From the day I started doing genealogy research, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. There were so many things to research, in so many places. Where do I start? How do I keep track of it all? How do I keep from going down a rabbit hole and losing track of my session goals? Sometimes I’d feel so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even start researching and I’d do something else.
Honestly, that feeling of overwhelm has been my overarching challenge all along. It’s why I started this blog, to try to help myself and others get past it. (That’s why my tag line is “Stay focused and happy while exploring your roots.”)
More than a dozen years into this hobby, I finally feeling like I’m getting past overwhelm. I’m happy to say that I’ve developed some strategies that are making me feel more focused and productive. Those feelings in turn help me enjoy doing the work more and consequently I stay motivated to do more research. It’s such a nice feeling that I thought I’d share with you what I’m doing, in the hopes that it might help you.
- I have a default project. Right now (and for the past few months and for at least the next few months) I’m systematically going through my sources from Reunion 11 (my family tree software). I’m up to Source 57 out of a current 380. Each session, I start with the next source on the list and I make sure I’ve thoroughly examined it, entered all the data found in it, followed up (or made a note of) clues contained within it, and attached an image as a multimedia file to the source. Oh and I make sure it’s reasonably well cited. So far I’ve seen lots of room for improvement when examining each source, so a single source might take as much as an hour to go through. Sometimes I can get a few sources done per session. The process has kept me very focused. Even so, I often stumble upon new information and if I have time I’ll sometimes go off on a tangent for a bit. But because I’m checking off the sources one by one, I have a place to come back to.
- I have a goal for each session. When I sit down to research I ask myself, as I always have, what will I work on today? It’s the answer to that question that’s the key. If you know what you want to find out, you know where to start and you know where to end. If you have a goal in mind, you can bring yourself back to it if you find yourself heading down that rabbit hole. Knowing what you want to work on is everything. I can work on my sources project. Or I can work on something else, if I want. I just like knowing what I’m after today.
- I keep track of clues. In Evernote, I keep a list of clues and of things to explore. That helps me stay focused on my goal without worrying that I’ll forget about this tantalizing tidbit I’ve come across. Some days I don’t feel like going back to documenting my sources. Instead I start at my clue list.
- I write down next steps. At the end of any session, I make a note of next steps so I can pick up where I left off. Sometimes I’ll even set a reminder in Evernote so I can get excited first thing in the morning by the day’s new challenge. (I’m trying to put in at least a little research every morning.) This allows me to stop a session because I know I can pick up the thread. And it allows me to start the next session because I know what I’m going to be working on. (And I’m usually anxious to get to it!)
One thing I know about myself is that I do better with fewer choices. So this approach has really helped get past the paralysis that too much choice can bring. A year ago, I heard D. Joshua Taylor speak at the annual conference of the Genealogical Society of Southern Illinois. One of his talks was on time management and he was all about staying focused. Every now and then I read my summary of his time-management wisdom to remind me of the importance of focus.
What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for staying focused that you’d like to share?