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Work Smarter and Do More Genealogy

Do you feel like you never find time for genealogy?

Here's a secret, you will rarely ever "find" time for anything.

You have to MAKE time.
Work Smarter and Do More Genealogy

In this post I have seven ways you can make more time in your schedule. This post will describe one way that I think is really important. Then I have a "handout" for you with six more tips!

Get the printable of 6 Productivity Tips to Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder.

There are also bonus topics sprinkled throughout this post so you can craft your own unique solution to "making" time!


Let's talk about keeping a planner so you create more time for genealogy.

Call it an organizer, a Filofax, a Day-Timer, or whatever you want. When I was younger this was always presented as a schedule you filled in and that was about it. That sounds great for a professional who spends all day running from one appointment to another but for most of us, a timed schedule doesn't make our day go 'round.

You probably have certain tasks you have to get done each day. It just doesn't matter if they are done at 9a.m., 9:15, 9:30, etc. Today's planners have options for anyone, whether you're driven by time-specific appointments or not.

Keeping a planner can help you complete what you have to complete more efficiently. That can in-turn mean you have more time for genealogy. Sounds like a good idea, right?

As with a planner, these tips can be used for your whole life so you complete your "have-tos" and still have time for genealogy. I've included some genealogy specific uses, too.

Planners for Genealogists

I didn't realize a whole "planner" phenomenon had been going on until a few years ago. After I had my second child, I realized I spent a lot more time away from the computer and had to find a different way to stay as organized as I had been previously.

I had been doing everything digitally. That worked great until I wasn't in front of my computer for large parts of the day.

It was most likely through Pinterest that I came across "planner decorating" and a whole world of planner fans with lots of customizable ideas. (FYI I don't do planner decorating but the pretty pictures drew me in and keep me learning more about productivity and managing my day so I can spend less time on my "have-tos" and more time on my "want-tos.")

Many of the ideas found on Pinterest (or Instagram) are "home management" centric so if you don't work full-time, you may find the perfect organization tool for your life. If your work and personal life are just not meshing because of a lack of organization, borrowing some ideas from a planner-fanatic may help you get everything together.

How Today's Planners Are Different from an 80's Day-Timer

Most of the systems or methods you'll see people using now use little to no "schedule" as part of their planner. Instead, there is either a small section for those things that are tied to a time or you just put them down in a section.

I like the weekly or daily planners that show "Morning" "Afternoon" and "Evening." This is much more how my days go. This allows for you to plan to do something within a time frame but if something happens, you don't have to adjust your schedule. It also doesn't require you to get everything in an exact order; you can write things down as you think of them (but you can have three lists so you don't have such an overwhelming to-do list each day).

This is also a reasonable option if you have set office hours. Your work tasks will go in the section(s) when you are at work but right next to something like a doctor's appointment -- which obviously impacts your work time that day.

There are lots of other options out there if you don't like the "Morning," "Afternoon," "Evening" approach. I've split a planner of this type into "research" (for the research side of my business), "blogging" (managing this blog), and "personal." This almost aligns with the types of time I have, "quiet work time" for research clients, work time with my kids around (for any non-hourly work like admin and blogging), and "personal" time. Quiet time is at a premium so seeing that work separately helps make sure it gets done.

You can adjust a three section planner even if you don't work or want to use it only for the personal side of your life. Simply think about the three categories you'd like to visualize your tasks under.

This can be based on the clock (morning, afternoon, evening) or another category (work, home, genealogy or volunteer, family, genealogy---genealogy might not get its own section, my personal research doesn't but I'm still suggesting it).

RELATED: Not looking for a planner, just an offline way to track your week? I love this suggestion from Suzi at Start a Mom Blog. She has a post and quick video about her "Super Simple Weekly Schedule to Get Stuff Done."

I love Trello for the things I can track online and this is a similar concept (FYI, if you want it online, just create a Trello board for your week and use labels to stand for the colors---use my referral link to get started with Trello).

Genealogy Trip Planning

I'm looking forward to using this three-section approach on my next multi-day research trip.

In the past, I've tried setting a schedule to keep from getting bogged down in something that isn't what I really want to do (or to make sure I work on all the client work I've brought).

I actually scheduled everything with a time. I knew I wouldn't stick to the schedule exactly, that's ok. But it's too time-consuming to try and recalculate the rest of the day's schedule when I make a change.

Inevitably I barely used the schedule. Making the schedule has some advantages itself but I'd like to stay on a schedule a little better. I think the sections of the day will work much better and I'm less likely to over schedule myself this way.

I also need to remember to eat! Whether you're visiting a repository with lots of hours (like the Family History Library) or will spend the evening in your hotel room reviewing your research, the two breaks can represent lunch and dinner or your two longest breaks.

If you're making a "big" research trip, consider creating a schedule for your research.

It will help you think about realistic goals and hopefully encourage you to create some more specific research plans to maximize your research time. If you honestly can't find time to create a full research plan ahead of time (you really should but I know life sometimes gets in the way), scheduling your research can break your research into specifics closer to a plan.

RELATED: Learn about the alternative of using time blocking for genealogy, here.

Add Some Genealogy to Your Planner

If you are keeping or decide to keep a single planner with everything in it, consider a genealogy section.

For most Occasional Genealogists, this isn't going to be a to-do list or a spur of the moment research log (I've written about genealogy lists for a bullet journal, though).

