Time-management wisdom from Joshua Taylor

djoshuataylorcropI’m a professional organizer and I routinely give time-management advice to my clients who want it. But, as regular readers of this blog know, managing my genealogy research time is a work in progress for me. I struggle with staying focused, knowing what to work on and combating overwhelm.

That changed a little on Saturday. I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois’s annual conference. The speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, professional genealogist and truly organized person. Joshua has been doing genealogy research since he was 10 years old and had his first professional clients while he was in high school. He is the president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the director of family history for FindMyPast.com. He is paid to do genealogy research for others, but he still works on his own genealogy research on a regular basis.

Joshua gave four talks at the GSSI conference, all of them terrific. He’s clearly a very thorough researcher; I was very impressed with the tenacity that came through in his talks. He leaves no stone unturned in his research.

While all four talks were really valuable, one talk that really blew me away. It was The Modern Genealogist: Timesaving Tips for Every Researcher, in which he outlined how he stays happy and focused while exploring his roots. Here were my big takeaways:

  • He works on only 1 to 3 projects/problems at a time, along 3 to 5 extended projects (brick walls).
  • If he comes across something else he wants to check out, he just adds it to his project list to work on in the future. (The discipline of that amazes me.)
  • For each research project, he sets a manageable goal and commits to a finished product, putting the research into some sort of meaningful form. I love that he knows what success looks like, in advance.
  • He plans each research session before he starts.
  • He writes a mini-research report for each research session, even when he’s doing it for his own research.
  • He reviews his research log every month or two to see what he’s missed and what he can apply to other families.

One benefit to working on just a few projects at a time, he said, is that you have a fighting chance of completing them. “I would rather leave behind 3 to 5 completed projects than 50 started, but not completed, projects,” he said. I was impressed that such a young man (I think he’s about 30, if that) thinks about his legacy–that’s probably a byproduct of being a genealogist, isn’t it?

When I got home from the conference, I immediately identified the three projects I’m allowing myself to focus on at this time. It’s been absolutely liberating–I don’t have to try to figure out what to work, which makes it much easier to get started. I will keep you posted how this all plays out, but I’m feeling very good about following Joshua’s excellent advice.

One other mind-blowing revelation at the conference was that Joshua and I are cousins. I’m going to repeat that, because it’s so amazing. Joshua and I are cousins. Our common ancestors are my third great grandparents, Joseph Price (1820-1904) and Mary Puffenbarger (1823-1896). (It’s Mary’s grave that I used aluminum foil to read in my blog post Reading hard-to-read gravestones.) How did I discover that? Like many good genealogy lecturers, Joshua used his own research in examples. In his very first talk of the day, he mentioned Joseph and Mary, much to my excitement. Joseph Price is one of Joshua’s brick walls, so it’s conceivable that I might, at some point, be able to give him a hand. That would be a dream come true!

Ten organizing truths

Ten organizing truthsI am celebrating the 10th anniversary of Peace of Mind Organizing®, my organizing business, this month. I wrote an article for my monthly newsletter yesterday that listed ten organizing principles I’ve come to believe over my years as an organizer. They’re not genealogy-related, but I thought readers of Organize Your Family History might benefit from them. (Keep reading to the end to see a very special, limited-time offer.)

