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So, what is wrong with my to-do list?

26 Mar

I’ve shown you a section of my to-do list, I told you how it should work, and now it is time to explain why it doesn’t work.

When I was preparing to visit the East Sussex Record Office last week I realised that my to-do list wasn’t doing its job properly. I identified several issues with it that concerned me.

  1. Not enough information – some entries lacked the background information needed to complete them
  2. New items not added – I was surprised to find there was nothing about Finding Minnie on my to-do list
  3. Completed items not removed – As I went through the list I could see several items that had already been completed
  4. Entries with no “where” indication – Many entries on the list had no indication of where they were to be completed
  5. No record of partially completed tasks – Some entires had no indication of which sources I have searched

In short my to-do list was incomplete and of course there is only one person to blame. Me.

I really need to take better care of my to-do list if it is going to actually help me do my family history. I suppose it has been too easy to just add things onto the list without really thinking about what I actually need to do to complete them.

I have tried to keep my to-do list as simple as possible, so that it doesn’t take up too much time. There is no point in having a to-do list that takes more time maintain than it does to actually carry out the tasks upon it. Perhaps it is still not simple enough, but I can’t see how I can make it much simpler.

Perhaps it is becoming too big. Perhaps I need to split it into smaller more manageable chunks, but that does defeat the object of having everything in one place where I can easily lay my hands on it.

For now the format of my to-do list is not going to change, however I am going to have to re-visit each and every entry and make sure that it is still needed and that it has all the information that is needed to carry it out.

In the future I promise I will do my best to look after my to-do list better, to nurture it, to feed it with all the information it needs and hopefully not let it get out of hand.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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What should my to-do list do?

23 Mar

I was going to write about the problems I have with my to-do list, but first I think it might be helpful to explain what I am trying to achieve with to-do list.

The idea is that my to-do list is a list of everything I need to do in my family history. Of course there are lots of things to be done and they are not all just straightforward things such as find the baptism record of John Smith.

The way my to-do list currently works is that each entry have three parts:

  1. What I need to do
  2. Where I need to be to do it
  3. All the information I need to do it

1.  What I need to do

This could be almost anything, but some examples are:

  • Find a particular fact about a person
  • Organise some data that I have already discovered
  • Transcribe a particular record I have found
  • Order a GRO certificate
  • Photograph an ancestor’s gravestone

The list could go on and on. Also it doesn’t need to be a single task (find the baptism of John Smith), it could be many tasks combined into one task in the form of a project (find out what happened to the children of John Smith).

Initially the project would be one entry, more as a method of holding that project as an idea, until it is ready to be worked on, when it would then be split into several single tasks.

2.  Where I need to be to do it

Again this could be almost anywhere, either in the physical world or in the online world.

  • An archive of record office
  • On a particular website or dataset
  • In a town, village or churchyard
  • Sat at my computer

This is the part that enables me to know what things I have to do when I am at a particular record office, or when a particular website has a special offer/free access.

3.  All the information needed to do it

Basically this is enough information to enable me to complete the task without having to go back to my database/notes to find out what I am supposed to be looking for.

In the case of find the baptism of John Smith I would want to summarise what I already know, so in this case his parent’s names and the date and place of his birth.

If the baptism isn’t where I would expect it then that fact would be added to the entry and I would to try elsewhere (or eventually accept that there wasn’t a baptism or it wasn’t recorded).

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Introducing … my to-do list

22 Mar

Here is my to-do list, or part of it …

As you can see it is a simple text file, giving me the most flexibility for viewing and editing. I don’t need an internet connection or dedicated program to use it, I just need to keep it synchronised and backed up. In most cases when I visit an archive I will be working from a printed copy.

The four letter code at the beginning is a way of identifying similar tasks, such as all those that need to be carried out at a particular archive (ESRO for East Sussex Record Office) or they are GRO certificates that need ordering (GROC for General Register Office Certificate).

It is meant to be comma seperated so that I can open it in a spreadsheet and sort it if I need to (so that all the entries for a particular archives are together), but as you can see at least one other comma has found its way in. In practice it is usually quicker for me to cut and paste to re-arrange the list.

On the whole it works well, but preparations for my recent trip to the East Sussex Record Office highlighted a few issues with my current system, which need to be addressed to make my system even better. I will tell you about them in my next to-do list post.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Getting organised… again

17 May

Last weekend I spent the best part of a day organising stuff, not family history stuff this time, but the normal everyday stuff. Filing bank statements and bills, shredding junk mail and all sorts of other fun stuff, basically just clearing the everyday detritus that had gathered on my desk.

I am still having problems finding time for family history research and this is one of my strategies for trying to overcome these problems. Not only do I want to try to free up more time for family history but I also want time for other stuff like walking.

