Sunday, December 11, 2016

How to Eat an Elephant - Part 1

Here's an old riddle for you. How do you eat an elephant? The answer? One bite at a time. The same thing goes for any seemingly impossibly large task.

What big tasks do you have that you'd really like to accomplish, if only you had the time or the ability to actually get it done? One task that can be massive is scanning in several large boxes of photos you got from your parents or grandparents. With all those hundreds or thousands of photos, how can you possibly get them all done?
You can do it by setting aside some work space with your scanner, computer and the boxes of photos. Have them all ready to go so when you have a few minutes to a half hour to spare, you can get a few photos scanned in. How long will it take? Probably months. How long will it take if you don't get started and do a little bit at a time? It would never get done.

Or looking through every page of a given town's population in a given census to document all the collateral lines living in the area. How can I possibly go through all those lines on all those pages? Set up a link on your computer desktop pointing to the Enumeration District that you want to next get through. Do one page at a time.

How can you write that extensive family history? One page at a time.

It's kind of like how I read books. I'm currently reading a book that is over 600 pages in length. I really have very little spare time so how can I actually read it? By reading 15 minutes at a time. I'll read just a few pages, then set the book aside for the day. It may take me several months but I eventually finish reading massive books. The thing is, if I tried setting aside large amounts of time to read the book, I'd likely get bored reading it and never finish. If I read just a little bit at a time, I enjoy it and am finally able to finish it.

I have a genealogy-related project that I hope to start working on in the next several months. It involves scanning in hundreds of old handwritten pages. If I tried scanning these in all at once, I wouldn't trust myself to do a good job. Doing this same task repeatedly hundreds of times with no break would likely lead to mistakes and eventual boredom. When I finally get started on it, I plan on doing it in small chunks, working about 30 minutes at a time. In 30 minutes, I'll likely be able to scan in 10-15 pages. That means, if there are 1000 pages, it will take me 66 sessions to complete. If I work on a scanning session every other day, that makes about 4 months to complete. How long will it take at the current rate of scanning? It would never get done because no one is working on it.

One other thing that I try to always do. If you have just five minutes to spare, perform just one task in the large project to bring it closer to completion. It doesn't have to be much. Just always do at least a little bit. In my census example above, I've been trying to go through every single page of every single US Federal Census for a given small town. That's hundreds of pages. This morning I had just a small amount of time. What did I do? I downloaded the next page, labelled it with the source information and named it according to my naming convention. That's it! I didn't even start going through and adding it to the entry of any person in my database. I just downloaded it and labelled it. Because I did that, I am a tiny bit closer than I was before. Keep doing this and before long, you'll realize you're making real progress.

So when you see that elephant and it scares you to try to swallow him whole, just take a small bite. Then the next day, take another. Before you know it, you'll notice that you're 10% done. Then 25%. Then when you realize you're halfway done, there will be no stopping you. After putting all that effort into it, you won't want to put it to waste by not completing it. Finally, imagine the feeling you have when you swallow that last bite. You've completed the project

There's another way to eat an elephant. It's in Part 2.


No comments:

Post a Comment