  1. The less stuff you own, the easier your life is. Less stuff = more freedom.
  2. Relationships are more important than things. Don’t let your stuff get in the way of your relationships.
  3. There is no such thing as perfectly organized. Strive for “organized enough” instead.
  4. You can’t put something away unless you have a place for it. And you can’t have a place for it if you have more stuff than you can comfortably store.
  5. It’s easiest to create a new habit if you pair it with something you’re already doing. Use that trick to let habit creation be easy.
  6. Indecision leads to clutter. Make it a habit to decide immediately what to do with items.
  7. It’s okay to ask for organizing help. In fact, it can be very beneficial.
  8. Messy does not equal disorganized. I’m living proof.
  9. Tidy does not equal organized. I’ve seen many neat but disorganized spaces.
  10. You are not your stuff. Don’t let your stuff (and your ability to organize it) define you.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I made a special, limited-time offer in honor of my anniversary. For the next week, you can purchase all nine of my Organizing Guides for the price of one, just $9. Organizing Guides are my concise, downloadable pdfs that touch on the most common organizing issues that I’ve seen in my decade as a professional organizer. Through July 22, 2015, go to the Organizing Guides page on my website, scroll down to Want them all?, click Add to Cart and use the coupon code POMO10th at checkout to receive all nine guides for just $9.

An embarrassment of riches

bambooforestOne of my tendencies when it comes to my genealogy research is to get overwhelmed and then paralyzed. I’ve worked hard to avoid the “Where do I start?” question that used to prevent me from getting to work.

My feelings of overwhelm have taken on a new quality of late. I went to two excellent genealogy conferences (the National Genealogical Society conference and the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree) within in one month one another recently and I learned about so many amazing resources to pursue that I don’t know which way to turn.

On top of that, I took action after the first day of the NGS conference and ordered Civil War pension files for three of my Union soldier ancestors and now have literally 300 pages of documents to go through. (That’s exciting but overwhelming!)

It’s an embarrassment of riches. I feel like there are so many good things to pursue, I don’t know how to choose. (On my other organizing blog, I’ve written about how challenging I find it to have too many choices.)

Doing nothing because I have too many choices is clearly not a good option. So I need to figure out how to narrow things down.

When I was at the two conferences, I used my mobile devices to add genealogy tasks to my Things task-management app.  But just looking at that list has become overwhelming.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do:

  • Sort the tasks by surname
  • Remind myself of my quarterly goals
  • Prioritize the tasks so that I can see the Rasco ones easily, since the new quarter starts tomorrow (and I’ll therefore be shifting my focus to the Rasco family)
  • Give myself permission to work on pension records even though they’re not Rasco-related, so that I can work on properly processing them, a little at a time

Just giving myself a plan of action has made me feel less overwhelmed. Assigning surnames to the tasks so I can isolate one family has limited the options and made me feel more calm.

I think I’m going to create a separate “Opportunities” list that I’ll populate with the various resources I want to explore so that I can get inspired without having the distraction of including those resources in my genealogy task list.

Genealogy is such a journey of discovery. Sometimes I feel surrounded by data and learning opportunities and I can’t see where I’m going. Creating a clear path to follow will help me stay focused and happy while I explore my roots.

Photo by Stale Grut via Unsplash.

Update on the Livescribe pen

In a comment on my blogiversary blog post, reader Maria Tello mentioned that she would like to hear an update from me on how I use my Livescribe pen for genealogy.

The Livescribe pen is a smart pen with a voice recorder in it that links the recording with the notes you are taking. So you can touch an area of your notes (taken in its special notebook) and hear what was being said when you took the note.

I bought my Livescribe Echo in 2013 and enthusiastically used it to take notes at conferences. In my blog post about it, I mentioned the ways I could see using it for genealogy.

True confession: The Livescribe pen is gathering dust in my desk drawer. It’s lost its luster for me. I realized that I never took the time to go back and listen to the recorded notes, which made the notes I did take less valuable (since I took fewer notes, assuming I’d listen to them).

I really do think it could be a very valuable for doing oral history interviews. I just haven’t used it that way.

It’s worth noting that since I bought my Livescribe Echo, the company has the Livescribe 3, which links with an iPhone/iPad app (as well as Android devices). It uses your device’s voice recorder, which makes the pen smaller. And the notes you take in your notebook are transmitted to the device. They can even be transcribed easily. I won’t be rushing out to buy it, since it turns out its utility for me wasn’t quite what I anticipated, but for those taking a lot of notes, I think it’s worth checking out.