Getting through the dull jobs

Getting the boring genealogy tasks doneBeing a professional organizer, I actually love  organizing my family history research. (Usually.) But I certainly understand that for most people it’s not the most exciting or glamorous aspect of doing genealogy research.

A week ago, in my mid-quarter progress report, I realized that I was falling behind on the organizing goals I’d set in my big plan for this year. I decided I would focus on marrying my electronic and paper files, making sure that my direct ancestors’ siblings were included in my Reunion software, and ensuring that my electronic files were in their proper folders.

I thought that was a great plan for spending my genealogy research time over the next few weeks. But the problem, I discovered, is that it’s also a bit tedious and boring. What I really want to do is research, not just focus on playing organizational catch up.

So I used a technique I use all the time for other tedious tasks and what I advise clients to do: I set a timer. I told myself that for 15 minutes I would work on making sure the contents of my paper file on Elmer Adams and Hattie Igleheart Adams were on my hard drive in the appropriate place. Just knowing it would be only 15 minutes was enough to get me started. (As Flylady says, you can do anything for 15 minutes.)

Here’s what’s great. In the course of looking over the 1900 census document for Elmer and Hattie that I’d printed years ago, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed then: a baby named Elmer E. Adams, aged 6 months. And I noticed that Hattie had had another child who had not survived. That means there are two children of Elmer and Hattie (both born and died before my grandfather, their son, was born in 1904) who I hadn’t included on my family tree.

So that’s a tantalizing tidbit to explore. I did hop over to Ancestry to see if I could find any more info–there was one unsourced tree with these two children included. I recorded the information in my research tracker so that I could remember to try to find a source later.

So I feel like a big winner this afternoon. Using my timer, I made progress on getting the less exciting work done and in the course of it, I made an exciting little discovery.

If you dread the thought of organizing your family history documents, perhaps you can set a timer and just get started for a little while. I know I’ll get through this if I do a little every day!

Doing a little research every day

Doing genealogy research five days a weekFinding time to do family history research is a problem for me. I bet I’m not alone! Even though it really is important to me, I’m having a hard time making it a priority. I was thinking about that problem recently and thought about how I’ve learned through the years that daily actions are easier to sustain then less frequent actions. Between this blog and my Peace of Mind Organizing blog, for instance, I try to blog five days a week. And, for me, that’s easier than blogging weekly.

Then it hit me. What I need to do is make a commitment to doing a little family history research, or a little organizing of my family history research, five days a week. It might be for only 15 minutes. But, as I tell my clients, a little bit of daily effort can make a big difference. Another benefit of daily effort is that you get into the habit of doing it.

This represents a shift for me–before, I think I was having trouble finding the large blocks of time I felt I needed. But I know that I can get quite a bit done in a short bit of time. (A timer really helps.) So now, knowing that I just need to squeeze in at least 15 minutes, I’m less overwhelmed by finding time and getting started. And since I’ve done research so recently, I have a better idea of what I want to work on.

I’ll be interested to see how this works out. I’m feeling very hopeful. I came up with this idea on Thursday of last week. So I did research on Friday (and blogged about it). This afternoon, I remembered my commitment, so I sat down and did some work. I have a feeling that this schedule will actually take some pressure off me!

P.S. Have you had a chance to take my poll on what types of posts you’d like to read on this blog? This will be my last reminder; I just want to give you a chance to express your opinion by taking the quick poll.

Using a timer to aid your research

Use a timer to keep you focused and capture small snippets of timeToday I have time to devote to some genealogy research. But I also have a couple of phone appointments and I need to work out at the gym. And my knitting group meets tonight. So my day is sort of chopped up.

Sometimes I get caught in the trap of feeling like I can’t start any family history research unless I have a large chunk of uninterrupted time ahead of me. The trouble with that I rarely have a large chunk of time available. So if I wait, I won’t get much done.

This morning at 11 am, knowing that I wanted to go to the gym at about 11:30, I sent the timer on my iPhone for 25 minutes. It served a couple of purposes:

  • It kept me focused on the research until the timer went off
  • It kept me from losing myself in the research and missing going to the gym
  • Stopping at the end of 25 minutes kept me chomping at the bit to do more research, so later today I’ll be able to set my timer again and get more work done.

I think that fear of getting lost in the work sometimes prevents me from starting, so the timer really is my friend. And I’m always amazed at what I can get done in short bursts of time.

In his book, Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, author Mark Forster talks about timed bursts and how taking breaks increases productivity (versus working long stretches of time). He advocates using a timer and cautions to stop the moment the timer goes off, so that you want to get back to work when the break is over. The brain craves completion, he explains.

My intention is to use the timer throughout the day and see if I can wedge in at least two hours of genealogy time in my day.

Next time you have a short period of time to do some family history research, pull out a timer and see if it helps!

My dream genealogy staycation

I’ve been very busy helping clients get organized recently and just have not taken the time to do genealogy research. I’ve been out all day most days and when I come home it’s all I can do to wrangle my email and get ready for the next day before collapsing with a glass of wine. (Well, it’s not quite that dramatic, but you get the idea.)

I find myself fantasizing about taking an entire week off to spend on doing genealogy research. In this dream stay-cation, I’d probably do the following:

That sounds like more than a week’s worth of activities, actually. But the truth is that the chances I would actually take a week away from clients and running my organizing business is pretty remote.

But you know what? I don’t need a week off to dig into this stuff. Heck, I don’t need an afternoon off. If I can capture an hour here or there, I’ll make progress.  And if I managed to put in 30 minutes most days, I’d make huge progress. It’s just like I tell my clients about decluttering: 15 or 30 minutes a day can make all the difference in the world. In fact, I got out my calculator and figured it out. If you declutter (or do family history research) for 3o minutes a day, five days a week, for a year , it comes to 130 hours. That’s more than three work weeks!

I still love the idea of focusing my efforts for an entire week. But for now, I’ll try to wedge about a half hour a day in and see what progress I can make!