How orderly is your research desk?

cleandeskIf you can’t remember the last time you saw your desktop in your genealogy research space, perhaps it’s time to experience the joy of a clean desk. I know that time to do genealogy research is limited for most people and the last way  you want to spend your precious genealogy time is on cleaning up your desk. But it’s worth it. When you sit down at a clear desk, your mind is more clear and you can be more focused on your research.

But there’s good news: It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. Here’s a step-by-step suggestion for creating some order on your desk, swiftly.

  1. Set your timer for 25 minutes.*
  2. Clear everything off your desk (and I mean everything except, perhaps, your computer). Put like things together into rough categories as you go. (For example, put papers together in a pile on the floor near your desk; put office supplies together, etc.) It might helpful to have some bankers’ boxes or plastic totes handy to hold the categories, but the floor will do too.
  3. Put away the items that already have homes. For example, put binders and books where they belong. If something belongs in another room, put it in a box or bin that you’ve marked “Relocate to another room” so you don’t wander away from the room you’re working on. At the end of the session, you can put all that stuff away.
  4. Go through the non-paper items and put back on the desk those things that deserve to take up such prime real estate. Only those things you use every research session should be placed within arms’ reach when you’re sitting at your desk (with the possible exception of items that give you great pleasure to look at). Relocate or discard the other non-paper items that were on the desk.
  5. Take all those papers and put them in a box of some sort. Mark that box “Backlog.” (I use a box similar to this one from IKEA for that purpose and I place that box on a shelf.)
  6. Every time you’re at your desk, set a timer for ten minutes and go through the papers in the backlog, discarding, scanning and/or filing as required. Do this ten minutes a day for as long as it takes to eliminate the backlog. (You might be surprised how few of these short sessions it takes.)
  7. Don’t add to the backlog box. Instead, at the end of each research session take the time (probably less than five minutes) to clear off your desk and put everything away. That way, you’ll start each session fresh.

* When your timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and take a five-minute break. Then set it for another 25 minutes and get back to work, unless you’re done.

8 reasons not to print

8 reasons not to print genealogy documentsWhen I started this blog in 2012, I printed everything. I did a lot of research online, but I would print out the documents I found online and read the printed version. Then I would  file them in my paper filing system after recording the information into my family tree software. Gradually, I’ve stopped that practice. I think the turning point was when I created an electronic filing system that I was confident in. Before that, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the document on my hard drive.

Now, the only paper that goes into file folders are documents that came to me in hard copy form. And even some of those are scanned and discarded.

In an effort to encourage others to consider giving up printing, I’ve come up with a list of eight advantages to going paperless:

  1. It’s less expensive. When you print, you’re using paper, toner (or ink) and electricity. And you’re creating wear and tear on your printer.
  2. It takes up less space. As your paper files (or binders) grow, they take up more space. (And certainly piles of unfiled paper take up a lot of space!)
  3. It’s easier to file. More effort goes into filing a piece of paper into a physical file folder or binder than into an electronic folder.
  4. Electronic documents are easier to find. If you misfile a paper file or leave it in a pile, it can take a lot of effort to find it.
  5. Electronic documents are searchable (usually). With a few keystrokes you can find all your electronic documents that share certain attributes (like a surname).
  6. Electronic files are easier to read. You can zoom, adjust contrast, brighten and do all sorts of things to electronic documents that make them easier to read. And that makes your research easier on your eyes. (I can’t remember the last time I used my lighted magnifier!)
  7. Electronic documents are easily backed up. I recommend using both an external hard drive and a cloud backup.
  8. Electronic files are easier to share. No photocopying or mailing necessary!

Do you have any reasons to add? I’m convinced, but I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to make a case for keeping paper copies of everything!

Photo of printer by Sir Adavis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. (Red X added using PicMonkey.)

Professional organizers talk family history

As a professional organizer who blogs (in addition writing here, I have a blog at my business’s Peace of Mind Organizing website), I occasionally  participate in the monthly Professional Organizers Blog Carnival. Each month organizing bloggers are asked to submit a single post that matches that month’s theme.

I was delighted to see that the theme for October is Family History. My biggest challenge was to decide which blog post to submit! I ended up submitting one from my organizing website, Tracing my roots: Why I love genealogy research.

The Blog Carnival was published today and it occurred to me that readers of Organize Your Family History might enjoy perusing the 14 family-history-related blog posts in the Carnival. My organizing colleagues write great stuff.

So here’s the link: Family History – Professional Organizers Blog Carnival.


Create (or download) genealogy forms with Transpose

I think many genealogists (including me) enjoy forms. We collect data and we like to have a place to put it. I have been playing with a website that allows me to create forms willy nilly and I’m having a great time.

That website is Transpose. It makes it ridiculously easy create forms that you can fill out yourself or share with others via weblink. (So you could create a form to send to cousins, for example, and the answers would form a database in your Transpose account.) You can also publish form templates for others to download and customize for their own use.

I learned about Transpose via Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, who mentioned that she used Transpose’s previous incarnation, KustomNote, for creating contact forms that help her organize the many DNA-related contacts she receives.

Since creating my (free) account on Transpose, I have created a bunch of forms, including several genealogy-related templates that I’ve been using regularly.

I’ve made three genealogy templates public:

  • Genealogy conference notes (which was really handy when I was taking notes at the Southern Illinois Genealogical Society’s conference)
  • Genealogy task list (which is wear I’m keeping track of current projects, as I blogged about last week)
  • Genealogy abstract form (which I’m using to capture data as I abstract my ancestors’ Civil War pension files)

Please feel free to download them and customize them for your use. I’m sure I’ll be adding more–they’ll all be tagged Genealogy, so they’ll be easy to find when you browse public templates at Transpose.  All my templates are quite simple, but I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the power of Transpose. I look forward to getting into it deeper!

Oh, and of course, Transpose has an iOS app, so I can use it on my iPhone and iPad. (An Android app is in development.)

If you use Transpose and have any public templates, please let me know in the comments!