It’s easy to get too involved and lose track of time when you’re doing genealogy. Once it really becomes a part of you, it’s not something you can walk away from easily, even if you intend to do just a little bit of research or look up just one fact on one ancestor on any given research day. You kind of get into a “zone” where time doesn’t exist. When that happens, you know you are aligned with something you are truly passionate about and meant to be doing. However, you will also find that you’ve sat in front of the computer for 15 hours, or stayed at the archives building from opening until closing, without realizing more than a few minutes have gone by. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a spouse (or family members or friends) who are just as excited about genealogy as you, this tendency of yours to get lost for entire days in the world of family history research can be quite irritating to them.
To avoid getting those you love mad at you, and to make sure you leave time in your life for other things besides genealogy (it’s hard, I know), here are five genealogy research time management tips to help you get control over your habit, so everyone is happy.
1. Set a Timer
This is probably the best and most effective time management research technique when it comes to genealogy. Tell yourself, and anyone else in your life who is affected by your hobby, that you will only spend a certain amount of time that day on research. Make this declaration before you start research for the day. It can be any amount of time you deem reasonable, or that you and your spouse or other loved one agree upon.
Then, use either an egg timer or the alarm clock feature on your smartphone to set an alarm for that amount of time. Don’t set it until you actually start researching, and make sure it is clear that transportation time to and from research facilities doesn’t count. Then, no matter how hard it may be, make yourself stop and get back to the other things and people in your life when the alarm goes off. You can always do more research another day.
2. Have a Clear Research Plan for Each Day
It’s easy to get led down different paths during a day of research. You start out intending to look up only one branch of your family, or even just one person, and you end up finding so much more. It’s interesting, so you follow the clues to see where they lead you. Before you know it, you are researching a different branch or person entirely.
Start out each research day with a clear plan of what you will be working on and stick to it. Keep notes of any additional interesting information you find along the way, including where you found it (so you can find it again), and use it for research on other days. But stick with what you set out to look up that day and don’t deviate from it. It takes discipline, but it will also keep your research time to a more reasonable amount for you and your loved ones.
3. Only Go Where You Planned to Go
If you’re having an “in the field” research day where you’re visiting cemeteries, libraries, archives buildings, town historians, town clerk’s, churches, courthouses, or other places away from your home, there is always the possibility of finding leads you never expected to find. These leads may cause you to want to go to places not on your list for the day. You’ll probably think that “just one more stop” won’t hurt, and may help you find exciting new information on your family.
While this may be true, it can also lead to a much longer day on the road than you planned, resulting in irritated loved ones who were expecting you back ages ago. Stick to your planned list of places to go that day, and return to any new potential places to visit you discovered during your trip on another research expedition.
4. Use the Child Controls on Your Tablet
Many of today’s new tablets have child controls that parents can set to turn off the tablet after a certain amount of time. This limits the time a child spends on the tablet each day, so the child gets to enjoy other things, too. If you’re doing genealogy research on your tablet, set those child controls for yourself. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do the research you want to do that day. Then, let the tablet do its work. When it turns off, you won’t be able to turn it on again in child mode until the next day (though adult mode is still accessible to you). Let that be your clue to stop researching for the day and come back to it again tomorrow.
5. Ask for a Phone Call
Tell your spouse, friend, or anyone else with whom you live with that you will stop researching for the day at a certain time. Then, ask them to call you at that time and remind you of your promise to stop and come home. Actually hearing the voice of the person who expects you back soon after the phone call is a very good motivator to stop for the day, and leave additional research for another time.
It is hard to stop researching once you get started. Once you’ve been doing genealogy for a while, you will realize this. While it’s okay to get lost in it once in a while, don’t make it a habit if you have other people depending on you. Use these time management techniques, and you will always stay on your loved ones’ good sides.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)