The power of the deadline

page 1 dave's letter to bea testIn my last post, I blogged about how I needed to reignite my interest in doing family history research. Due to competing priorities I hadn’t done any research in awhile and I was having difficulty jumping back in. I decided to work on research that I could share with my father when I visit him next week. That deadline helped activate me a little.

But I let the deadline get closer before taking action. Last week was an especially busy week with organizing clients, so it wasn’t until the weekend that I finally did something. And that’s because I selected a small, fun project that I could do in the now-abbreviated time available to me.

A little background: A couple of years ago, my aunt gave the great gift of a hand-written letter from my grandfather to his then-fiancee, my grandmother. In it he poured out his personal history in the hopes of putting all his cards on the table before they were married. I read and enjoyed it, but retained only a little of the information in my head. (Though I did blog about some of the insights!) I had my grandfather’s handwriting analyzed by Nancy Douglas. (Fascinating!) I had shared the handwriting analysis with my father, but never the actual letter.

So I decided to transcribe the letter before I leave town. I started on Sunday and it’s been such a fun project! The letter is 37 pages, handwritten. But the writing and spacing are large, so it’s not a daunting task. A little bonus is that the letter, when given to me, was missing three double-sided pages. I found those pages in a bundle of love letters my father gave me this past December. So I’ve been able to scan those missing pages and include them in the transcription.

This project has reinforced to me the power of the deadline and the incredible value of transcribing. In the process of transcribing this letter, I’ve really read it. I’ve taken note of what a good writer my grandfather was (he ended up becoming a newspaper reporter) and what a humorous writer he was. It’s given me a little insight into the similarities between my father and grandfather.

It’s also given me a peek into the hardships he endured as a child and young man and what a hard worker he was. I learned, for example, that in high school he worked after school from 3 pm to 11 pm every school day and all day Saturday and Sunday at a movie theater. And for all those hours he earned $14 a week. That was 1922 and Google tells me that would be $191.40 in today’s dollars. Not a great hourly wage! But he wrote very proudly of his hard work and earnings.

I haven’t yet finished transcribing–it’s a great project to take in small chunks and that’s what I’ve been doing. But I’m enjoying it so much and feel my genealogy spark turning back into a flame!

Here’s my takeaway from this little experience. I realized that I was able to reignite the flame because:

  • I had a deadline.
  • I chose a small, fun project.
  • I’m getting some great insights and easy-to-read access to them later
  • That project will be important to someone besides me.
  • The project can be done in 15-minute increments.

When I finish this, I have that set of love letters between these same grandparents that I can transcribe if I choose. Or I move on to something else. But the nice thing is that I’m working on family history again!

Reigniting the spark

Reigniting the sparkI hit the genealogical doldrums in the first quarter of 2016. There were a variety of reasons, the top of the list being our standard poodle puppy, Bix, whom we brought home mid-December 2015. But there were other competing obligations, including my business and my home and family.

Bix is now five months old and doesn’t require constant supervision. Things have settled back into routines and I have time again to do some research. But I find myself unexcited and it’s feeling hard to get started again.

This morning I sat down and thought about what it would take to reignite that spark. I started by making a little list of what I love about genealogy research:

  • Playing detective
  • The thrill the hunt
  • The reward of making discoveries
  • The stimulation of my curiosity constantly being tweaked

But so much time has gone by that I’ve lost the itch and I’m having trouble remembering what I’m curious about. I have a genealogy to-do list, but nothing’s exciting me.

Then I realized what always sparks action for me: A deadline. I’m going to visit my father in Washington state in two weeks. He’s always interested in what I can tell him about his family history. So I’m going to try to come up with some sort of discovery to share with him or create some sort of narrative or timeline that he might find interesting.

With that in mind, I’m going to set aside time on my calendar to do some genealogy research in an effort to come up with some sort of gift to share with my dad when I see him in two short weeks.

Suddenly there’s some urgency and my imagination is starting to spark a little. Hooray!

Some other strategies I came up with to reignite the spark include:

  • Read genealogy blogs to get my creative juices flowing.
  • Focus on some genealogy Facebook groups to see what others are reading about.
  • Do another 30 x 30 challenge so I do something at least daily. Or maybe I need to set myself up for success and make it 15 x 15. (Fifteen minutes of research for 15 days straight.)
  • Let doing genealogy research be a reward for working on my still-unfinished income taxes.

Now I’m feeling like I’m going to get some research done in the next few days. That feels so much better! I’ll report back next week and let you know how it goes.

Have you ever had the doldrums with your research? How did you reignite your spark?

Photo by Shivenis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Randomizing my research

Randomizing my researchI promised myself I would get some research done yesterday. (Not organizing, research.) I knew there was some barrier to getting started and on Sunday I created a little mind map to try to figure it out. That made me realize that my problem was that I didn’t know just what to work on and perhaps there was some lingering fear that I’d choose the wrong thing. (Of course that’s ridiculous, but emotions aren’t always reasonable, are they?)

In my mind mapping/journaling I reassured myself that it didn’t matter what research I did, I just needed to do something. I committed to starting some research by 10 a.m. yesterday (Presidents’ Day). Dutifully at 10 a.m. I sat at my computer and tried to figure out what to work on.

I was still a little paralyzed, so I came up with a little method that worked for me. Here’s what I did. I’m sharing it with you now in case you ever find yourself in a similar spot.

I looked at my genealogy to-do list and I created a numbered list of 10 possible research tasks. I made sure each one was something I’d be happy to work on. Then I  went to the Random Number Generator website and came up with a random number between 1 and 10 (inclusive). I took that number and did the corresponding task on my list. When I finished with that task, I did it again.

I basically needed to the choice away from myself, for some reason. Once it was out of my hands, I had no trouble getting started on the tasks that had been randomly selected for me.

I feel so much better for having gotten started! I have some more time for family history research today, so I’m going to go back to my list and the RNG and see where it takes me.

I feel a little pathetic having to resort to this but, hey, whatever works, right?

Doing the research vs. organizing the research

doing research vs organizing researchI suspect that most genealogy enthusiasts prefer doing research to organizing the results. A large part of the fun (for me, anyway) is playing detective and making discoveries. That’s thrilling. But if we don’t process our finds, what good do they do us?

I was thinking about that today as I thought about whether to do some genealogy research or spend the time working on organizing my research. I feel I’ve been so out of touch with my research (still blaming my puppy, Bix, and my long work hours) that I don’t even know where I stand with anything. That makes me feel a bit paralyzed.

I could jump right back into the research and maybe have some fun, but I think I’d be better off taking stock of where things stand organization-wise. And for me that means:

  • Looking over my genealogy to-do list
  • Looking at my progress tracker and updating it if necessary
  • Looking on my hard drive for electronic files related to the Adams family (this quarter’s family) and filing them
  • Pulling out my backlog box marked “genealogy stuff to read” that I didn’t even remember I had and going through the contents. I just peeked in it and it contains documents picked up at genealogy conferences in 2015. I suspect I’ll be able to pretty swiftly dispatch a lot of it. If not, I’ll add items to my genealogy task list (like I described in my blog post, Banishing the stubborn pile).
  • Updating my task list with the tasks that will inevitably result from this activity.

That’s a pretty long list, but it shouldn’t take too long. And, I remind myself, I don’t have to do all of it. Any effort here will be beneficial. Once I have a better handle on what I’m doing and what steps I need to do to improve my organization, I’ll have a clearer head. And I’ll have more direction when it comes to doing actual research. Something tells me it will be much easier to get started researching then!

Photo above taken by me using the SHOTBOX tabletop photo light studio.