How orderly is your research desk?

cleandeskIf you can’t remember the last time you saw your desktop in your genealogy research space, perhaps it’s time to experience the joy of a clean desk. I know that time to do genealogy research is limited for most people and the last way  you want to spend your precious genealogy time is on cleaning up your desk. But it’s worth it. When you sit down at a clear desk, your mind is more clear and you can be more focused on your research.

But there’s good news: It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. Here’s a step-by-step suggestion for creating some order on your desk, swiftly.

  1. Set your timer for 25 minutes.*
  2. Clear everything off your desk (and I mean everything except, perhaps, your computer). Put like things together into rough categories as you go. (For example, put papers together in a pile on the floor near your desk; put office supplies together, etc.) It might helpful to have some bankers’ boxes or plastic totes handy to hold the categories, but the floor will do too.
  3. Put away the items that already have homes. For example, put binders and books where they belong. If something belongs in another room, put it in a box or bin that you’ve marked “Relocate to another room” so you don’t wander away from the room you’re working on. At the end of the session, you can put all that stuff away.
  4. Go through the non-paper items and put back on the desk those things that deserve to take up such prime real estate. Only those things you use every research session should be placed within arms’ reach when you’re sitting at your desk (with the possible exception of items that give you great pleasure to look at). Relocate or discard the other non-paper items that were on the desk.
  5. Take all those papers and put them in a box of some sort. Mark that box “Backlog.” (I use a box similar to this one from IKEA for that purpose and I place that box on a shelf.)
  6. Every time you’re at your desk, set a timer for ten minutes and go through the papers in the backlog, discarding, scanning and/or filing as required. Do this ten minutes a day for as long as it takes to eliminate the backlog. (You might be surprised how few of these short sessions it takes.)
  7. Don’t add to the backlog box. Instead, at the end of each research session take the time (probably less than five minutes) to clear off your desk and put everything away. That way, you’ll start each session fresh.

* When your timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and take a five-minute break. Then set it for another 25 minutes and get back to work, unless you’re done.

What Orderly Roots guides should I write next?

10 things I wish I'd known when I started doing genealogyThis week, I debuted my first two Orderly Roots guides, 10 Secrets to Organizing Your Genealogy Research and 10 Things I Wish I’d Know When I Started Doing Genealogy. I have come up with eight more topics, but I haven’t written them yet.

I’d love to have your input to help me decide in what order to write and publish them. So I created a little poll.

Please check the topics that interest you. (You’re not making a commitment to buy one!) You can check up to three boxes. If you’d like to see an Orderly Roots guide on a topic not in the list, feel free to enter that topic in the Other box.

Thank you!

Keeping my research interesting

Keeping genealogy research interestingSince I heard Josh Taylor speak in early August, I’ve been really trying to keep a laser focus on my short research to-do list in an effort to keep from being distracted. My 30 x 30 challenge helped a lot. Since I didn’t give myself the option of not researching during that time, it was very helpful to just go to the list (which had me either transcribing one ancestor’s Civil War pension file or working on citations for another).

But here’s the thing: When my 30-day challenge was over, I took a little break, because processing those pension files started to feel a little like drudgery. And I was reluctant to go back to it. It made me realize that I need to change up the research from time to time if I’m going to do it on a regular basis.

As I pondered that, I saw the error of my ways. I took Josh Taylor’s advice to have one to three projects on my to-do list. (I had two.) But I skipped the part about also having three to five extended projects (brick walls) that I can dabble in when I need to mix it up.

So here’s what I’m going to do to keep my research interesting and, I hope, to get back to daily research: I’m adding one main project to my list along with five extended projects/problems. That’s my list pictured above.

I have a leisurely weekend ahead, so I’m hoping to enjoy doing some genealogy research. My revamped list will help!

Update on my 30 x 30 challenge

The 30 x 30 genealogy challengeTwenty-five days ago, I started my 30 x 30 challenge. My goal was to work on my genealogy research for at 30 minutes for 30 days. I’d been frustrated at my inability to take the time to actually do the research I found so rewarding. I felt like I needed some sort of special motivation to keep me going.

So I decided to make a short-term commitment to stay on task. I chose 30 minutes because it’s short enough to be realistic for a daily goal. And it’s also not intimidating. If I’d said I was going to do it for a year, I’d have probably quit by now.

I knew from past experience that having some sort of commitment and goal would be really motivating for me.

It’s turning out great–I think the number 30 has been magical. I’m proud to say that I’ve not missed a day yet, and in just a week, I’m confident I’ll be able to report here that I succeeded in my goal.

One thing that has made this easier is that I’ve had a project to focus on, transcribing the Civil War pension file of my 3rd great grandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries. That meant I didn’t have to give much thought to what I was going to work on each day. That quandary is probably the single biggest barrier I have to getting started with research in any given session.

Almost all of the 25 days so far I’ve worked on R.A. Jeffries’ file. Today, I finished transcribing the entire pension file of 27 documents (woot!) and will start extracting the data next. It’s crazy how much I’m enjoying this.

The big question I’m having is whether I’ll continue with the 30-minute-a-day habit when the 30 days are up. I’m guessing I might give myself a break for a few days, but I think I’d be well advised to start another one soon. The commitment has proven to be truly powerful for me.

Edited to add: I did make it to 30 (in fact, 31) consecutive days of at least 30 minutes of genealogy research!