My Genealogy Time Management Technique

Actually, I have several genealogy time management techniques, but this particular technique is the overarching, macro-level time management strategy governing my other activities (for which I utilize other time management techniques that I’ll discuss later).

~ The Technique & Background

I call my macro time management technique my “Hat Days.”

Have you ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Bugs’ Bonnets” where the characters keep acting in accordance to the hat that falls atop their head? If not, you will need to watch it for context (I grew up watching that episode over and over on Saturday mornings; it inspired me to create this technique!).

Genealogists can probably all relate to my need for the technique, I am sure: it arose from a need to stay more focused while researching.

Sometimes, while working on one project, I’d discover a cool hack that helped me uncover a record, or I’d find a new resource online that hadn’t been digitized before, and next thing I knew, I’d be entering names from several projects (clients, my family, etc) into that database, or applying the hack to several projects. This behavior became a big time-waster and cause for inefficiency as I found myself with several open files, dozens of open windows on my desktop. That sort of chaos can only result in lost information or rookie mistakes like going back to fetch data for citations.

(Can any of you out there relate to such feverish activity when the thrill of the hunt takes hold?)

~ How The Technique Works

My “hat days” solved this dilemma by forcing me to wear only specified “hats” on their assigned days. I now only perform client work on certain days (and only for certain clients on their allotted day); I can only work on my own ancestors on Sunday. Each day (or some activities get a half-day) I wear a certain hat ONLY, and I am not allowed to engage in any other activity until I officially switch hats. All hats have their time slot, and their scheduled times must be honored each week. I only swap for emergencies (like cancelled trips to archives due to weather, construction, etc).

Genealogical studies also have their own “hat” that I can only “wear” on a specified half-day, because such studies have a HUGE tendency to send me fishing around on the laptop;  genealogy journals always show me new techniques I hadn’t considered, record groups I haven’t thought of in ages or heard of before, etc, which makes me want to hit the laptop or a few courthouses and do some helter-skelter digging for every name on my list. Instead, I take good notes (and my to-do lists handy!) as I study, keeping my study hat on and my client work hat far away, or more chaos and inefficiency can result.

In my early years as a budding genealogist, my hat days were also used to separate my studies–I was learning about California genealogy, European genealogy, and more subjects. To keep myself from working myself into a dither with a document-laden desk (and desktop!), I wore my “California Genealogist-in-training” hat on one day, my “Italian genealogist-in-training hat on another,” and forced myself to stick to those topics on those days.

~ What This Looks Like

Whenever I am wearing my client research hat, because it is one of the days assigned to client research, for example, my “hat days” rule requires me to quickly jot down any other ideas/urges pertaining to other hats in to-do lists (I use the Getting Things Done time management system for my to-do lists, FYI). Then I go back to focusing exclusively on the duties associated with whatever hat I am wearing that day.

If I am supposed to be focusing on my clients, I keep my focus on them. If it is family time and I am supposed to be baking, cleaning, tending to church duties, or serving in the community, or working on  my own ancestors, then I keep my sights on them–whatever hat I am wearing (mother, community servant, baker, chef, family genealogist of professional genealogist), it stays firmly in place. Gone are the days when I let myself get so carried away that I emerged all frazzled from a sea of papers and twenty open windows on my desktop.

(Confession: I still walk the line on busy days when I am hot on the trail of a great find and I am pumping out entries, analyses, citations, and paragraphs left and right, I will admit. Especially when I am on the road and time at a repository is limited. Let’s face it, genealogy is passion so great that self discipline takes constant WORK).

~ How I Keep Track

Clients come and go, and projects start and finish. PLus, many half-day and quarter-day hats means that I wear a LOT of hats!

I keep track of them in the heart of my planner, via Franklin Covey’s planner bookmarks, which can be filled with bookmark cards. These inserts come as perforated planner pages (two to a page) so I keep extras in the back of my planner that I can easily punch out and re-write when it is time to jot down a new list of hats with their assigned days (or half days/quarter days) whenever new clients need to be listed:

planner bookmarks

This technique might not work for or be necessary for others with different working styles, but it has really helped me. If it happens to help anybody who reads this, I hope that you will let me know! 🙂

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My Review: The Best Organizers for The New Year

I have five children, I work two part-time jobs while taking freelance gigs on the side, I have no “help,” and my husband is a doctoral candidate with a FULL-TIME job in addition to his university studies and writing. Still, we find the time for weekly Family Home Evenings, monthly home teaching and visiting teaching, and our children are active in weekly Young Women’s, the “Faith in God” program, and Cub Scouts.

How do we fit so many activities into our already busy lives?

I credit our planners. They are what keep us organized!

I should also credit our time-management strategies, but I’ll have to share those in another post.

