One tool for Quantity Surveyors to record your work log and measure your productivity


In this entry, I am going to talk about a useful tool that helps me log what I do, in detail, for record, productivity and proof of work. The tool is called Rescuetime, and it helps you log your time effortlessly so that you can measure your productivity. I have been using it for a couple of years now, and I have not seen an alternative tool. I use the premium version, but you can get away with just the free one. I have my reasons to go premium, and I’ll explain why in the entry.

Before the tool, I use to log my to-do list on excel and word, which took a couple of minutes every time I started a new task. This helped me identify where I was wasting time and measuring what I need to cut out and concentrate in.

Throughout this entry I’ll add in a few of my tips on productivity and focus. This entry started off as a discussion from one of my colleagues the other day when I had a presentation power point and a popup came across my screen asking me what I did away from my desk (‘offline time’). The popup was Rescuetime; it was trying to log my work activity away from my computer. This helped me track how much time I spent away from my computer and as well as the breaks I took.

Side note:
While I am writing this article I am at the hub hotel by premier in having a nice cup of Yerba Maté. I usually get most of my studies done in a hotel lounge, as it is quiet, you get free Wi-Fi and nice concierge who can take a look at your bag when you’re away.
BTW Anyone interesting in cognitive, high caffeine drinks; I’d recommend getting some Yerba Mate´ tea bags from Holland and barrettes. So far it tastes good, and it is much better than green tea as it has some nice taste like the English breakfast tea we get in the morning.

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Why do I use Rescuetime?

The number 1 reason I use this is so that I can demonstrate to my employers what I have been doing on a daily basis. This saves me from getting sacked or questioned on my productivity. The records logged are contemporaneous and can save you from these issues.
For example: Some time ago I was questioned as to what I did on a daily basis. It originated by the upper management; they were concern on the output of the commercial team on the project. Luckily when questioned I had a record that I could use to demonstrate. I pulled it out in a few minutes and showed it to the commercial manager. However, my colleague could not do that and was let go a few months after this issue was queried. Of course, this can happen to anyone, and if you can demonstrate what you did verbally you’ll be fine but I just had it handy for him or her to view in detail.

The 2nd reason I use it is so that I can measure my time and see where I can improve myself. I use it to improve my productivity at work and focus. (See this footnote on things I use to improve focus and energy throughout the day.)

For example there was a time I would be spending 3–5 hours a day on outlook going through email and I was not getting much done. I wasn’t aware of this until I started seeing the trend on Rescuetime. I then reduced the amount of time I spend on outlook and got it to around less than 1 hour a day. I go through my emails in the morning, before lunch, after lunch and around 3pm. Over time I developed a habit of categorising and prioritising the emails and sending it to Trello (but that’s another article I’ll have to cover)

What is Rescuetime?

Rescue time is a tool that “gives you an accurate picture of how you spend your time to help you become more productive every day”.

How do I get Rescuetime?

You can get Rescuetime installed on your Mac or PC for free by going to Rescuetime’s website and registering for an account and downloading the software.

Once you have it installed, you’ll be prompted to log in. Some businesses will not let you connect to their server so you’ll have to get your IT guys to install them. If they are nice and understand what you’re doing they’ll get it installed with all the settings. I believe you don’t need administrative permission to install the software, which is great. I track both my work and my home laptop.

Where the IT guys cannot help me out I normally have to connect my work laptop on a public Wi-Fi, my phone’s hotspot or my home’s wife to get it to update the Rescuetime server. If you don’t know how to do any of these, you could always ask someone who is versed in computing to help you install the software.

How do I use it?

Once install you just have to leave it running the background, and it logs the file that you use. There is an option in the settings of Rescuetime to run every time you switch your computer on.

Rescuetime logs the files/software you use and how long you spend on them. It then categorises the time spent as very productive, productive, neutral, distracting or very distracting. To change if something is productive or not you just need to log in on the Rescuetime dashboard and click on one of the activities on the bar chart and click edit activity. There you can change it to what you want.

Select the activity on Rescuetime
Select the activity on Rescuetime
Edit the activity to assign the productivity level
Edit the activity to assign the productivity level

I have moved excel, word into the very productive group and outlook in neutral as I don’t get much done on outlook. I just see it as a communication tool that gives me more work to do.

Side note: If you want to refine the information you are logging you’ll want to get the premium version. With the premium version I can see exactly how much time and when I’ve spent time on a particular document. You can get the premium version of Rescuetime here.

What happens when you’re not at your desk

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Whenever you leave your laptop idle, it will prompt you with a little box asking you to log your ‘offline time’ what you can do is setup productive or unproductive time.

I have categorised mine by clicking the ‘change offline time settings’ on the popup to have useful categories.

My categories are:

  • Meeting
  • Phone call
  • Other work (I log this one as unproductive and this is where I log my lunch time)
  • Manual work (I log my time going through records, taking off, measurement, etc. against this productive category.)

The reason I categorise these is so that I can log the productive and also demonstrate where asked what I did in detail on a specific day.


What do I do with the information?

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Well if you are only seeking to record your time, you have to do nothing but to let the software log. But if you want to be smart and efficient about your time I would start going through my records on Rescuetime to see where my time is spent.
The general principle of measuring productivity is the following:

  1. Identify where you spend most of your time
  2. Investigate as to why you’re spending so much time on these activities. (Create an assumption)
  3. Try to figure a way to reduce that activity by 1/2 (the theorised solution)
  4. Limit your time by half to implement the solution (the implementation of the solution)
  5. Measure and analyse – if were able to achieve the outcome with the new limited time then don’t change! If you overran your time limit by a little, don’t bat yourself about it. But if the new solution has not reduced the original time you spend then you need to re-evaluate the reason where you are failing. (The pivot or continue with the new solution)
  6. Rinse and repeat (repetition is key to efficiency)

To get some ideas on being slightly more efficient try reading the 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss.

What I normally do with the information is identify where I am spending most of my time and see if I can batch this activity into one. For example, I batch read all my emails in the morning and switch it off and check it at 11 am. This keeps me from being distracted with the outlook notifications and to prioritise my work.
It is best you get one thing done rather than doing too many things at once. Some times it does happen because you are under pressure and everything seems out of control. You can never be 100% productive, there will be the days where you will not have the energy to get things done or just other factors affecting your planned works. There is little you can do on those days, and as QS we just have to adapt with the day to day.

You can get more information of the features on Rescuetime. If you’re still lost just comment on this page and I’ll try to help out where I can.

Footnote 1: productive stuff

I normally affect my focus by both internal and external stimulant. (Warning: I am not an expert or claim to be, you should consult a doctor or nutritionist who can advise you better on the following before you try it.)

  • Drink water regularly – We don’t consume enough water to allow chemical reaction to happen at its most efficient capacity
  • Ginkgo Bilbao – increase oxygen intake to the brain
  • Goat’s milk – has good fats that are easily absorbed by the brain
  • Yerba Mate – something new I am trying at the moment, this has a lot more benefit than green tea without the caffeine jittering effect.
  • Omega 3,6,9 – helps with brain function and immune system, take the recommended dose and proportion.
  • B12 – just good to keep overall energy
  • CoQ10 – helps release energy from food and balance my energy throughout the day. Quite expensive but works.
  • Binaural tone – the only external stimulant I use. It is white noise, the first few times you use it you will get a headache. I use Mind wave. I use 10min of clean slate, then continuous use of the focus sound. Even if you don’t believe in binaural tones, it helps you tune away from the noisy site office.

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Photo by Wiertz Sébastien

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