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Filtering by Author: Tara Cajacob

Get Your Priorities Straight in 10 Easy Steps

Do you struggle finding your focus? Does it seem like you don't get as much done as you could with your time because your mind wanders or you are paralyzed with overwhelm?  If so, this blog post is for you.  

Working with big projects used to freak me out.  When I first got started, I felt like I had no idea where to start so every time I would try I was so scattered I would waste hours getting nothing done.   Now, I have strategies that can help me work through even the most complex and seemingly endless projects imaginable.  Which means I can get more done in less time.  Isn't that what we all want out of life? 

In the end, a big part of this process comes down to priorities.  The reality is, there is no way you can get everything done every day.  You will have off days, family obligations, emergencies, and other things that come up and detract from your productivity.  You can't do anything about those obstacles, but what you can do is decide in advance what your priorities are and how you are going to accomplish those things that rank at the top of your list.  Here is how you can do it in 10 steps:

  1. Think about your general priorities in your life.  What are your top five? Some examples might be: Family, Friends, Health, Home, Work, Hobbies, Etc.  Where do you place research?
  2. Formatting a to do list for success.  When you write a to do list,  start with major categories that point to what category the activities fit under.  Those get capitalized roman numerals (I, II, III...) beneath those, an indented list of tasks which get numbers (1, 2, 3) and if they are complex they get broken into sub-tasks that get letters (a, b, c) which are further indented. 
  3. Choose two categories that align with your life priorities.  When you write up your daily to do list, make sure to rank activities that top your general priority list as more important. Pick two to three categories and highlight them.  Those are your priorities for the day.  
  4. Simplicity wins. If you find yourself overwhelmed by your list, then simplify it.  Re-write, using only those highlighted items.  You can add to it later after you finish it.  Sometimes this act of re-writing is like clearing your slate and giving yourself permission not to get it all done.  
  5. The 80/20 Rule. This rule has gotten a lot of press in the past couple years, but here is why I think it is awesome.  In theory, it says that if we go at something without a plan, twenty percent of our time will be spent being productive in tiny increments over the course of the entire span of time we use up.  The other 80% of the time will be less productive.  There are two ways you can use this:

    (A) If you have a lot you need to do in a day, you can spend the first 2 hours doing the most important tasks.  Use your most productive 20% all at once.  Then, there is nothing to say the other 80% of your day won't be productive, just less productive, in setting the bar high right away, you raise your average output for the day.  

    (B) If you feel guilty for spending some time unproductively, spend 20% of it getting important things done and then relax and enjoy the rest of the day however you wish.  If you were preoccupied and thinking of that fun thing you weren't doing, you wouldn't be getting much done anyway. 
  6. Scheduling Tasks. By designating space on your calendar to the most important things you are mentally making these items an event.  Psychologically events are important and require focus and attention.  
  7. Set a timer. If something is a priority and you are still having trouble focusing on the task at hand, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time to complete the item.  Sometimes, the mental accountability of having a timer that requires you to get the work done can be that extra bit of motivation that you need to get it done.  
  8. Schedule priorities that don't have tasks associated. Some priorities just don't have a whole lot of tasks associated, for example, if you are a working professional, sometimes family time can get neglected because "remember to play a game with Tommy" doesn't always fit nicely into our to do lists.  For this reason, remember to schedule blocks of time to spend on these important activities that fit into your priorities so they do not get neglected.  
  9. Reward yourself for accomplishing priorities. Even little rewards can have powerful psychological effects.  Figure out what kind of reward system will work for you.  Sometimes just visual cues, like putting a marble in a jar every time you complete a task, or even crossing items off of a list can be enough.  Sometimes you may need something a little more tangible, like scheduled time to do something you love - like playing a game or reading a book.  It all depends on you! 
  10. Spend time assessing whether you are focusing on your priorities. In the end your life will be defined by what you do rather than what you say.  What does that mean? It means, if you prioritize something in your life, you have to practice spending time on it.  When you look back on your week, did one of your priorities get totally neglected? If so, you need to think hard about whether that item is really a priority to you.  If it isn't, it needs to come off the list.  If it is, you need to find ways to spend time honoring that priority.  

Whats top priority on your list for today? How do you get things done? Let me know in the comments below!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Motivation Monday: Becoming A Visionary

If you've read my new ebook, The Purposeful Family Historianthe title of this post and the quote that I use below will be familiar to you.  This idea of becoming a visionary, is really inspiring to me, I think it is the epitome of looking at something from a unique perspective and thinking outside of the box.  

