Organizing little by little

calendarsnippetHere’s one thing I know: Getting or keeping your family history research organized doesn’t happen without a little effort. (Of course, that’s true of organizing most aspects of our lives!) There never seems to be enough time to do genealogy research, let alone time to organize it.

But if you snatch little pockets of time to catch up on your organizing, you can make great strides. For example, 15 minutes spent on filing unfiled genealogy documents (either electronic or paper) is time well spent. It allows you to familiarize yourself with your documents and the holes you have in your research. It makes you feel more in control. You can get rid of any duplicates you come across. And, of course, it helps you find what you need when you’re looking for something, because documents are where they’re supposed to be.

One thing that can help is keeping an organizing task list so you can jump right into it when you carve out some time for it. My new genealogy to-do list helps me know what to work on when I have some time for research. But I think it’s a good idea to spend some time at least once a week organizing the research. Toward that end, I think that in addition to having a genealogy to-do list for each branch of my family, I’ll make one for organizing tasks. That’ll make it easier for me to just do something. (I’ll be posting a Genealogy To-Do List printable very soon so you can use my form, if you’d like.)

So here’s my challenge for you today: Think about how often you want to do family history research. And then think about when you might work on organizing your research. In this last month of the year, maybe you can carve out a little time for organizing. Doing it little by little, you’ll make progress. If you wait for a free weekend when you feel like organizing, you may never get it done.

Like many people, I have a very busy December coming up. But I’ve found that I get more done when I’m really busy. So for this December, I’m going to commit to spending at least a half hour a week organizing my genealogy research. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up two hours over the course of the month (actually, two and a half, since December started on a Monday this year). And one can get a lot done in two focused hours. To set myself up for success, I’ve scheduled five half-hour sessions on my calendar.

I’ll try to keep track of what I accomplish in that time and at the end of the month, I’ll post my progress here. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by all I can get done in those little, focused pockets of time.

 

Creating a genealogy to-do list

gentodolistsampleI know I have two big impediments when it comes to making progress with my genealogy research. One is that I often don’t know where to start in a particular session. The other is that I think I need a huge block of time and that huge block rarely comes.

But I know better. I am a big believer in grabbing snippets of time to complete discrete tasks. For me, this is true in life and in genealogy research. But my reluctance to start a short session still rears its head.

Yesterday, as I was pondering this situation, I came up with a strategy that might be helpful. I created a form for myself where I can separate tasks by the amount of time I think they’ll take. That way, when I find myself with 30 minutes to spend on family history research, I can scan the “30 minutes” section (or the “15 minutes or less” section) and hop right into a task. The form I created has seven sections: 15 minutes (or less), 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, half day, full day, and weekend.

Since I’m trying to focus on one branch of my family per quarter, I decided to make a separate list for each branch. That way, if I come across some leads for families I’m not working on this quarter, I can put them on the appropriate list, and when that quarter rolls around I’ll already have a task list to get me started.

If I manage to use this form consistently, it should serve a few purposes:

  • I’ll be able to jump right into my research without feeling overwhelmed
  • My sessions should be more focused and productive
  • I’ll research more frequently, because I won’t be waiting for large blocks of time to emerge
  • If I hit a dead end, I can go right back to my list to refocus

I can’t wait to give this a try. I’ve started with a short list for a couple of family branches. I’m going to figure out a way to include routine tasks on the list (like updating my progress tracker and making sure that all paper documents are also properly stored on my hard drive) so that they get done relatively painlessly. I think this will definitely be a work in progress.

In the next week or two, I’ll create a template for you to use in your research and include it in the Printables section of this site. I’m going to wait a little while to do so, so that I can refine it a bit, based on my use. (An excerpt of my one-day-old version of the form is what’s pictured with this post.) I’m thinking that I may drop the final two sections, since I want to include smaller tasks, not large projects, on the list. But I’ll use it awhile before deciding.

I’m curious: Do you find it hard to figure out where to start when you have time to do genealogy research? Or is that something peculiar to me?

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!

Paper vs electronic: What a difference two years makes!

paperpilecroppedI just took another gander at a blog post I wrote on August 16, 2012, called How I organize my family history research. I still organize my research papers the same way I described in that post–my filing system has withstood the test of time.

But what really jumped out at me was this paragraph:

…I have to tell you that I’m a paper person. I know I could (and perhaps should) save documents, like census images, as pdfs and just organize them on my computer. But I really like printing them out and keeping them in files. So that’s what I do.

I’m pretty happy to report that times have changed. I’ve created an electronic file system that allows me to find  documents on my computer easily (though I’m still discovering files that haven’t been properly named or filed). So now I don’t feel the need to print everything and put them in files. It’s positively liberating.

That means my files are available wherever my laptop is. (Or my iPad, since much of my genealogy research is also stored in Dropbox.) I can do research from any room in the house, or any room in the world, for that matter.

Back in May, I extolled the virtues of going paperless. I am so happy that my need to print is vanishing!

Yes, my paper filing system is working well. But these days, I use it only for retrieving documents I filed there in the past. I’m just not adding to it. And that’s okay by me!