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!

 

 

It’s all about access

wheelerfilefolderTo me, being organized is about having access to your stuff (and information). Often that means accumulating no more stuff than you can easily store. So I spend a lot of my professional life helping clients declutter before creating organizing systems.

When it comes to organizing your genealogy research the same principle applies. It’s really nice to have a neat workspace. But what’s really meaningful is easy access to your information, both physical and electronic. What does this mean?

  • Having a solid file structure for electronic files
  • Having an excellent file naming strategy for electronic files
  • Using metadata for electronic files
  • Creating a habit of adding  metadata and sticking to your file naming strategy
  • Actually filing paper, rather than putting it in piles
  • Carefully considering file folders versus binders for genealogy papers
  • Getting rid of any unneeded duplicates
  • Thinking about how you will access (not just file) information when you set up your organizing system

As I think about this for my own research, I realize I really need to work on my file naming. I’ve done a good job with my electronic file structure, but my names aren’t standardized (as you can see in the photo with this post). By either improving file names or adding metadata (or both) I could more easily use the search function on my MacBook.

For me, having all my research data available on my MacBook is an important goal. I’m still in the process of marrying my electronic and paper files and know when I finish this process, my research will be completely accessible (and portable). That is what I call organized.

 

The Research Tracker in Springpad

researchtrackersampleOne of the features of the Family History Organizer custom notebook I created for Springpad is the Research Tracker tab. Since I started getting serious about family history research about 18  months ago, I knew I needed to do a better job of keeping a research log. I tried a spreadsheet, but failed to keep up with it. I think the problem was that I had so many columns to fill out, it felt overwhelming.

So when Springpad asked me to create this notebook, I requested a place to easily record research sessions. It includes headers that can be copied and pasted into a fresh note for each research session. (I made up the headers that make sense to me, but you can easily edit them so that you’re copying and pasting headers that work better for you.)

I’ve been using the Research Tracker for a couple of weeks and have found that it’s really helpful. I start creating a new note at the beginning of each session, which helps me identify the information I’m looking for in the session. I like that when I finish filling it out at the end of the session, I identify next steps in the research.

I think what I like most about it is that it’s simple and non-intimidating. It may not be as thorough as a formal research log, but it’s way better than what I was recording before (which was nothing). Since I’m trying to do research five days a week (or at least work on organizing my research), I have plenty to enter and am feeling optimistic that this will keep me on track.

If you’re interested in trying it out, simply download the Family History Organizer notebook into your free Springpad account. (Or learn more about the notebook before downloading.)

New Hack Genealogy Boot Camp: Get Your Genealogy Groove Back

Get your genealogy groove backI just signed up for the Get Your Genealogy Groove Back Boot Camp from Hack Genealogy. It will be held on Saturday, January 25 from 10 am to 1:30 pm central time. (Recordings are available to registrants who can’t attend live or wish to watch it again.)

This boot camp series is organized by Hack Genealogy, the blog run by Thomas MacEntee, founder of Geneabloggers. This particular boot camp consists of two webinars that are right up my alley:

  • Genealogy Goals: How to Set Them, How to Keep them, presented by Lisa A. Alzo
  • Managing the Genealogy Data Monster, by Thomas MacEntee

I’m really looking forward to hearing what these experts have to say!

The boot camps are very reasonably priced. I paid only $9.95 to register. That includes a $3 discount for ordering before January 20.

There are so many learning opportunities in the world of genealogy. I was attracted to this one because of the expertise of the presenters, the fact that it’s live (sometimes recordings just languish on my hard drive), and the very reasonable tuition. Can’t wait!