Why Buy a Planner When Planning Apps are Free?

I don’t use an app or anything digital–I use a physical planner that goes with me everywhere.

  • When I am at my desk, it lies open, showing me my daily tasks lists.
  • When I am at church, it is open in my lap, so I can jot down upcoming activities or events.
  • When I am in the kitchen cooking, it is on the counter with me, reminding me what is on the menu tonight.
  • While I am cleaning, it goes from room to room with me, reminding me what needs cleaned first and foremost, with shopping lists inside that I can add to as I run out of furniture polish or paper towels.
  • When I am on business calls, it is open to the “notes” section so that none of my work tasks or assignments are ever forgotten.

I cannot survive without my planner!

I tried the apps, but because I could never see them in front of me, they were quickly forgotten. Reminder alarms only got snoozed until I forgot them altogether.

Here is the planner I use:

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(This is just my planner–click on image to view actual product)

Note how the photo above shows that I also buy calendar pages, shopping list pages, etc, to keep me organized.
This year, I am using an even better system of pages, called “Seven Habits,” because it is based on the time-management strategies from the famous book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
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These are my FAVORITE planner pages! Click on image to view actual product

Back when I was a young mother (translation: too busy nursing babies and chasing toddlers to make many appointments), I used this family planner instead, and I LOVED it:

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Amy Knapp’s planners were my *favorite* for keeping track of meals and groceries; if ever my business slows down and lets me return to a more serene life, I plan to go right back to these! 🙂 **click on the image to see other sizes/styles

Amy Knapp’s planners are larger than the purse-friendly compact planner I buy from Franklin Covey, so I used this purse/planner combo back then, which I really loved and could easily slip inside my diaper bag before outings to church or to the store:
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BEST feature of this planner case: both Amy Knapp’s planner pages AND my “Seven Habits” pages (above) fit into it, so I don’t have to change binders even as I change page styles. PERFECT! 🙂

Here is another homemaker’s planner that is similar to Amy Knapp’s, but much prettier (though less practical, because it has no pockets or spaces for me to store stuff). It is just so pretty that I want to buy one and keep it on my counter, even though I don’t need it! 🙂

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My kids also use planners, as part of our family’s chores-for-privileges rule (something I’ll explain in a future post). Here are the planners they use:

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These come in a variety of styles, sizes, and formats, click the image to view them all.

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I recommend these planners to my university students, to help them stay organized and not miss any assignments, because I do not accept late work:

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Back when I was teaching my children at home, this was also my favorite homeschool planner:

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For those who instead prefer to support cottage industries and local artisans with their purchases, here is a homemade planner for LDS moms, that is made and sold out of the homes of some very creative LDS moms:

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As you can see, I am a massive planner enthusiast, so please let me know of any other planning products I should try! 🙂

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My Favorite Genealogy Organizer!

In the 20+ years I have been doing genealogy research, I’ve lugged with me all kinds of backpacks, totes, portable file boxes, and even those huge totes-on-wheels to the libraries, archives, and courthouses where I do my research. I’ve also road-tested them overseas.

But of all the different document-holding, file-toting, equipment-carrying products I’ve tried, this portable file box and computer case combo is my absolute favoriteI HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT for anyone who has to carry files or equipment to-and-fro as part of their job or hobby:

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UPDATE: this particular tote is now out of stock at Amazon, so this picture is now linking to a different model at the Amazon site. My apologies–it must have been super popular! 🙂

Here is what mine looks like close up:

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The straps are VERY sturdy!

Here’s a look at the inside:

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Pictured is a 15-inch MacBook Pro. Today, I carry an 11-inch MacBook Air, plus a Flip Pal scanner, and I still have room left over for another tablet if I wanted to include it.

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The side pouches have more than enough space for all of your chargers and cords.

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I also use the roomy side pouches to carry a camera for use in photographing documents, tombstones, etc.

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The file box is removable, and is itself a tote-within-a-tote!

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The front pouch holds office supplies, but is spacious enough for a few more large objects.

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See how it holds TWO fat laptops? Wow. Also, take a look at the super-sturdy hardware on the straps–I love it.

I LOVE taking this bag on research trips!

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This tote retails for about $80, but I bought mine for $45 during  FranklinCovey’s back to school sale last fall. You can also buy it in Brown on Amazon (click the image to see it on Amazon)

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UPDATE: the brown tote pictured here at the time I made this post has sold out, so this image now links to a different model being sold on the Amazon site.

The bag hooks easily on to my luggage:

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And it is easy to carry–it has both a long shoulder strap and shorter handles. I love it! 🙂

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Oh, and for anyone who was wondering what my portable file box categories are, here is a close-up of the hanging dividers and their categories:

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