saying ‘Oh, one chip won’t hurt,’  my mental processing was completely changed. I began to look at a bag of chips and say ‘I’m not paying $50 for that chip, no way!’

I’ve used the Bet Switch Mechanism to write guest post articles and articles on my own blog, too. My friend will give me a deadline for an article, and if I don’t write it, I owe her $500. In fact, I have a bet on the article I’m writing right now—if I don’t finish it today by 8pm, I owe Robby from RescueTime $50!

Betting allows you to make a competitive game out of a goal, and makes it much more fun to play.

You’re just one step away from skyrocketing your productivity

Over at my site, Hack the System, I talk about small hacks that can cause big changes. I’m really excited to announce that RescueTime and Hack the System are partnering to help readers become more productive.

If you head over to my site using this special link, you’ll be able to sign up for the Hack the System productivity challenge. I’ll be testing several experiments to see how they affect my productivity, and inviting you to join along.

I’ve also created a special gift for RescueTime readers, The Minimalist Guide to Hacking Your Habits. It’s my special gift—a worksheet that will help you identify exactly what’s holding you back, and how you can overcome your barriers.

Thanks a lot, and don’t forget to join in over at .