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world.
— Malcolm Gladwell

I think that in academic fields that tend to require a certain amount of formality, it can be easy to forget about the importance of creativity and ingenuity.  I encourage you to take some time and think about how a sense of vision and imagination could enrich your research process and help you look at your history project in a different light.

If you liked this post and you haven't yet read the book. Now is the time! Today is the last day of the Free Book Promotion on Amazon.  So click the Buy on Amazon button to get your copy now!  

I only ask one little favor: If you love it, would you consider leaving an Amazon review with your thoughts?  The more reviews the book has, the more people will be able to find it and get some use out of it.  

I so appreciate your help, and I really hope you enjoy reading your copy.  

How have you been a visionary in your research? Who do you think is a historical visionary?  Let us know in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

The Ultimate Organization Cheat Sheet for Genealogists

Does it feel some days like you are buried under a pile of papers?  Do you worry if you start organizing it could eat away days, weeks or months of your valuable free time that you could otherwise spend researching your family tree?  

I get it, I've been there. But it doesn't have to be that way forever.  I've created a printable cheat sheet to break down your organization into small easy to accomplish, bite-sized tasks that will help you start to get organized and stay that way once you get there.   

Wondering how to get on the track to a more organized life? Well, wonder no more.

Weekly:  On a weekly basis do these three things.

  1. Mark Your Papers.  As you work, mark your papers so you can easily identify where you will need to file them.  In our Historical Research Planner: Filing Pack we include small color coding labels that are meant for this purpose.  You could also write a surname to further break down your papers into individual file groups you will eventually place them in.  
  2. Sort Your Papers.  Once a week, sit down and sort your "To File" pile so that it will be easy to file everything in one short sitting.  Arrange them in the same way that your filing system is arranged.  If they need to be 3-hole punched to go into a binder, separate them by binder the order you will put them in.  If you have a file cabinet where all of the files are color coded by family group, alphabetized by surname and chronological by family member - organize your papers in a way that will make putting them into these files as quick and easy as possible. 
  3. File Your Papers. Now that you've taken out a lot of the leg-work, use one day each week to put your papers where they belong so they will be easy to find in the future.  

Monthly:  On a monthly basis do these three things. 

  1. Keep Your Binders Relevant.  Binders should include only the papers you need easily accessible because you are currently working on them.  Each month go through and decide what needs to stay in these binders.  If you haven't worked on a particular project in a month or more these items probably need to get taken out of your binders.  
  2. Move Your Papers from Binders to Filing.  The papers you took out of your binder still need a home, start new folders in filing or put them into the folders they belong in.  
  3. Move Bulky or Grouped Files into Boxes. When you notice your filing system is getting a little cramped, it may be time to move your less active files into boxes.  Another way of making space is to move grouped files into boxes.  What does this mean? It means you can use your biggest categorization - For example, in our system,  you might break down your filing system may be COLOR-CODING > SURNAME > FAMILY GROUP > INDIVIDUAL - so to begin with you would make four boxes, one with each color, then put the coordinating color in that box.  As your research grows, you may need a box for each surname.

Yearly:  On an annual basis do these three things.

  1. Update Your Labels.  Go through all of your filing and make sure that everything is labeled appropriately.  Replace labels that are falling apart, or that reflect out-dated information.  If there are files that are big and bulky and could be broken down further into smaller sub-folders do this now.  
  2. Index Your Boxes.  When everything is where it belongs, create indexes so that you can find the information quickly and easily.  This will become more important the more information you amass in your research.  Start with boxes, and place the completed index in the front of the box or on the top if the box isn't used often.  Make two copies of the index, one that goes inside the box, and another to be kept in a "master index" which you will file to keep track of all of your boxes. 
  3. Assess Your System. The best system is one that works.  Look at how you are organizing your information and the process you are using to keep up with organization.  Is it working for you? Could it work better? Tweak accordingly and come up with a plan for the following year. 

Did you like this information? I put it together in a printable so that it would be easy for you to keep somewhere visible for a reminder.  

Get your free copy now!

How do you keep organized?  What strategies work for you? Let us know in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

If you liked this post you may like these products from our shop: 

The History Dictionary

Today is National Dictionary Day here in the U.S. and I thought it would be a fun time to look at some unusual words that pertain to history.  These aren't really dictionary definitions.  After all, what fun would that be?  They are more, definitions as they apply to historical research.

Life is our Dictionary.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson


Definition - the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.

Origin -
early 15c., from Latin contextus "a joining together," originally past-participle of contexere "to weave together,"
from com- "together" + texere "to weave".

