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.

8 reasons not to print

8 reasons not to print genealogy documentsWhen I started this blog in 2012, I printed everything. I did a lot of research online, but I would print out the documents I found online and read the printed version. Then I would  file them in my paper filing system after recording the information into my family tree software. Gradually, I’ve stopped that practice. I think the turning point was when I created an electronic filing system that I was confident in. Before that, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the document on my hard drive.

Now, the only paper that goes into file folders are documents that came to me in hard copy form. And even some of those are scanned and discarded.

In an effort to encourage others to consider giving up printing, I’ve come up with a list of eight advantages to going paperless:

  1. It’s less expensive. When you print, you’re using paper, toner (or ink) and electricity. And you’re creating wear and tear on your printer.
  2. It takes up less space. As your paper files (or binders) grow, they take up more space. (And certainly piles of unfiled paper take up a lot of space!)
  3. It’s easier to file. More effort goes into filing a piece of paper into a physical file folder or binder than into an electronic folder.
  4. Electronic documents are easier to find. If you misfile a paper file or leave it in a pile, it can take a lot of effort to find it.
  5. Electronic documents are searchable (usually). With a few keystrokes you can find all your electronic documents that share certain attributes (like a surname).
  6. Electronic files are easier to read. You can zoom, adjust contrast, brighten and do all sorts of things to electronic documents that make them easier to read. And that makes your research easier on your eyes. (I can’t remember the last time I used my lighted magnifier!)
  7. Electronic documents are easily backed up. I recommend using both an external hard drive and a cloud backup.
  8. Electronic files are easier to share. No photocopying or mailing necessary!

Do you have any reasons to add? I’m convinced, but I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to make a case for keeping paper copies of everything!

Photo of printer by Sir Adavis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. (Red X added using PicMonkey.)

Do you have any genealogy documents hiding in your home?

birth certificate Dave Adams cropped2In an extreme example of the perils of letting household filing pile up, I found my grandfather’s birth record over the weekend.

Over the last few years, I’d put some effort into figuring where he was born. It was mysterious to me because the census records said he was born in Oregon, yet his residence was always Washington. My father, his son, had no recollection of any family history in Oregon. Two years ago, I blogged about it when I discovered a birth announcement in a Portland paper. At that time I said I had written away to the state archives for a copy of the birth certificate. Alas, I received a letter from the Oregon Health Authority saying that no birth record was found.

Fast forward to October 2015. I decided to stop ignoring a pile of household filing that had been sitting on top of the file cabinet for a long time. They were mostly paid bills, some records of home repairs, things like that. I file pretty consistently, I had just let this pile happen slowly over time when I had items that would take a little extra effort to file. I’d gone without touching it for some time. It had become part of the landscape.

I set my timer for ten minutes and filed. Some of the items had aged out, so I could just throw them away. It took four or five ten-minute sessions over a couple of days before I reached the bottom and, to my embarrassment (I’m a professional organizer!), I realized that the items at the bottom of the pile were set there in 2007.

Among them was a file marked with my parents’ address. In it were some documents I had snagged when cleaning out their file cabinet in 2007. I remember that epic file-cabinet clearing. My parents had saved decades’ worth of certain paid bills. There were home purchase documents and some fun records, like the hospital bill for my birth in 1962 ($261.30), which was also in the file in my filing pile. But the real gem was a certified copy of my grandfather’s birth record, issued in 1944. Apparently there was never an actual birth certificate, since this copy was based on “affidavit and documentary evidence.”

In 2007, when I saved that document from being shredded with the rest of my parents’ old records, I was interested in genealogy. But wasn’t working on it properly or seriously. I knew enough to save that birth record, but I wasn’t interested enough to file it away properly or even remember ever having seen it.

Needless to say, I was delighted, if a little chagrined, to find it. I’ve added it to the source list in my family tree software. I’ve scanned it and filed it electronically and filed the copy among my paper files. It’s now safe and sound where it belongs.

Are there any piles or files in your home that might reveal some genealogical treasures? It might be worthwhile to catch up on your filing!

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!