When life gets in the way of research

Finding time for genealogy researchI had a wonderful research trip last month and I really enjoyed being immersed in my genealogy research. But I don’t think I’ve done any family history research since then! That is a crying shame.

It’s not a bad problem to have:  I’m so busy with paying work (helping clients get organized) that I’m having trouble finding time to do genealogy research. But it’s also not acceptable. If I want to do this research (and I do), I need to make it a priority.

I know I’ve felt this way at times before, so I perused the articles from this blog tagged time management. And I was inspired. I noticed a shift in how things are going for me. My lack of research these days is truly due to lack of time, not lack of direction or feelings of overwhelm as it used to be. So that’s progress. (The end result–no research getting done– is the same, unfortunately.) My quarterly plan really gives me direction, which is so beneficial to how I feel about doing research.

But as I wrote in this article, it really is about priority management, not time management. I’m fortunate in that I have control over my schedule, both work and personal, since I don’t have kids and my husband makes few demands on my time. So I could, in theory anyway, reserve a day of the week for genealogy research. It might mean delaying (or possibly even losing) billable hours. Or it might mean prioritizing my desires over my clients’ (which feels really weird).

The bottom line is this (at least right now): If I don’t make doing my family history research a priority, time to do it is not going to materialize. I need to schedule it, not wait for free blocks of time. And, if necessary, I need to sneak it into available pockets of time.

In March 2013, I created a genealogy time-management plan. Looking back, it might have been overly ambitious and I admit it fell by the wayside. So now, I think if I simply block off  four hours a week where I focus on actual family history research (not writing this blog, not reading other people’s blogs), I will make progress. That sounds completely doable.

Maybe in June I’ll be able to schedule a little genealogy staycation of a few days’ duration. That sounds really wonderful.

How about you? How do you find the time to do your family history research?

Photo by nicksarebi via Flickr.

Where are your family treasures?

Where are your family treasures?This week, I was working with a wonderful organizing client. As she gave me a tour of the storage spaces in her home, she said, “This is my most treasured possession!” And she bent down and pulled a plastic bin out from under the bed. Inside was her father’s World War II photo album, along with a few other war artifacts. The photo album had small black-and-white photos mounted onto black paper with meticulous white handwritten captions. The pages were deteriorating and some of the photos had fallen out of their mounting.

I oohed and ahhhed because it was an amazing heirloom. But I challenged her a little by saying, “Why is your most treasured possession stored under the bed in a non-archival plastic bin?” One day (soon, I hope), we will work together to get this item and some other heirlooms into safer storage.

That very same day, my mother’s cousin asked me for a photo of my grandfather for the genealogy poster he is putting together. So I rifled through the box of family photos that my mother gave me, trying to locate a good picture for him. As I did that, I realized that these photos are among my most treasured possessions, yet I am not treating them with the respect they deserve. They’re not archivally stored, nor are they organized.

When I acquired this box in December, I blogged about my plan to deal with them. But I’ve done nothing. I keep waiting for a free block of time.  should know by now that the free time is never going to materialize on its own. I have to set aside time for this project. Luckily for me, this branch of the family is having a reunion in a couple of months, so I can get some help identifying the people in these photos!

How about you? Do you have treasured inherited items that are languishing in unsafe conditions? If you need information on how to handle and store them, check out Sally Jacobs of The Practical Archivist and Denise Levenick of The Family Curator. Don’t wait for something bad to happen. Carve out some time to deal with them now.

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.