Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SMART Genealogy Goals

It's that time of year. 

For some, it's an annual ritual, making New Year's resolutions or goals. A few people are successful; many are not.

Those who are successful often create SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. You can Google "SMART goals" and find lots of helpful articles and worksheets that pertain to the common goals you will find in most people's lives: health, finances, relationships, career, spiritual, etc.

But why not apply SMART goals to genealogy?

It's pretty simple. Think of a genealogy goal you have in mind...say, organizing your genealogy "stuff." You can break that goal down into its SMART parts to make it more achievable.

Specific - "Organizing your genealogy stuff" or "getting organized" isn't specific. It doesn't tell what's expected, why it's important, who’s involved, where it's going to happen and which attributes are important.

A more specific goal would be: "I [who] will create a file folder system [what] for my maternal grandfather's lines [which] in the bottom two drawers of my filing cabinet [where] so that I can easily find the documents I need and put them properly away when done [why]."

Measurable - It's important to measure your progress toward your goal; if you can't measure it, you don't know if you're making progress. This is especially helpful to make sure you are staying (or getting back) on track when you hit the inevitable challenges or setbacks.

An example of a measurable quantifier in regard to the above goal could be: "I will spend two hours every Sunday afternoon working on creating my file folder system for Grandpa's lines."

Two measurements are listed here: how much [two hours] and how often [every Sunday]. Of course, it's necessary to assess beforehand if 104 hours a year would be enough, too little, or too much time to achieve the goal by year's end.

Attainable - This criterion is related to abilities and skills. For most of us, creating a filing system is well within our ability and skill level. However, if you are someone who considers herself to be "organizationally challenged," you may need to learn how to create an effective filing system. Some things many genealogists struggle with is what to do with a married woman's documents: does she have a folder under her maiden or married name (or both)? If both, do you duplicate everything for both folders, or do you keep documents that pertain to pre-married life in her maiden name folder, and those for her post-married life in her married name folder? What if you discover she remarried after her husband--your ancestor--died? Then where will you file her documents?

In another example, if your goal was related to obtaining wills for a specific group of ancestors, and you have never done courthouse research and know nothing about the probate process, you may need to make some adjustments. Either create a different goal, or modify it to include educating yourself in this area by reading a book on courthouse research, taking a class or webinar on probate records, or having a mentor (more experienced genealogist) walk you through the process.

Realistic - Do you have the resources (time, money, energy) to reach your goal? You've decided to spend two hours every Sunday afternoon working on your organization goal, but then you realize that you've recently committed to be on your local community center's advisory board, which meets at 3:00 p.m. the first Sunday of every month. Also, your recently-widowed mother with health issues will need to be checked on several times a week, and--while you're sharing this duty with your siblings--you're the only one that is free to do so on the weekends. Will you really be able to reach your goal? If not, how can you adjust it so you can?

Timely - When will I know this goal is complete? What should be accomplished six months from now? How about six weeks from now? How do I stay on track?

A habit I recently developed is to spend a half hour every Sunday afternoon to reflect on my goals (relationships, health, finances, career, household, genealogy, and creativity) as well as a character trait I am focusing on (forgiveness, determination, generosity, etc.). That half hour is set as a repeated goal on my Google calendar every Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. and an alert is sent to my cell phone to remind me to stop and do this. When I reflect on my goals and weekly outcomes, I don't beat myself up if I went off-track. I either succeed or I learn. Perhaps my health goal was to get eight hours of sleep every night the previous week, but I ended up having two nights in a row of only six hours each. Upon further investigation, I realize that the first night's lack of enough sleep was caused by having caffeine too late in the day, while the second night's was caused by noisy customers at the restaurant down the block. I have little control over the second situation, but I make a note to remember not to have caffeine (even in tea) after 1:00 p.m.

The same methods can be applied toward your SMART genealogy goals: reflect, note your successes or lessons, adjust or modify if necessary, and carry on.

Some things to consider when making SMART genealogy goals:
  • What do I want this to look like at the end of the year?
  • How often am I going to reflect to see if I'm on track?
  • How do I adjust if I come across a challenge or a setback?
  • How do I stay motivated?
  • Do I need some sort of accountability? Some genealogists partner up for this, in the same way that weight-loss or exercise partners do. The Genealogy Do-Over Group on Facebook is a great place to find such a partner or a support group.

The answers to these questions really are up to you.


I hope this has given you some ideas to ponder for making SMART genealogy goals. Tomorrow, I will publish a post on the categories that genealogy goals can cover: research targets, methodology, organization and preservation, education, publishing, and fun. Yes, one should always consider the fun in any group of goals, which is why I have creativity as a category in my personal goals. Stay tuned!

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