Discipline and the Genealogy Professional


Discipline is critical for all professionals, genealogy or other. Achieving discipline can be a real struggle. While I talk about discipline a lot I still consider myself to be a work in progress. Some things are very easy to do while with others I find I really need to push, even force, myself to get moving.

Here’s a case in point. Recently I was invited to write an article for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ). I accepted the opportunity and was excited about my topic.

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a quirky side when it comes to writing. I prefer to “feel” what I am writing while I am writing it. I guess that makes me a “passion writer.” Sometimes when writing for publications (rather than for myself in my blogs) I get excited about the idea of writing but then when I sit down to do it my passion seems to be gone.

Not surprisingly, that happened this time as well. I loved my topic and I pushed myself to write but it seemed so forced. I was frustrated.

When it comes to writing for publications, deadlines loom and there is nothing that will make them go away. These days there is nothing more that I would rather be doing than transcribing my great great grandfather’s diary. That can’t be considered regular work by any means. I had to push it out of my mind and save it for non-working hours. I gave myself one last shot at discipline.

After getting the family out of the house, I sat down with a blank sheet of paper. For a 2,500 word article I predicted that ten subheads would be reasonable. I sketched out two main sections and then added a total of ten sub-topics between the two.

Surprising myself, I also wrote out the final paragraph.

Next, I headed to my computer with paper in hand. I refused to open any programs except for MS Word (yes, avoidance of the internet is critical). I even left my cell phone on another floor so that I wouldn’t be tempted to look at it.

First I re-read what I had already written, making some minor edits. Then I wrote to the key points on the paper positioned directly in front of me. Thankfully, some of the key points had already been completed. You may consider it cheating by including parts that I had already finished but I consider that a motivational saving grace. Small victories matter!

I sat there until it was completely done. I think I did give myself a quick tea and water break but otherwise I held fast to the task at hand.

This was a victory for discipline. I admit I am not always so successful. Sometimes it takes two attempts or more to get a task done.

How do you feel about your own professional discipline? Can you stay on task or do certain subjects distract you away from what needs to get done? Do you have any tricks to keep you focused and productive on a daily basis? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic that effects every genealogy professional.



Photo by: Rainer Stropek

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  1. Marian, I feel your pain! Sometimes I feel like the most distractable person in the universe! When I sit down to write a report, I’m always pulled in different directions… There is always a new email to look at, and that can send one off onto any number of tangents. I still find that this is one of the main areas I need to work on.
    Whoops… there’s another email… What’s this one about ??? 😉

    1. It’s like a curse isn’t it? I think one of the other things to add is not to check email. Everything seems like it needs attention now. Better not to open it at all until done!

  2. You put in writing EXACTLY how I feel! I get so frustrated because I am typically a very focused and hard worker striving for excellence. But when it comes to writing…ugh!
    I don’t have a solution except as you did: put your head into the wind and push. Once I get going, I get rhythm and can rock my way through!
    Thanks. I love that I am not alone

    1. Kim, you hit the nail on the head! I think the toughest part is starting. Though I had started and that wasn’t helping but usually for me starting is the hardest part. Just need to sit myself down and have a talk with myself to stay on task.

  3. I agree that avoiding the internet and other distractions and interruptions is key while writing on a deadline.
    I also find setting a timer helpful. I work on the task for a given amount of time and then can take a break when I can return phone messages, or take a tea, water, or walk round the block break (with it’s own time limit) then do another timed work period.

    1. I never thought about setting a timer. Good idea! But the big thing for me is really staying off the internet!

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