Time Tracking: RescueTime Vs Toggl Track


In this article, I compare time tracking apps RescueTime and Toggl Track because I’m trying to improve my ability to keep to my plans and to minimise distractions.

When RescueTime is compared with Toggl Track, RescueTime has a clear focus on tracking and making effective one’s time spent on electronic devices while Toggle Track is more for the tracking of one’s time spent on various projects that may go beyond the use of electronic devices.

To help you spend less time on your devices, you can set goals with RescueTime. To help you increase quality time spent to further your projects, Toggl Track has many in built project management functions as we’ll explore next.

How RescueTime And Toggl Track Tracks Time

Both RescueTime and Toggl Track aims to help you improve your productivity but in 2 different domains.

As we discuss the different domains of the 2 apps, you can keep them in mind to inform your decision on which time tracker app you might want to go with.

Screenshot of what you are greeted with on RescueTime on a phone.

When I use RescueTime, I felt that the outcome that its creators had in mind was literally to “rescue” the time that we spend on our electronic devices so that we can invest them in things that are more important.

For one, with RescueTime, the app is able to track how many times you’ve picked up your phone, and how long you’ve used your phone every day very accurately.

The app tracks your electronic device using all the time whereas Toggl Track only tracks the time when you start/stop its timer.

Screenshot of how RescueTime tracks where you’re using your device

Another interesting feature of RescueTime is how it tracks where you’re using your device.

So as you can see, RescueTime tracks how many times, how long and where you’re using your devices.

These data points can become essential when coming up with an effective strategy for healthier habits around electronic devices.

This can be seen in how RescueTime allows you to create goals regarding time spent on your devices.

You can set goals less than or more than a set amount of time per day for productive time, desktop time, mobile time and more.

When I use Toggl Track, I felt that the outcome that its creators were trying to achieve was to help make project execution more efficient, through the accurate tracking of time spent on various projects.

Unlike RescueTime where time is tracked all the time, on Toggl Track, time tracked has to be started by you manually.

Screenshot of what you are greeted with on Toogl Track on a phone.

Although you must manually dictate to the app when you want it to start/stop tracking time, it is easy to do so with the bright pink “track” button.

The moment you tap on it, the time tracking starts and doesn’t stop even if you’ve exited the app.

You can input your task/project details after you’ve finished tracking time spent.

On Toggl Track, because time tracking is always tied to a project, its time tracking applications can easily extend to projects that may not require the use of any electronic devices.

Some projects I can think of that can make use of Toggl Track’s time tracking capabilities that may not require the use of any electronic devices include planning for a vacation, designing a home, completing homework etc.

Beyond personal productivity, Toggl Track also has business applications.

On Toggl Track’s premium version, you can include billable hours based on time tracked for tasks/projects.

Overall, when RescueTime and Toggl Track is compared between one another you can see that:

  1. RescueTime is specifically for device usage tracking while Toggl Track cannot track device usage.
  2. RescueTime cannot accurately track time spent on specific/custom tasks but Toggl Track is specifically built for that.

Now, knowing how both apps work in the general sense, it’s probably also important to know which platforms are both apps available on.

What Platforms Are RescueTime & Toggl Track Available On?

RescueTime is available on Windows, macOS and Linux on desktop and is available on Android and iOS on the mobile platforms.

Beyond the desktop and mobile platforms, there are also additional plugins you may on to install on Firefox, Google Chrome, Google/Outlook, Slack and Zapier.

Similarly, Toggl Track is available on Windows, macOS and Linux and is available on Android and iOS on the mobile platforms.

If you own a mobile/desktop device, chances are, RescueTime and Toggl Track support the platform you’re on.

So all that’s left to do is to understand how you can maximise the use of both apps to improve your productivity.

What You Can Expect On RescueTime & Toggl Track (Free) + Maximising Them

On the free version of RescueTime, I’ve found that the way that you use the app will be relatively passive.

All you need to do is to keep your app open on your phone, and it can track the number of times you’ve picked up and duration you’ve used your phone throughout the day.

It can also help you to set goals regarding the time spent on your device.

Screenshot of how RescueTime’s free version doesn’t seem able to track desktop time

So far with using the free version of RescueTime, although I’ve installed the app on my Macbook, I’ve found that it doesn’t track how I’m spending time on the laptop.

That’s fine for me because the laptop is not a major distraction for me.

If the tracking of desktop time is a must-have feature for you, then you may want to test it out yourself to see if the free version of RescueTime can track your desktop time.

RescueTime comes with a default 2 weeks trial of their premium version anyway.

Screenshot of RescueTime desktop web app device time tracked

On the free version of RescueTime, the time usage data available is also limited.

In fact, you will only be able to see when you’ve used your phone and for how long.

I think this limitation is due to privacy restriction on iOS or a free version limitation. Either way, the data available is quite bare-bones.

Based on the features available on the free version of RescueTime, I thought that the best way to maximise its use is simply to let it run and let it collect whatever usage data it can in the background of your desktop/laptop/phone.

