I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months evaluating the options for tracking my work. In the fledgling years of my business, my client load was part-time and the work just sort of managed itself. But this past year, more months than not found me juggling three or four clients at a time, which, combined with my Editorship of the ESGR’s quarterly, added a rather unhealthy degree of anxiety to the work. (as a total aside, four clients this winter were researching Irish immigrants named James McSomething, and, just to make it more interesting, all either had wives, mothers, or sisters named Mary! Although keeping track of those projects was stressful, there was also a sense of the ridiculous, which kept the anxiety somewhat at bay 🙂
In my survey of project management tools, I first considered an Excel spreadsheet, but, quickly realized I needed something more automated. Maybe automated isn’t the right word. I needed something always close at hand, so I’d remember to actually track my time, because what’s project management without the time component? Way back in another life, I was hired by a software company to create a cost accounting system, and what was immediately apparent, at least to me, was the rather large stumbling block of the lack of a corporate-wide time management system. That observation, not surprisingly, met with great resistance from the employees whose time tracking was the most critical in determining profitability: programmers and customer support staff. It had to be easy. Mindless. Effortless. The feedback on the program we took a year to design and write was that it was all those things, and, in the end, they got the cost accounting system they’d asked for in the first place.
My approach to choosing a project management for my genealogy research was the same: time based. I made a wish list:
- Time based
- Task driven
- Ability to use sub-tasks
- ALWAYS at hand
- Simple to use
- Minimal input
There are, it turns out, about a gazillion options (curious: gazillion is apparently a recognized word in WordPress Land!). It quickly became clear that in order for the system to work for me, I needed to be able to do it on my laptop or my phone. And, it had to be fun. Time management is drudgery. Drudgery is hard to stick with. So……..my system:
Any.do (a task/to-do app)
Toggl (a time tracking app)
both, I believe, are available on Windows, iOS, and Android.
What I did:
First, I had to break my research and reporting processes into specific tasks. I also defined tags, which both Any.do and Toggl handle with ease, which fit with my business: things like Billable, Non-billable, Professional Development, all of which could potentially work with a variety of my tasks. Both apps are also capable of tracking tasks and time by clients, as well as types of clients: lineage society applicants, forensic, brick wall, etc.
Once I’d laid all that out, I loaded it into the apps and I was off and running. Any.do is not only a beautiful, multi-layered app, it has an absolutely endearing interactive personality, popping up from time to time during my day to remind me to take a breath and regroup as needed; and Toggl is what it says – it works on a toggle basis, two key strokes and I can toggle the time tracker on and off, and it too reminds me if it starts to suspect I’ve forgotten all about it. It happens 🙂 Both apps are present and effortlessly accessible on my phone and my laptop. Life is good 🙂
My system helps me stay focused. I start every day with a cup of coffee and an Any.do Moment. I review my tasks, and revise my research plan where needed. Toggl keeps me on track. The benefits? Not only do I have an automated reporting system for billable client work, over time I’ve begun to see patterns in my research process which helps me to better estimate client projects and helps me to hone in on areas where I could be more efficient.
As for topic #2: tracking searches…I’ll just say this: Thomas MacEntee has some good arguments for doing this. I often incorporate the search parameters in my research log, particularly when I get negative results, but I’m not consistent. I’ll try to be more aware of that going forward.