If you're really an Occasional Genealogist, you do too little genealogy to give up the planner real estate for that (it is an option, though and more practical if you can add sections to your planner, such as with a disc-bound planner).

I suggest considering a genealogy journal (as in diary). If you have a large note section or can add a section to your planner, your journal can easily be in your planner (the same is true if you keep a bullet journal).

Even if you're able to carve out time for genealogy organizing or, heaven forbid, actual research, a genealogy journal can still help you.

A popular suggestion to be better motivated is to write down what you need to do the next day before you go to bed. That way you sleep better. Writing things down gets them out of your head.

You really need that in genealogy. You can NOT carry it all in your head. But sometimes all those charts and forms (or a blank page) are intimidating. Trying to create something formal can sometimes be a hindrance.

Enter the genealogy journal.

Overcoming Genealogy Writer's Block

I think one of the most important aspects of the journal is that you create it just for you, for no one else to see. There is no reason to worry about what others think of what you wrote. Just start writing. That should give you a clue about using it appropriately, too.

Another genealogist (including your future self) can benefit from your notes, plans, logs, and reports. Don't put them in your journal. The benefit of a genealogy journal is simply in catching your random ideas and thoughts, not its use farther down the road. Don't confuse it with other types of journals/diaries.

Using Genealogy Notes with Your Journal (don't)

You should write about whatever genealogy topic you choose. You don't need any reference material in front of you when you write. If you have a question that depends on information about an ancestor, don't look it up.

Write down what you need to look-up and the implications. Even if it turns out the ancestor is the wrong age (or whatever information you needed), the general idea will probably apply somewhere else in your research.

If you have the time and inclination to pull out your notes, you should probably be creating a formal document (plan, summary/report, timeline, etc.).

If you start keeping this journal while using your notes, you are likely to start abusing it and cause yourself different problems.

Take a look at my genealogy collections for a bullet journal posts or my genealogy to-do list post for better ideas for when you have time to pull out your notes.

Braindumping for Genealogy

You don't have to sit down to solve a particular problem or task when you want to "journal" about genealogy, although you could. If you feel blocked trying to write a plan or organize a report, you might want to start with a journal entry. Just make sure relevant ideas make it to the plan or report.

I know I hate reading my own unedited work. If you feel the same, here's the good news. You only need to reread what you wrote one time. You need to transfer relevant ideas to an actionable document. Make a to-do list, add it to a plan or log, create a note or report, whatever is appropriate.

Realizing you need to review existing research may be the most useful feature of your journal. You may have some other realizations, too.

Improving Your Genealogy Skills

You may realize you need to correlate and analyze data/sources you already have. Don't know what correlating and analyzing are? Those are the formal terms for a very important set of skills.

If you have the urge to make a chart to compare information, you want to correlate the data.

If you begin having questions about a source you used, you are feeling the need to analyze it.

Depending on the level of detail you recall, you might do some analyzing while writing in your journal. In that case, you need to transfer that information to a memo/report or, at least, a note in your file.

It's not usually possible to correlate data without having your notes in front of you (which I've already said you don't do in this informal, off-the-cuff type of writing).

Your journal can help you formulate genealogical questions you would never have thought of by filling out a family group sheet or pedigree chart. It can even bring up different questions than arise when reporting or planning.

You may start to ask questions that require you to develop new skills (like correlating and analyzing) or you may ask questions you simply need to research the answer ("how old did you have to be to witness [that kind of document]?").

Genealogy is all about answering questions and they go way beyond, "who's his father?"

Setting Yourself Up for Genealogy Success

If you decide to start keeping a genealogy journal, make sure you don't abuse it.

Genealogy is a long term project. You need a great organizing system and a long-term organizing system.

Your genealogy journal is an informal place for brainstorming or just to get ideas out of your head (braindumping).

If you need to act on anything you've written, you need to transfer that action to the appropriate place. Your journal should NOT be the first place you go when it's time to research.

How to Keep a Genealogy Journal

Finally, you don't NEED to keep a genealogy journal. Just like you don't NEED to do mind mapping. It works for some people and is extremely helpful to them.

You do NEED to keep a research log, take good notes, and summarize your research.

A journal is a suggestion that might be helpful if you have too many ideas in your head or just need to "talk it out" but can't.

When you are a less experienced genealogist, it might help you start writing when you don't know where to start. If you just like keeping a diary, this might work for you. Whatever the reason, you may find a genealogy journal helpful.

I've suggested a paper journal but you can keep it in any portable format you like. That might be electronic and with a smartphone, audio is also an option. You can also create a workable solution for any combination of the three with an app like Evernote.

RELATED: here's a post about using Evernote for random genealogy ideas as well as research planning ideas.

Find the format that works for you and don't abuse it.

Your genealogy journal can help you think outside the family group sheet.

Learn More

There is plenty to say about planners and journals. I could provide as many links to learn more as the text I've already written. Instead, check-out The Occasional Genealogist "Paper Planner Pins" Board where you can find some pins for free planner printables and more.

Don't forget to also grab my 6 Productivity Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder.

If you have a scheduling or planner related tip or question, leave a comment. You can also leave a link to your favorite planner printable(s).

If you have another suggestion for a way to include genealogy in your planner, please share!
Work Smarter and Do More Genealogy | The Occasional Genealogist
Hacks to Work Smarter | The Occasional Genealogist


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