I like to think that my family history is pretty well organised and I like to think that when I sit down to do some research I am working quite efficiently. The problem comes in actually sitting down to do some research.

When I sat down at my desk I was confronted with a pile of paper that I knew I needed to sort out, but that prospect was not very appealing. But it needing sorting out before I did any family history, but rather than get it sorted I would procrastinate and get distracted by other things, anything other than do the filing.

It didn’t help that there was also an assortment of bits and pieces sitting on the desk, which were very easy to pick up and fiddle with. Again anything rather than do any filing and sort out that stuff.

Now I have an almost clear desktop and that pile of paper has gone, it feels very liberating and at the moment I am going to try to keep it that way. There is still some more tweaking that needs doing, there are still several piles of clutter in the spare-bedroom that I need to sort out but they are on the dressing table behind me and out of sight so they are not so much of a problem.

I have removed many digital distractions from my life over the past couple of years, like quitting Facebook and unsubscribing from numerous emails that I didn’t really read and this weekend I cleared a lot of the physical distractions. Whether this have a positive effect on the amount of family history I can do remains to be seen, but for now I am really enjoying my clear desk policy.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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At last the filing is complete

2 May

Several weeks ago I commented on the fact that I still hadn’t finished the filing and organising that I started back in March. There wasn’t a lot to do, but as most family historians will probably admit it is not the most exciting of tasks and I always seemed to find something else more important that needed doing.

With the profusion of Bank Holidays over here in England these last couple of weeks I have had a bit more free time and have made the effort to get it finished, albeit at the expense of any new research.

I am pleased to say that my filing folder is now empty. Hurrah!

Now I need to get out to an archive and take some more notes to fill it up again, but at the moment I am not sure when I will next get the opportunity. All the time the good weather continues I will try to make the most of it and spend my weekends walking and exploring the landscapes of my ancestors.

In the meantime I might start a review of my digital folders and make sure that they are still as they should be. I am sure they could probably benefit from some attention and it will be a lot easier to fit it in at odd moments of the day because I don’t necessarily have to be sitting at my desk.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.

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I never did get that filing done, but I will

5 Apr

A couple of weeks ago I said I was going to try to get on top of my filing and organising. Well I never did actually complete it, but I hope to this week.

Aside from getting my notes in order it was also meant to kill some time whilst I waited for the marriage certificate of Thomas NICHOLLS and Martha DRAPPER. It was this marriage certificate that proved my undoing.

I wasn’t sure what I going to do with my notes until the certificate arrived, so my organising stalled. I didn’t know whether the notes that I had taken would prove to be relevant to my research or not so I ignored them, then when the certificate arrived I was too distracted following up on that to pick up where I had left off.

I know what I need to do with them now, but I have been distracted and lost the momentum, so I need to kickstart my filing again. There are a couple of pages that can probably be tossed in the bin (but I will keep a record of them, just in case). I also have a few more new postcards and a couple of photocopies to scan as well now.

I am very bad at dealing with incoming information and it is something I need to work on. Too often I just grab the pertinent piece of information from a record and neglect the rest of the information contained in it. Of course I still have a record of all the information somewhere but it doesn’t always get recorded in my family tree.

Letting my filing fall behind again

21 Mar

I have another confession to make. I have let my filing fall behind again. It is not a big deal really but I really would like to get things back in order. My filing backlog consists of a plastic folder which contains the notes from various archive visits that I have made over the last couple of months.

I have a pretty good (or so I think) system for dealing with them. I record the details in two places, my family history software and also on Excel spreadsheets and then throw away the notes. In theory this means I am covered if one or other of the files get corrupted, hopefully I will only lose one copy (there are multiple backups as well).

This system works well for me if I am disciplined enough to stick to it. For some reason over the last couple of months I have not been sticking to it, and this week I really need to focus on clearing folder.

It shouldn’t take long. It is should only be a couple of evening’s work, but these things usually take longer because I can’t stick to just entering the new data. I always end up going online and trying to find more information.

For example if I enter a baptism record I will then go off in search of a birth registration, and if it is an uncommon name then I might also look for a marriage or death registration. Then I might look for an army service record or a probate record and what should have taken a minute or two ends up taking nearer half an hour.

Discipline is once again the key here, rather than getting distracted and heading off at a tangent I need to do the obvious thing and record them as to-do items so that I can follow them up at a later date.

This is a perfect job for me this week, whilst I wait for a copy of the marriage certificate of Thomas NICHOLLS and Martha DRAPPER and ponder over what to do next with Ann HARMES. Hopefully by this time next week I will have it done, and will be proudly telling you how pleased I am to be organised again.

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