In history - 
When looking at a specific, small topic, like family history, establishing context can mean two things.  The first, is gathering information about outside events that might have affected the subject of your research.  For example, researching your ancestors living in Oklahoma in the 1930s, it could be very important to understand the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, so that you can understand what the sources you find mean within the context of those two events.  

The second form of context, can refer to bias.  Every piece of information is subject to bias.  You are bias, and the sources you choose to incorporate as well as the information you choose to wain from those sources and how you tell the story will be influenced by that bias.  Even your sources are bias, they were written by humans with opinions and objectives for specific reasons.  This establishes a context that can help you understand what further information you might need as well as how to interpret your sources. 


Definition - 
the evidence of the past, such as historical sites, buildings, 
and the unspoilt natural environment, considered collectively 
as the inheritance of present-day society

Origin -  c.1200, "that which may be inherited," from Old French iritage, eritage , heritage, from heriter "inherit," from Late Latin hereditare,
ultimately from Latin heres (genitive heredis) "heir."

In history - 
Heritage has earned itself a rather controversial position in the historical vocabulary.  According to historian David Loewenthal, "The purpose of 'heritage' is to domesticate the past for present causes."*  It is the idea of using history as a kind of propoganda with a specific end in mind.  Consider it the ultimate bias-- and one more often than not political in nature.  This simple term, while often used innocently, can have rather dark connotations in some instances.

[hi-stawr-ee-og-ruh-fee, -stohr-] 

Definition - 
the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical
 research and presentation; 
methods of historical scholarship.

Origin -

1560s; see from history + -graphy. Related: Historiographer.

In History - 
Typically this refers to a method of doing research that we adhere to, in order to make our research valuable for future generations.  Historiography dictates that we should attempt to interpret history without bending it based on our personal biases or the biases of our sources.  It also tells us that to do this we should try to rely upon primary sources for our information where possible, rather than relying on the interpretation of another historian too heavily.  

*taken from John Fea's Why Study History? pp. 39-40.  

If you are interested in knowing more about the how and why behind genealogy and family history research, my book The Purposeful Family Historian delves into how to harness the bigger picture of historical context and research to find your purpose and propel your research. 

For 5 days only ( 10/16-10/20)  - starting today -  I'm giving it away for free on Amazon! 

It's normally $9.99, but to celebrate my birthday, I thought I'd give it away for a very short, limited time!

I am only asking one teeny, tiny favor: If you download the book and you love it, would you consider writing a review on Amazon? The more reviews the book gets the more potential others will find it and it will help them.  I really appreciate your help!

photo 4 (2).JPG

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Motivation Monday: Family History

Time for our first Motivation Monday.  I'm not one for sticking too rigidly to themes, but I uncovered so many amazing quotes when working on my book, The Purposeful Family Historian, that I keep coming back to time and time again!

I decided I had to share some of them with you, hoping that if you read the book, they remind you of what you read, and if not, they might inspire you like they did me! 

There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, and the other, wings.
— Hodding S. Carter

This is altogether my favorite quote about family history.  I think that in the history field, micro-histories like family histories, house histories and local histories are both under-represented and under-appreciated. This quote, and the idea of roots being something we pass down to our children, is a good example of why family history is universally valuable and important.  

Why do you think family history is important? Do you look at it as something you can pass down to your children? Did someone in your family pass down your family history to you? Tell us below in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

My Story: A Micro-History in 15 Questions

Since today is my birthday I decided that I would do something fun and different.  I am always encouraging you and my clients to be open and introspective, so I thought I would share some silly Q&As that will tell you a little more about who I am.  

1. How often do you doodle? What do your doodles look like? All the time.  I find myself doodling probably every time I get a pen or pencil in my hand.  Usually they are tessalations, but sometimes they are faces.  

2. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and Turn? Try to get up and do something productive?  I will admit I am one to get up and do something productive.  Of course, I have read that this is the worst thing to do! But, I feel a little better knowing if I have to be awake I'm using my time for something useful.

3. How many days could you last in solitary confinement? How would you do it? Honestly, I think I would do alright in solitary.  I would probably spend my time scratching to-do lists into the wall about everything I was planning to accomplish when I got out.  I could probably go on for a couple weeks like that, at least. 

4. Do you save old greeting cards and letters? Throw them away? I am a saver.  I love letters and stationary. I like to keep them together and go back through them regularly.  I'm sentimental like that. 

5. What is the strangest thing you believed as a child? When I was really little I was totally convinced that the animated M&Ms and the 7up spot were real.  I thought I could break the television screen and get to their world.  Good thing I never tested my theory.  

6. What is one guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up? CAFFEINE!!!!!  I can't do anything in the morning without coffee.  Although, I will take caffeine in any form from chocolate to Chai. 

