Whenever you use your computer, there are probably times when you are doing things on it that really aren’t very productive. Whether it’s surfing the web, wiling away the time playing Windows card games or sitting there chatting online with friends, it could possibly shock you how many hours a week or even a day are perhaps wasted and could be put to better use. You could probably find it rather interesting to actually have a look after a period of time and see which applications or games you have been using the most and how long you have been using them. A free open source utility called Personal Activity Monitor can assist in helping you find out where all your time goes. What Personal Activity Monitor actually does is simple, monitor each program that you run and use, then log the total time that the program is being used and is active. Anything that is not in the foreground is ignored and the timer for it paused until it becomes active again.
The program is under a 1MB download and does require the .NET Framework 4 to function which is not a problem unless you are one of those users that chooses not to have it on their system. It’s also worth noting that the latest version I am testing is a beta version. This is the first update for over a year but introduces an important feature of allowing the automatic exporting of the activity logs to an XML file at specific intervals. Simply install Personal Activity Monitor and launch it to begin the monitoring process.
The program will begin logging as soon as it’s started and the list of all applications that have been used while it is running will be visible in the window along with the time they have been active as both clock and a percentage. At the top of the window is the currently active application process along with its location on the disk and the total time it has been active during the session.
Obviously, you aren’t going to get representative results until the program has been running for a while, so it’s best to minimize it to the tray and continue your computer activities as usual. After several hours there will be a better indication of what programs you have logged the most time using.
Right clicking on the tray icon will give you access to the settings window. There are only really three options in there, and one of them is whether the program is to be started with Windows. The ‘Auto idle’ option can be set from 1 second to 5 minutes and is the time the foreground process can be inactive before it considered idle. When this happens the timer for it will be paused and is restarted when activity is detected again. ‘Auto Export’ is the feature introduced in the beta version and when enabled will save an XML file to your chosen location at the specified interval of 1 second to 1 hour. The file will be output with the current date as a filename.
The tray menu can also be used to export the logs instantly although the name supplied is not valid (contains right slashes!) so will need to be changed.
Although it can tell you when a browser is being used, it can’t show what websites the browser is going to during that time which would have been a big plus. The majority of the time spent in your browser could have been productive so an indication of how long the browser was used overall is the best you can get. Something I noticed during testing was the CPU usage and memory footprint did fluctuate a bit and sometimes was using around 20% of a single core while in the background. Something to be aware of on older machines.
Personal Activity Monitor could also be used as a crude monitoring tool to check the activity of perhaps whether your kids are using an instant messaging program or the web when they should be writing an essay in a word processor. Useful for people who perhaps think key logging tools or more thorough monitoring software is a bit too much. Compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7