31 August 2012

Stop Collaborate and Listen

One of the worst things about an unorganised life is the feeling that you are always a dollar short and a day behind. You try to keep up, but it just slips away. How many birthdays have you forgotten? How many anniversaries? Do you find yourself wishing the family would stop adding new relatives before you get through the old ones? Despite your status as family historian, do family reunions, weddings and funerals feel more like a get together with strangers than a meeting of well-worn relations? Have you dug at the roots for so long, you have no idea the color of the leaves? I have said on many occasions that this is not about you and that you will eventually need the help (and social camaraderie) of others. As we continue to get you organised, we must talk about organising your correspondence. How do you keep up with your inquiries? Your connections to new family? Your continuing connections to old family? New unrelated friends that share your passion for genealogy? Societies, libraries, cemeteries and other repositories for research and the people that run them?

My system
I have said before I'm a fan of FranklinCovey. One of the products I use is their Forms Wizard. It has the ability to print to the sizes of their planners or full page for filing. Admittedly, I keep these as digital files mostly and there are other similar options online. But I got used to this one years ago and found a way to make it work for me. The forms wizard has many different organisational templates for different projects. For correspondence, I use Contact Log, Future Planning, Information Record, Party Planner, and Special Days.

Ever forget a conversation as soon as you hang up the phone?
This can make sure you keep the promise you just made. 
Contact Log is just that. It's a page of name, number and notes. When I'm calling someone or somewhere that I use infrequently (or just this once) I use this form. It's a neat place to keep track of what I've done for the day or week. I tend to keep this one digital rather than print out pages and pages of conversation I may only reference once. (Side personal note: I find this a good one for job hunting or cold-calling when you're going to get a lot of no's before you get one yes).

Perfect for adding notes that need to be placed into the
tree later. No "hold on, Myrtle, while I open my tree app
and write down what you're saying. Put it here and then
update when you get off the phone!
If I plan to use a person or source more frequently, they get an Information Record. This has their name, address, phone numbers, emails....... any way to contact them. Underneath is just a straight page of note taking space. There's a page two that can be printed as well that is just more note space. It has a column for the date, the type of contact (mail, email or phone? inquiry or touch-base?). Space for notes and a column for follow-up (add a date to get back to them and add a check when you have). I like to use this one for cemeteries and libraries that I call or mail for information. I add the name of the person I'm in contact with and/or who is in charge of records. Every conversation we have is added to this form so that I know where to find everything we've discussed. I also use this for companies I deal with when I have issues. If a company tries to give me the run around, I can pull this page and say, "No, I talked to Judith on Tuesday the 3rd and she said that I'd have my refund on the following Monday." I don't like hunting for loose pieces of paper on anything.

I do print this one out and keep them in 3-ring binders. That's another reason I like the forms wizard, it's already formatted for hole-punches so it can be added to binders. I have one binder for companies, one for family and friends, one for my business use. I separate with alphabet tabs and sort by surnames. I use this for all my calls to family whether it's a "how you doin'" or a "can you send me photos of grandpa?" It's all in one place and referenced during our call. I can also see the last time I spoke to them and if it's been a while, pick up the phone during my down-time. If it's family I've connected to via Ancestry Member Trees or people I use for their expertise, I add personal info here for when I contact them. "How's your wife, Martha? And the boys? Back in school yet? Did you get that new job/car? How did your surgery go?" I can't remember everything off the top of my head. Having it in one place keeps me from forgetting the niceties that make life fun.

If you add the dates as you learn them, you'll stop
forgetting those important times when you can be
most connected to your family.
Only difference between the Special Days form and the Future Planning form is that the future form has a column for date. So that if a cousin sends me a save the date for May 2013, I can write it down on the future planner and remember to add it to my calendar when I buy that year's edition.

Special Days is just that. It's a clean format for adding birthdays and anniversaries to remember yearly. I have a fancy wall edition with flowers and butterflies that looks pretty and really is as much for art as for reminding me to send a card. The wall one has dates for deceased relatives and I leave them there rather than mar the image and cross them out (I add a small note of death date above their birth). That wall calendar is an heirloom piece. This file is a functional piece. I remove deceased relatives so that I never forget and send a card to a distant cousin that is no longer with us. I order them by date rather than person so that I can keep them right and send cards a week in advance. If I can call, I call within a day before or after and add the conversation to my Information file where I've also noted I sent a card. (If I go to call and realise I didn't send a card, I make an apology rather than ask if they liked their gift). This is all to help me make sure my family feels special and I feel in control. They don't see the man behind the curtain. All they see is the powerful Wizard of Oz. Larger than life and always there for them.