7. What’s something that amazes you? Call me a romantic, but in all my research what I am most amazed by is the lengths people will go in the name of love.  It could be love of country or love of a neighbor or friend or romantic love, but some of the stories I've had the honor of learning could melt anyone's heart.

8. Do you prefer that people shoot straight with you or temper their words? Why? Oh, gosh, straight! I would so much prefer to just be told exactly what someone is thinking than have to try to guess. I think there is a kind of trust that develops when you know someone is comfortable being honest and straightforward with you. It knocks down all that pretense that inhibits really connecting with someone. 

9. How and where do you prefer to research? It depends what I am researching.  No, I take that back.  I have a first preference and a second preference: 1. At a library, with the scent of old books and rustling paper.  With dim light rushing through a high window and heavy wooden tables.  (2) In my pajamas at my computer with a cup of hot coffee and some French jazz music coming from my record player. 

10. What position do you sleep in? I'm a hard-core stomach sleeper.  Can't sleep any other way!

11. If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be?  I would get rid of my shyness.  Truthfully, I've done a pretty good job of working through it, but I am naturally extremely shy, and I would love it if I were a social butterfly and all of that human interaction stuff came naturally to me!

12. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? I would choose something very old fashioned.  I think I would like to be named for someone from my family history.  Perhaps Alice, for one or the other (or both), of my great grandmothers who had that name.  

13. Do you believe ignorance is bliss? Why or why not? No.  I would always choose to have insight and knowledge over willingly being ignorant.  I believe that knowledge is power, and that through that power we can change our circumstances, our lives and our world.  

14. How difficult is it for you to be honest, even when your words may be hurtful or unpopular?  I was raised to put honesty first. Period.  I definitely try my hardest to be tactful, and I don't think I'm usually hurtful, or at least I am not ever intentionally hurtful.  

15. When do you find yourself singing? I sing an inordinate amount when I am stressed.  I'm not talking your typical belting in the car either.  I sing making food in the kitchen, walking to the mailbox, etc.

I'd love to hear from you.  Do you have an answer to one of the questions above? Let me know in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

What Will Historical Research Look Like In the Future?

We live in a time when change seems to surround us. Global lines of communication mean that information travels more quickly than ever and allow us to share ideas, hopes and more and more unite us in a common history that surpasses cultural or national boundaries. 

So, it begs the question: What will historical research look like in the future? I tried to answer the question, but it should be noted that what I came up with is based solely on my observations and is done in a spirit of fun rather than any kind of authoritative insight I have on the topic.  


There was an article this Summer on the Fast Co. Exist blog that discussed jobs that might appear by the year 2030.  Among these was one titled "Nostalgist" which is described to be like an interior designer, but who focuses on creating a decorative scheme reminiscent of another time.  As historians turn toward less traditional career trajectories in consulting and business, this seems like all to real a possibility.  

In fact, not just interior design, but other decidedly kitschy and commercialized facets for history could appear. 

Just as the automobile forever changed business in America, replacing catalog retail with shopping malls and facilitating the appearance of fancifully shaped rest stops.  So, too, has the computer and internet changed the face of historical research.  Unfortunately, just as the world never reverted to its pre-automobile condition, it is equally unlikely that the closing libraries, historical and genealogical societies will stop.  

I think that the future will bring the close of many more than we have already seen, and I am no happier about it than I'm certain any of you are, but I don't believe they will all close.  Some will survive, those who learn to harness the power of marketing and begin to look at their facility as a business with a service to provide as opposed to an organization with inherent value.  With the internet providing a more convenient, often less expensive means for getting information, it will be harder for the public at large to perceive the inherent value, rather, it will have to be clearly communicated. 

The societies and museums that will do it best will be those which aren't afraid of change, as we've seen recently, some genealogical societies have began to merge with historical societies.  These mergers could prove useful providing a greater audience for one united society, but combining collections and archives could be an infrastructural nightmare without the proper facility and manpower in place. 

Meanwhile, catalogs and collections will have to become more digitized and I think we will begin to see more online exhibitions.  I think that this could lead to an online research library where a research librarian will be available by chat or e-mail to answer questions and help locate or send along resources.  Maybe these resources will be available for check out like an ebook from a library with a paid membership to an online repository.  

Of course, my humble book-loving, paper-touching, opinion is that the digital experience could never ever measure up to the sensory experience of being in a library.  So, I hope that these innovations wouldn't make it impossible to do research in person, but the reality is, it might.  

All the more reason to dive in and start researching now! 

What are your predictions for the future of historical research? What do you think is likely to change? What do you think will stay the same? Let us know in the comments below!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

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