Time Management for a Professional Genealogist

The ProGen assignment for this month is on Time Management.  ProGen is my virtual study group that uses ESM’s Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, and Librarians [1] as the text.  We are now on our 11th session of 19.  It is interesting that this assignment precedes the holidays, a time when I do not exhibit the best time management skills. But, perhaps the timing couldn’t be better, because if ever there is a time when I need my Time Management skills to be sharp—this is it!

I have on my “to do” list a need 1.) to blog and 2.) to do my ProGen assignment.   I decided to combine them; the result will be that I have accomplished both the assignment and posted a blog–a real time saver!

If you have the book, the assignment was to read Chapters 13 (Time Management) and 8 (Alternate Careers.)

For this assignment, Clients were to be defined broadly and not only paying clients.  We were to also include the tasks associated with that Client (shown below in parens)  I did not include the UW School of Medicine, my “day job,” in this analysis although it engages me in approximately 10-11 hours a day.
I identified the following Clients and the tasks needed to accomplish:

  • Gloria and Susan (client reports)
  • WA State Genealogical Society (3 lecture proposals)
  • Seattle Genealogical Society (newsletter, and two lecture preps)
  • BCG (case study)
  • Mastering Genealogical Proof [2] (readings, assignment) (completes in December)
  • NGSQ Study Group (starts in November, new series starts in January)
  • ProGen (readings, assignment)
  • Cascade Research Services (my business: filing, financial tracking, business cards & website), and
  • Family (Thanksgiving and Christmas planning).  And, don’t forget ME!  I will need some “mental vacation moments” as well.

kanban windowWith the clients and their work identified, we were to identify a date/time for completion of each task and estimate the number of hours to complete.  The readings asked us to put this in a table form.  While that was OK for a draft, regular readers know that I have been using the Personal Kanban system of post-its and a “to do/doing/done” approach to task management.  In the photo on the left is my Personal Kanban wall; the small colored tabs are the Clients, below the small tabs are the tasks to do, the top post-it is what I am “doing” and above the small tabs are the items that are accomplished or “done.” Certainly when it gets overwhelming this is what works best for me.  You can learn more about Personal Kanbans by clicking on this link:

Two previous posts about my personal kanban approach to time management and genealogical use are:
“Can I use a Kanban Effectively to Improve my Genealogical Use?”  5 October 2012
“What Happened to the Kanban?” 26 January 2013
Use the archive on the sidebar to access these postings.

There are only two “rules” for a Personal Kanban: visualize your work and pick three items (maximum) to work on at any one time.

4 square bestI also found that a table makes it difficult to for me to prioritize; I need more fluidity.  I also don’t want my time management methods to take so much time to implement that I don’t use it.  In a Personal Kanban methodology I can move the post-its around so the one on the top is the highest priority.  I also decided to use a four-square approach to test whether that was helpful in identifying what items I ought to work on next.  The X-axis is the degree of difficulty (easy => hard) and the Y-axis is time (now => later).  See photo on the left.  This approach was recommended in one of our additional readings but I was familiar with it from my Steven Covey days.

This methodology seemed to make it clear that I ought to work on the “low hanging fruit” but that I cannot continue just working on the lower left quadrant, because then I will never get to the other items.  So I decided that I would work on the lower left quadrant but add ONE item from the right side of the four-square.  Since Susan’s book as been waiting the longest and represents a gross abuse of a friendship on my part, I am committed to completing this project for her in a very short time.

One of the questions that is asked is “How do you balance volunteer, work and genealogy time?”  My answer:  not well.  Volunteer time seems to consume a large percentage of time, especially in the month of November when both the SGS Bulletin and the SGS newsletter are published. (The SGS Bulletin takes about 50 to 75 hours to get out the door; luckily there are only two a year.)   The book responded to this dilemma by pointing out that we should do only those activities that we are uniquely qualified to do or activities in which our skills may be broadened if we do them.  I, therefore, will be working on my WSGS lectures which focus on methodologies in lieu of Civil War “stories” as I wish to broaden by presentation “library” to include classes on intermediate/advanced methodologies.   I also have other time thieves such as a computer card game which I can play for hours, emails which seem imperative to answer upon receipt and a messy desk.

So management of the time thieves is difficult for me.  a few things are consistent:
I use my bus time (40 mintes to an hour plus a day) to do reading.  I do not see the addition of the NGSQ Study Group as a time thief as is will utilize the bus “downtime”.  I do not watch a lot of TV and so this is very productive time for me.  I also have a very small house, with no children at home and so the demands on my time are lessened.  My desk and computer are in a very nice spot for “dropping in” so if I have 10 minutes, I can quickly clean up that task while in-between others.  Myobservation is that time managment itself is not my issue but rather prioritization, as a consequence little gets done on the “big stuff ” and lots of “little stuff” gets done.

My personal genealogy is well organized (of course it could be better) and I can find a document in 30 seconds or less.  My “to be filed” file is very short.  I need to do more disaster planning and specifically utilize Dropbox for cloud storage of data.  For clients,  each has two files–the contract file which contains the contract and the final product and the working file which contains all my notes, plans etc.  If the client wishes to hire me again, I create a new contract file for the new work product but keep the working file.  Each is color coded.  That has worked so far.  New ideas are always welcomed.

All of this analysis has revealed that I have prioritized Marketing very low/non-existent.  This is an aspect which cannot languish for too long before the lack of marketing creates a negative result for Cascade Research Services.  I also committed to my ProGen “buddy” a couple of months ago that I would be looking seriously at the business aspects required by the State of Washington, which I only did briefly and then let it drop.  I am also not carving out time for working on my certifications portfolio.  These items represent serious gaps in the plan that I have identified.

The Study Group is great.  We have a terrific group whose participants are very engaged and willing to offer appropriate targeted criticism of our work products.  As with any group, life can intervene (moving from one state to another, illness, computer glitches) and wreck havoc with even the best of intentions.  Each person brings a unique perspective which makes the group as a whole stronger and richer for their participation. For the class, if you wish, please leave your comments in the comment section below.  Thanks.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: the SGS Bulletin is now published and mailed! I am keeping up with my assignments in Mastering Genealogical Proof and I have been working on Gloria’s report which I am now about 90% done.  I had lunch with a wonderful historian/genealogist today who is connected with Historic Seattle.  She gave me kudos for my three part series blog on Art Deco that I did the end of September and will provide me a lead to lecture to a non-genealogy group where I often find additional clients.  She let me know to watch the Historic Seattle newsletter as the organization is putting on a series of “back of the house” tours of local repositories over 11 months starting in January.  I cannot wait; it sounds very exciting.

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001).

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).