Organized genealogy workspaces in Family Tree Magazine

Organized genealogy spaces in Family Tree MagazineOne of the things I enjoy about my work as a professional organizer is seeing how people live and work. Of course, I love helping them improve their organizational systems. But I love quizzing already organized people about how they stay organized. We’re all so different and I find there’s always so much to learn.

That’s why I loved the cover story of  the May/June issue of Family Tree Magazine . The article, called Making It Work, by Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, takes a look at the workspaces of six successful genealogy professionals. Those professional are:

  • Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor
  • Writer and editor Sunny Jane Morton
  • GeneaBlogger founder Thomas MacEntee
  • Genealogy Guys podcast co-host Drew Smith
  • Genealogy Guys podcast co-host George G. Morgan
  • Genealogy Gems podcaster Lisa Louise Cooke

We see photos and learn the inside secrets behind the workspaces–and work systems–of each of these successful genealogists. In addition, Levenick provides lots of organizing tips and suggestions from these pros.  (One of my favorites: “Take a few minutes to file or recycle papers and neaten your desk after each use. You’ll be able to start your next research session with fewer distractions.” ) She also includes a list of online resources. I’m delighted that Organize Your Family History is included in that resource list!

It’s an enjoyable read, full of good advice. A theme among all six subjects was the benefit of eliminating distracting clutter. I know from my experience that putting things away (and having a place to put them) is the key to my productivity at my desk. After reading the article, I was itching to tidy up a bit more!

Incidentally, one way I keep clutter at bay is to subscribe to digital editions of magazine. I receive Family Tree Magazine as a digital subscription. I get an email when it’s available and I download it to read on my computer or iPad. I was able to switch from the print to digital edition mid-year, by simply asking. I love that I don’t have the physical copies of the magazine lying around!

Going paperless

Going paperless with my genealogy filesI just realized I’m gradually going paperless when it comes to my genealogy research. It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote the post To print or not to print?  in January 2013. Back then, I was working hard to resist the temptation to print source documents for my files.

Well you know what? That temptation is completely gone. In fact, I’ve been going in the opposite direction as I slowly work on marrying my paper and electronic files. I’m in the process of making sure that all the documents in my paper files are properly named and filed on my hard drive. Most of these documents were originally found online, so it’s easy for me to find them in electronic form and save them to my hard drive. But if I don’t have an electronic version, it’s easy enough to scan the paper version.

I’ve found several advantages to going paperless:

  • My electronic files are at my fingertips; I don’t have to walk to the file cabinet
  • My electronic files are much more portable–they’re on my computer or accessible on mobile devices or remote computers via Dropbox
  • My electronic files take up much less space
  • My physical desktop is less cluttered during a research session
  • Typically, I can zoom in and magnify electronic files, so reading them is much easier on my eyes
  • I save paper and toner, of course

This feels like a really big shift and it happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize it! I think a key component was coming up with an electronic file system that works for me. That gives me confidence that I will find information on my hard drive. (I’m still working on properly filing all the electronic documents that might have been misfiled before I set up that electronic file system.)

How about you? Are you paper or electronic? Or perhaps both?

Where are your family treasures?

Where are your family treasures?This week, I was working with a wonderful organizing client. As she gave me a tour of the storage spaces in her home, she said, “This is my most treasured possession!” And she bent down and pulled a plastic bin out from under the bed. Inside was her father’s World War II photo album, along with a few other war artifacts. The photo album had small black-and-white photos mounted onto black paper with meticulous white handwritten captions. The pages were deteriorating and some of the photos had fallen out of their mounting.

I oohed and ahhhed because it was an amazing heirloom. But I challenged her a little by saying, “Why is your most treasured possession stored under the bed in a non-archival plastic bin?” One day (soon, I hope), we will work together to get this item and some other heirlooms into safer storage.

That very same day, my mother’s cousin asked me for a photo of my grandfather for the genealogy poster he is putting together. So I rifled through the box of family photos that my mother gave me, trying to locate a good picture for him. As I did that, I realized that these photos are among my most treasured possessions, yet I am not treating them with the respect they deserve. They’re not archivally stored, nor are they organized.

When I acquired this box in December, I blogged about my plan to deal with them. But I’ve done nothing. I keep waiting for a free block of time.  should know by now that the free time is never going to materialize on its own. I have to set aside time for this project. Luckily for me, this branch of the family is having a reunion in a couple of months, so I can get some help identifying the people in these photos!

How about you? Do you have treasured inherited items that are languishing in unsafe conditions? If you need information on how to handle and store them, check out Sally Jacobs of The Practical Archivist and Denise Levenick of The Family Curator. Don’t wait for something bad to happen. Carve out some time to deal with them now.

The importance of a clear workspace

A clear desk makes you more productiveIs your genealogy work surface clear? If not, do you have to clear if off before you start researching? I think a messy desk can make it hard to do your best work.

I’m a big believer in clearing off my (physical) desk top every night. That way I can hit the ground running in the morning. I do my genealogy work at same desk where I blog and run my organizing business. If I didn’t keep a clear desktop, I think I’d find next to impossible to even contemplate doing genealogy work.

This point was brought home emphatically this morning. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but as of last night I had not finished my family’s taxes. I started them a month or two ago, but when it became apparent that I was going to have to pay additional taxes, I kept procrastinating on finishing them. I thought I’d finished them Sunday night and was just planning to print out the return and write checks yesterday (April 14). But when I went through the Review process on Turbo Tax, errors came up that had me pulling out my hair. After a few hours of trying to deal with it through online resources and a call to a tax-lawyer friend, I decided to throw in the towel and file for an extension. About then, my husband let me know that dinner was ready, so I just left my desk to go eat. And I didn’t come back that night.

So this morning, I was greeted by a messy desk top. And I had to fill out the forms to file for extensions for federal, state and local taxes and figure out how much to pay with each extension request. I also had figure out what to pay in estimated taxes. And I had to write the checks. This kind of thing stresses me out under the best of circumstances. But with my messy desk (pictured above), I could feel my blood pressure rising.

I have to leave to see a client in 90 minutes, but I’m happy to say that despite the messy desk, I got the tax forms filled out and checks written. (I’ll come back to my Turbo Tax problems in a couple of days and hope to get my return filed soon.) I also wrote my monthly newsletter and two blog posts this morning. But I could have done all that with less stress if I hadn’t been surrounded by paper. And I felt so busy I didn’t take the time to clear it.

If your workspace is typically cluttered, I encourage you to take a little time to clean it off and then establish a habit of clearing it nightly. It’s one of three habits that really help keep me at the top of my game. It might help you get more genealogy research done!