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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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Will Doing More Help You Do More Genealogy?

It's been a busy week at The Occasional Genealogist HQ. I've been preparing for a webinar and preparing a new product to launch.

It's made me think a lot about how I get things done (and how I could do this better) and how that would apply to you, the hobbyist genealogist.

Here's the thing. It's been a crazy week and I'm exhausted and haven't eaten as well as I wanted and exercise? Let's not talk about that. But, I think I also broke down one of my biggest brick walls.

Yeah, I worked a lot on a lecture, did a bit of work on a new product, fed my kids (and kept them alive, go me!), and found a new ancestor. And I didn't find that new ancestor thanks to dumb luck or one magic record that made everything fall into place. It was DNA analysis, like I talk about in this webinar, and organization.

There wasn't any skill I used that you couldn't do, too.

Because of my organizational flaws (I don't have it all together), you're going to have to wait for the webinar (and follow-up posts) to learn about the DNA skills I used. But today I want to talk about the first of three organizing/time-management myths you need to stop believing.

Before The Occasional Genealogist Planner New Year Edition launches, you want to get your mind ready to do more genealogy this year. Just wanting to do more isn't enough. You will need time you can spend on genealogy and that usually means managing your time, both while doing genealogy, and in life.

Myth #1: Multi-tasking Helps You Get More Done Faster

If you've ever read job advertisements, you probably see them asking for "natural multi-taskers" or "good multi-taskers." Scientifically, you cannot multi-task. No one can. As a human, you can only focus on one thing at a time.

A person who multi-tasks might get by and do a good enough job, but if they really focused, they'd do better. Study after study shows that multi-tasking reduces productivity, increases stress, and it's not even actually possible and in some cases, it may be dangerous.

When it comes to genealogy, specifically, the focus that is reduced when you multi-task is a huge loss. Do NOT multi-task and expect good genealogy results.

I'm very into the "no multi-tasking" after taking a business course a few years ago. It started with focusing on "context switching" which is where multi-tasking causes a problem.

Because you can't literally do multiple things at once, your brain is actually switching between things or contexts. I've been experiencing the downside of this big-time, this week, trying to go from working on the webinar to the Planner. Although they are both about genealogy, they are barely related. I feel much more stressed than if I had a week where I worked through one task, finished it, and then started the next.

I was only able to discover that new ancestor because I was able to give dedicated chunks of time to that one project (not to using DNA results in general but to that specific project). That work was related to the webinar (that's why I started looking at it again last week when I'm so busy) so going from webinar prep to that project wasn't really context switching. It was thanks in large part to that level of focus that I made the discovery.

When You Should Multi-task

As a mom, I certainly do what we consider multi-tasking (prepare breakfast, start laundry, get dressed, check the weather, find lost shoes, etc.). Sometimes multi-tasking is the only way to get things done on time. BUT, try and limit it to things that need less focus.

If the laundry is already sorted, it's easy to toss in a load while something is hands-off in breakfast prep. This barely takes any thought and if I was so organized as to have a list (so I didn't even have to think about what to do while bacon is in the air fryer), this would be even easier and less (potentially) problematic. I also do a LOT of the solution to myth #2. Myths 2 & 3, plus a bonus, are only available to newsletter subscribers, you can sign-up for The Occasional Genealogist newsletter, here.

Genealogy Requires Focus

Context switching in genealogy is a huge pitfall. This is also related to "shiny object syndrome" where you go running off after whatever catches your eye. That's really hard to fight in genealogy.

Reality Check

Finally, this is all great advice but remember, genealogy is your own journey. As a professional genealogist I can't be reducing my focus by multi-tasking a client project— making it suffer while still charging the client for my full focus (that is why I have so much trouble finding time for client work; quiet, focused time is at a premium).

If you divide your time while doing genealogy, such as watching T.V. while doing it, your genealogy will suffer. This is your choice. I do it, too, especially when I'm building trees for DNA projects. I can guarantee you I watched T.V. while building trees for the project where I just found the new ancestor and I still found a new ancestor---I was not watching T.V. when I finally pulled it together, though.

(And a little caveat, here, I also know when I really needed to think to build part of a tree, I have no idea what is going on on the T.V. Having a T.V. on in the room is a distraction to most people and reduces their focus, although some people need background noise. However, context switching, watching and paying attention to the show and then working on genealogy alternately, is worse than if the T.V. is just on in the room and you aren't really paying attention.

Whether you're really multi-tasking or just in a distracting environment makes a difference as does the amount of focus required for the tasks you're switching between. Context switching is the bigger problem than just multi-tasking so think about what you're doing. There are probably several levels of improvements you can choose between, not just having the ideal time vs. the worst time.)

My choice was not to give genealogy my full attention or watch T.V. My choice was watch T.V., read a book, or go to sleep. I could build trees while watching T.V. but not while doing the other two (sometimes I choose the other two so I don't stay up all night building trees!).

Recognize what your choices are and accept the consequences. We all love genealogy, we all have 24-hours in a day. We don't all have the same responsibilities but we do all have responsibilities.

Enjoy doing genealogy. If you enjoy it more while watching T.V., you can do it that way. But also realize your lack of progress may be due to this (or another) choice you made.

I love to do genealogy and sometimes the only way I can work on my own research is to make what is a "poor choice" in comparison to what I should do. However, sometimes that's the only way I'll get to do any of my own genealogy.

I would not have found this new ancestor at this point in time without building trees while watching T.V. It would have been later, after many trees were built. Because my "quiet time" is so rare, and usually spent on client work, if I waited to have that type of ideal time for my own research, it could easily have been several years before I made this discovery.

I did the less focused work in the less ideal situation (vs. not doing that work at all). I then prioritized that project because I could see I was close to a solution and had "better" time where I could do more focused work. This was all planning and organizing, even though it involved multi-tasking, which I just told you to avoid.

I think the best way to summarize this is to say...
you need to make educated choices.

This is your journey. When I'm doing client work, it's unethical to charge them for my focused time and then be distracted by multi-tasking. That's not my journey, though.

We usually think "make educated choices" means making the best choice but in this situation, it's knowing and accepting the consequences because your choice doesn't adversely affect someone else. It's just yours. (Just don't go papering the Internet with your poorly researched tree because that does affect others, you still have some "good" choices you need to make).

Enjoy your genealogy journey whether that means multi-tasking so you enjoy the journey or it's the only way can do genealogy. Also enjoy your journey by choosing to give genealogy better time, even if it's less often, because constantly getting stuck is eroding your enjoyment.

This is a choice and it's yours to make.

What choices do you make to get to do genealogy or to make better time for your genealogy? Leave a comment to help give others great ideas!

The Occasional Genealogist