Using this basic set of usage data collected, you can increase your awareness of how you’re using your electronic devices and adjust your habits accordingly.

Unlike the free version of RescueTime where you can afford to be passive, the free version of Toggl Track will require you to be more active so that you can reap the benefits from it.

Screenshot of inputs required for the creation of a new task on Toggl Track

Although all you need is to tap once to begin tracking the progress on your tasks/projects, in order to track them accurately, there are a few inputs you’re going to have to key in.

These inputs include the task name, project name and tags.

Screenshot of calendar view on Toggl Track

Beyond just tracking time spent on your task/project, Toggl Track also allows you to add your existing calendars into its calendar views.

Tasks that you’ve tracked on Toggl Track will also show up in your calendar view.

I’ve found this to be useful to compare what I’ve planned to do and what I’ve actually accomplished.

I’ve found that the best way to maximise the free version of Toggl Track is to use it to keep track of time spent on activities that are vital to your major goals.

To not only track them but to compare them against your planned activities to see how they match up and then to optimise your execution from there.

After saying so much, I guess in gist what I’m saying is:

  1. Use RescueTime inform how you’re using your electronic devices to minimise distraction time.
  2. Use Toggl Track to compare and improve between your planned vital activities and actual time spent on them.

With knowledge about what you might expect with the free versions of both apps and how you can maximise them, you might be wondering about the premium version of both apps and that’s what we’re going into next.

What You Can Expect On RescueTime & Toggl Track (Paid) + Maximising Them

RescueTime gets interesting once you’re onboarded to the premium version.

You will still be pretty much passive when you put this app to work…

But the data available, especially on the desktop is much more telling and there are now more types of goals that you’re able to set to help yourself be more productive on your electronic device.

For desktop tracking, you can choose for yourself what websites/apps you’d consider to be productive and to set productive time goals for yourself.

Screenshot of the goals page on RescueTime’s web app

You can even add in untracked time. These are basically times when there wasn’t time tracked on your electronic device where you can add in what you spent your time on so that you have an accurate view of where you’re investing your time.

Screenshot of what you’ll see when you want to add an activity to untracked time on RescueTime

How the screen where you can add in untracked time looks like is neat.

Where time is tracked, you can clearly see where you spent your time and you can easily add a new activity.

The data tracked on the mobile version for iOS remained the same where it was only able to track the total time spent on the device and the number of times and where I picked up my phone.

This limited data that RescueTime is able to track on iOS is due to restrictions set by the OS itself as I’ve encountered similar issues with other accountability apps on iOS as well.

You shouldn’t have this problem if you’re using an Android phone.

That aside, another useful feature of RescueTime premium is its ability to go into focus mode.

Essentially, what focus mode does is it blocks websites/applications you deem as distracting for a set duration.

You can go into focus mode manually, or you may also choose to let RescueTime bring you into it should certain conditions be met.

For me that’s primarily an Apple user, the focus time feature will be useful only if I’m using my Macbook.

Screenshot of how a blocked page looks like when you’re in focus mode

I went ahead to test out the starter version of Toggl Track which is 1 level up the free version of the app.

The premium version of the app allows you to categorise when time tracked is billable/non-billable.

It also allows you to sync your time tracked to your favourite calendar apps albeit only in view-only mode.

Unless you’re a freelancer or running a business with employees, for the premium versions of Toggl Track, I’ve found it unnecessary especially if you’re just intending to use it for personal productivity.

For most of us out there, the free time tracker on Toggl Track is good enough.

What Do You Actually Get When You Pay For RescueTime/Toggl Track

We’ve talked about some of the premium features on RescueTime/Toggl Track.

But here’s an overview of what you’ll actually get when you pay for RescueTime and Toggl Track.

For RescueTime, in gist, what you get when you pay for it is:

  • More detailed tracking and visualisation of device usage on both mobile and desktop
  • More specific goal setting feature
  • Ability to track offline time
  • Ability to go into focus mode

The premium version of RescueTime costs USD 12 monthly and USD 78 annually.

The starter version of Toggl Track costs USD 10 monthly and USD 108 annually.

The premium version of Toggl Track costs USD 20 monthly and USD 216 annually.

For Toggl Track, in gist, what you get when you pay for the starter/premium versions is:

  • More ability to work as a team (billable features, project templates etc.)
  • Better visualisation of time tracked (iCal integration, saved reports etc.)
  • Better management of projects (time audit, time estimates, project dashboard etc.)

RescueTime/Toggl Track, Which To Go With?

If you’re really keen on keeping accurate track of how you’re spending your time, I think that going with both RescueTime and Toggl Track will be ideal for you.

But here’s what I think if you had to go with either RescueTime/Toggl Track:

If you’re someone that wants to put in minimal effort and want a degree of automation in the tracking of your time, then go with RescueTime.

If you’re a freelancer/business owner, go with Toggl Track as you’ll have the benefit of making yourself and your business more productive – that’s killing 2 birds with 1 stone.

Beyond the tracking of your time with RescueTime/Toggl Track, there are more apps that can keep you productively accountable.

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