I am mid-point into Week 1 of the Genealogy Do-Over, (GDO) a 13-week initiative to improve my genealogy habits and research skills. I have learned a lot this week from fellow participants, a great testament that collaboration always brings better results than working alone. Week 1 signals the end of my old genealogy ways. I have stopped work on my current project and filed my research documents. After a bit of reorganization, I can now happily state that all of my resources are in a central location instead of scattered all over the house. I have also started putting together family notebooks, but that is a topic for another day.
In Hitting the Reset Button – Genealogy Do-Over Week 1, I listed some of my bad research habits that I hope to overcome. It is comforting to know that I am not alone when it comes to such things as not properly citing sources and trying to fit genealogy research in between other tasks. I believe the success of Genealogy Do-Over initiative has a lot to do with the fact that many of us have been at this for years, without proper training, and now recognize there is a better way. Reflection is never about blame. It simply means we cannot change what we do not understand.
Looking forward, I want genealogy to be more than a time-filler. I want the time I invest to be of value. To do that, I need to add structure and consistency to what I do. I have come up with a simple model that will get me started.
Many people use the term ‘research’ as an umbrella for the various tasks they do, but I found this to be too restrictive. The term ‘Genealogy Work’ is purposely vague because it allows me to expand my model with additional categories and work as the process matures. For now, there are three categories of tasks, described below.
In pre-GDO days I rarely prepared for my work session. This resulted in a lot of wasted time due to stopping and starting. I would have to stop and look for documents I needed, or insert genealogy work between other tasks. It is a proven fact that the brain cannot handle more than one task at a time and every time we try to multi-task, our productivity goes down. As part of GDO, I will determine what I need in the way of supplies and resources, review what I want to do and how I will do it, clear my schedule so other things do not interrupt me, and find a tidy space to work. It might take me five minutes or 30 minutes but getting started will allow me to focus on the work and make my work time more meaningful.
This category includes the actual work done. Not everything is research. Genealogy work includes time spent analyzing our findings, writing letters and emails to relatives, organizing our files and documenting the results. Whenever I start working without knowing what I am going to do, I end up chasing after BSO’s (Bright Shiny Objects) that tend to distract me. Anything I do will link back to my general research plan and goals, which I explore in more detail during Week 2.
As much as I would love to spend all my time engaged in genealogy work, there has to be a stopping point and it is much better when planned. Going forward, I will attempt to time-box my work so I do not have to worry about other pending tasks. I will close out what I am working on, back-up files if necessary and make sure everything stored away so I know where to find it next time.
I know this is not a perfect system and will change over time as I learn what works and what does not. This system establishes a foundation for better habits. Over time, my genealogy results should improve. I can hardly wait until we get back into work mode so I can try it out.
If what you do is not working, try something new. George Bernard Shaw said it best:
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”