In today’s digital landscape, effective time management is more critical than ever. While everyone has 24 hours in a day, how we utilize those hours significantly impacts our productivity and well-being. Time-tracking software has thus become a fundamental tool for individuals and organizations aiming to optimize their time use. This article will conduct a side-by-side comparison of four popular time-tracking applications: ActivityWatch, RescueTime, ManicTime, and Apple ScreenTime.

Feature Comparison

Here’s a table outlining the features of each software:

Feature Category ActivityWatch RescueTime ManicTime Apple ScreenTime
Tracking Capabilities Granular tracking of applications, browser activity, custom event tracking. Extensible architecture. Application and website tracking, limited offline tracking, distraction-blocking features. Comprehensive computer usage tracking, supports offline activity tagging. Limited to Apple ecosystem; tracks applications and website usage. No custom event tracking.
Reporting & Analytics Rich dashboard with real-time and historical data. Custom reports possible due to open-source nature. Detailed reports, limited customization. Highly detailed reports, manual tagging and categorization. Basic reporting on screen time and app categories, little customization.
Privacy Local data storage by default. Robust privacy controls. Data stored on their servers. Local and cloud storage options. Encrypted, on-device storage. Tightly integrated with Apple ecosystem.
Customizability High levels due to open-source nature, from UI to tracking and reporting. Limited to predefined settings and features. Some customization like tagging and categorization. Minimal customization, focused on app limits and downtime.
Pricing Free and open-source. Freemium model, premium version offers additional features. Free version available, paid license for advanced features. Free but limited to Apple devices.

Decision Matrix for Use-Cases

Choosing a time-tracking software often depends on specific needs. The following matrix offers suggestions based on different use-cases:

Use-Case Recommended Software Reasons
Highly Customizable Solution ActivityWatch Open-source nature allows for extensive customization, from UI to tracking metrics.
Privacy-Conscious Users ActivityWatch Local data storage by default, with robust privacy controls.
Multi-platform Support ActivityWatch,
All three support multiple platforms (ActivityWatch and ManicTime support Linux too). Apple ScreenTime is limited to Apple devices.
Enterprise Use RescueTime Offers team features, data storage on cloud, and centralized reporting.
Blocking Distractions RescueTime Provides distraction-blocking features in the premium version. Note that there are other free and open-source tools for blocking distractions, which is why ActivityWatch doesn’t offer this feature.
In-depth Reporting ActivityWatch,
All offer robust reporting capabilities, with ActivityWatch and ManicTime allowing for greater customization.
Apple Ecosystem Apple ScreenTime Seamlessly integrates with Apple devices, from iPhones to Macs.
Freelancers on Budget ActivityWatch Free and open-source with an extensive set of features for individual tracking.
Offline Activity Tracking ActivityWatch,
Both support offline activity tagging, making it suitable for tracking non-digital tasks.


Time-tracking software options abound, each with its unique set of features, advantages, and limitations. While the final choice will ultimately depend on your specific needs, ActivityWatch emerges as a strong contender in multiple categories.

Strengths of ActivityWatch:

  • High level of customization thanks to its open-source nature
  • Strong commitment to user privacy with local data storage
  • Extensive tracking capabilities, including custom event tracking
  • Free and open-source, providing a comprehensive feature set without a financial barrier

Competitors’ Strengths:

  • RescueTime offers distraction-blocking and enterprise features
  • ManicTime provides a versatile tracking environment, including offline tagging
  • Apple ScreenTime integrates seamlessly within the Apple ecosystem

In summary, ActivityWatch excels in customizability, privacy, and its free pricing model. It is an ideal choice for users ranging from freelancers to those who prioritize data privacy, all without compromising on tracking capabilities and analytics. If you’re looking for a comprehensive, customizable, and cost-effective time-tracking solution, ActivityWatch may well be the ideal choice for you.

For more alternatives, you can check out