Page one of the Party planner puts the guest list front and center.

Page 2 of the Party planner is a to-do list, grocery list and don't forget list in one place. NO LOOSE PAPER!
This one is my favorite. One place for all your info on a party, reunion or special project. Who's invited. Who's bringing what. AND follow up!!! Did I send them a thank you for coming? Did I contact those not able to come? I use this for my reunions. Those that came, get a thank you note or card. Those that didn't get a copy of photos taken sent to them (all labelled of course!) or the link to the online album. If we're doing potluck, I use the Assignment category to know that we've got everything covered. The backside breaks it down to what is needed, where I can find it, and when I've confirmed it's bought and ready to go. Want cousin Joe to bring his family albums? Write it in the what to buy area. In preparations, make sure to note calling him before the party to make sure he's got it ready and confirm the night before in the completion column. If you call and he's decided he can't bring them, you know now rather than when he arrives and you've already prepared to get copies (or told your auntie all about it and now she's pissed she can't get copies before heading home).

You'll notice it says party, but I said "special project". What kind of special project could you need this file for? Well, Gail, a good friend of mine, is currently working with one of her local cemeteries to do a clean-up of old stones. This planner would be perfect for that project. You would know who was coming and who you asked but was unavailable. You could list needed supplies and make sure you have them before the big day. You'll know who's in charge of bringing what, doing what, preparing what. And after all is said and done, you take that record home and fill out thank you cards for all their hard work. As I always say "Do it NOW". So no later than the day after, you should sit down with a stack of cards and write out your thank yous. They should be in the mail that same day so that they promptly arrive and people know you truly appreciate their help. * I promise, Gail, I will cover this in greater detail later, but thought it was a great add-in for my organise series*

I keep this separate from my family files because this isn't just about family. This is an on-going action system. Many of the things I learn while talking to family will be saved to my tree and added to my files, but many things will not. Having them in a localised place helps me keep track of important things that are happening now. My family files are for important things that happened then. I find this requires to separate systems. I love the contact and information pages for people as well as companies. You will have to deal with people unrelated to you that will never be in your family file. You may need to talk to them more than once. If you're like me, without a system in place, you'll forget what day it is. You'll forget names unless you talk to that person frequently. And God forbid you need to remember what you're job is at the next society meeting without writing it down......... was I in charge of refreshments or handouts this time?

Your to-do
Your system should be chugging along by now. You've been working and fine-tuning your files to make sense for you. You've kept your workspace clear. You've started the mantra of "Do it NOW" and have made headway on that pile of nonsense that used to clutter your life. You're working on your end-game and setting up your plan for where your research goes when you're gone and making sure the system will make sense for them. This week, let's work on those living connections. Start some kind of system (whether it's a detailed one like mine or more laid back) to ensure you remember those special days. Continue your plans for getting a reunion started by setting up a localised place for all the information related to it. Make a file for correspondence with companies, libraries, cemeteries and other repositories that you plan to deal with frequently. Learn the name of the person who could most help you and keep a log of your conversations. And for goodness sake, get into the habit of sending a thank-you note for their work! Thank them for answering your questions. Thank them for sending your info. Thank them for taking time to teach you how to use the projector. Thank your family for coming to your party. Thank your aunt for providing her photos or stories. Do it formally with a card whenever you can. Never let a week pass without thanking someone for doing something!

And since we are getting on to the living this week, learn what you can do to give back. Make this the week you pick a successor. Or the week you give serious thought to their training now. Get into the habit of sending birthday and anniversary cards early rather than late. Call those relatives you haven't spoken to in a while. Write to those new connections you've not yet introduced yourself. (Your next best friend could be an email away!). Don't let Facebook be the only contact you have to your relatives and friends. Make a point to meet in person with those nearest you. Plan a trip to see those farthest. Take a look at local cemeteries and historical locations and see if you can help save them from disrepair. Get in touch with the living while they still live.

And write it all down while you still live.

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