When we’re researching our families, every ancestor we find presents us with the opportunity (and challenge!) of finding two more people: his or her parents. Add the siblings in and you have a whole bunch of people to research. Spice things up with a curiosity to learn new things and you have a recipe for spending a lot of time…. but not actually accomplishing very much. We fall down the Genealogy Rabbit Hole.
Why We Go Down the Genealogy Rabbit Hole
It’s a matter of distractions or, as some people call them, the Bright Shiny Objects. It’s the new shaky leaf that popped up on our tree. It’s the link to a new website. It’s the email notification that dinged while you were reading the 1860 census. It’s anything that takes us away from our research goal.
(You do have a goal when you sit down to research, right?)
We give into those distractions when our brains are tired. As David Rock in Psychology Today points out, the brain uses energy when it is making decisions. The more tired the brain is, the harder it is to focus and the more likely it is to give into distractions.
Genealogy research is a continuing series of decisions. Which resource do I want to use? How do I want to search in it? Is this the right person I’m looking for? Could that person next door be his brother? Why didn’t he own land? Who is that girl in the household; I’ve never seen that name before? Answering those questions is all about decision-making.
It makes our brains tired… and that makes it easier to become distracted.
Getting More Done With the Help of a Kitchen Timer
Since our brains are more easily distracted when they are tired, we need to keep them fresh so we can stay focused. One way to do that is to take regular breaks while we’re researching.
Time management and productivity people have long touted the Pomodoro Technique for staying focused:
- Select your task that you want to accomplish it.
- Set a time for 25 minutes.
- Work on that task until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5-minute break.
In that 5-minute break, do something different. Get up and walk. Drink some water. Stretch. Make conversation with someone.
By taking a break, you’re giving your brain some much-needed downtime. (And getting up from the desk and away from the computer is good for your muscles and your eyes!)
I have been using this technique in my genealogy research and have found it to be effective. Having the timer go off gives me a chance to refocus if I’ve started to go away from the things that will get me closer to my goal. It also has the benefit of giving me fresh eyes when I come back. This helps not only with reading old handwriting but also in spotting patterns and seeing new details in records.
It may seem counter-intuitive to spend a little less time researching, but working in short 5-minute breaks really helps to keep the distractions at bay.