Digging out after a conference

Diggin out after a conferenceI love going to conferences. Between organizing and genealogy conferences, I attend at least three a year.

Conferences are wonderful learning and networking opportunities, but they can present an organizing challenge. When I return home from a conference, I’m usually behind in my work and it’s so easy to leave everything I learned on a back burner. The biggest challenge is probably dealing with the literature I bring home from conferences. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, in the past, items I picked up at trade shows have stayed in the bag untouched until they’re thrown away months or even years later.

Last month, I attended RootsTech. It had a gigantic trade show and I learned about so many new resources I wanted to explore. I was bound and determined that the information I bought home with me would not languish. Here’s how I handled it this year. (Spoiler alert: I’m feeling pretty good about it!)

  • I minimized what I brought home by carefully going through all the paper before packing my bag at the hotel room in Salt Lake City.
  • Once I got home to St. Louis, I put all the literature together until I could process it.
  • I spread it out and scanned it for the photo to go with this post (something non-bloggers wouldn’t have to consider!).
  • Then I gathered it into a pile and went through it piece by piece. I looked up the websites for each of the flyers I brought home. If the product or service still interested me, I added it to a note I created in Evernote called “Interesting resources from RootsTech 2015” that I placed in my Evernote “Genealogy Resources” notebook.
  • For a couple of the resources, I created a follow up task in Things, the task management application I use.  I can assign a due date, so these tasks will pop up on my Today page next year  (helpful for reminders about conferences I might want to attend in 2016).
  • I jotted down some blog post ideas sparked by the literature and put them in my Blog Post Ideas notebook in Evernote.
  • I recycled all the paper, except two items I decided to file

The whole process took me about 30 minutes. It feels great! There were some resources I’d forgotten about already, but now they’re safe inside Evernote. I took action on a couple of items, signing up for newsletters and other services and making one inquiry about working with someone. And, perhaps best of all, I got rid of a pile of paper.

Taking 30 to 60 minutes to process this information really adds value to what I brought home from RootsTech. It’s an amazing return on the investment of time spent! I’m grateful for Evernote and Things which help me free up my memory so I can find this information when I need it.

I can’t wait to do it again after next month’s National Association of Professional Organizers conference.

Do you have a better (or different) way of digging out after a conference?

Documenting the failures

Document your research failures as well as successesHave you ever been pursuing leads on a thorny research problem and found the time just slipping away, without much progress made? I just experienced that. I was trying to fill in some blanks on an ancestor and actually managed to stay pretty focused, but two hours later, those blanks are still empty. I wouldn’t mind keeping going on this challenge, but I need to stop, because I have other things I need to accomplish this morning. Plus, I’m getting kind of frustrated.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time pursuing leads in genealogy research and feel like you’ve wasted your time. But I think there’s a sure-fire way to make the time spent more valuable. And that’s by recording what you’ve done and the results–even if the results are nil.

That’s where a research log comes in. I’ve not been diligent in keeping a research log, though I know that it can be very valuable. But my frustrating time this morning has me appreciating the effort of keeping a log, because I don’t want to repeat the unsuccessful searches (or if I do, I want to do so knowing that the searches have failed in the past).

When Springpad was around, I created a research tracker template that was included in the Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad. That form works with the way I think, so I’ve been continuing to use the template, only now it’s in Evernote. (Feel free to email me if you want me to send you the template–that’s the corner of today’s entry in the photo.) It’s simple and allows me to record the pertinent data without turning it into a big chore. I need to use it more diligently, after every research session, rather than waiting until days like today when logging my research feels absolutely imperative.

My way of keeping a research log is far from perfect. There are much more complete ways to do it–Thomas MacEntee offers an amazing research log template, it just doesn’t feel right for me. (I find it a little intimidating.)

If you’ve been contemplating keeping a research log, but got bogged down in trying to select the best format or you just weren’t sure how to do it, I’d suggest you let go of making it perfect (or even great) and just get into the habit of writing something down. Any information about your research session that you document at the end of the session is better than none!

Giving Evernote another try

Evernote logoI know that people rave about Evernote, for genealogy and for other aspects of life. Over the years, I keep dipping my toe and withdrawing it quickly. The user interface has just never clicked for me.

I blogged back in February of 2013 that I was exploring Evernote for genealogy. That didn’t really pan out, but late in 2013 I started using Springpad, which has a more graphical interface than Evernote. Thanks to Springpad, I became hooked on cloud-based, synching organizing and storage systems. After Springpad announced it was shutting down this month, I exported my data, including my family history research logs, to Evernote.

So now I’m ready to give it another try. I’m trying to be open minded about Evernote’s interface. I bought and read the e-book Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly, and I’m going to be checking out genealogy-specific information about Evernote. (This morning, I found this great page on Cyndi’s List with genealogy templates for Evernote.)

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime I’m wondering whether any of you have either great tips using Evernote in genealogy or  recommendations of more resources to help me learn to use and love Evernote. If so, I’m all ears!

My new Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad

sp_fam_hist_orgI’ve become a fan of Springpad, a personal organizer app for the web and mobile devices. I use it to manage tasks and keep track of things like books I want to read and have read, movies, and wines. So far, I’m just scratching the surface of its functionality, but I really am loving it. I wrote on my Peace of Mind Organizing blog about how much I’m loving their Task Notebook.

To me, Springpad feels like Evernote meets Pinterest. I find it intuitive, easy to use, and visually appealing.

I am thrilled to announce that I’ve partnered with Springpad to create a digital notebook that’s customized to help you organize your family history. Called the Family History Organizer, it has these features:

  • A simple to-do list to keep track of and plan next steps, including a quick +Add button for adding tasks and checklists
  • A research tracker, complete with template form, so you can log information and research progress quickly and easily
  • An easy “database” for uploading photos and files scanned to your computer or from your phone
  • Bonus: A resources section filled with my tips and helpful tools

I created the research tracker because I have a hard time sticking with a proper research log. The research tracker is light version of a research log, but I think the information it captures will be helpful. Just copy and paste the template headings into a new Note within the Research Tracker tab at the conclusion of each research session and you’ll have an easy, accessible record of that session.

I’ll update the resources section of the Family History Organizer when I come across great resources (or when I want to share a particularly useful blog post).

I hope you’ll check out this custom notebook. If you’re interested in information and tools about organizing in general (not just genealogy), I also have a notebook called The Habit Maker. This is all part of Springpad’s Operation Organization campaign in which they’ve partnered with a small group of organizing experts to create a dozen or so of these notebooks.

If you try out the Family History Organizer, please let me know if you have any questions or feedback!