SMART Family History Goals
By Dale E. Lee


  • What are SMART goals?
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based


One of the problems people face in Family History is that almost everyone has a different set of circumstances. Some people are just starting and don’t have family members that have done very much in creating their Family Trees, and others have had extensive work done on theirs.

But regardless of where you start, it is important to be SMART about how you approach your efforts.

There are many aspects and many different projects you can get involved with, and research is just one of them. For example, one project may be to identify and record whatever existing information you can obtain. Another may be to scan and transcribe old family journals. Another to verify the information you have been given. And yet another to record your personal history.

In all these efforts, you need to be organized and to keep a log as you go. You are, in essence, a Project Manager over the projects you decide to undertake.

When organizing your efforts, first identify what your primary objectives will be. These will become the Projects you will work on. For example, if you want to record your personal life history so you can let your descendants know about you, that will be your objective and the name of the Project: Personal History. Each project you undertake needs to be laid out with intermediate goals to reach to complete the project as a whole. If you don’t have intermediate goals, it is easy to get distracted from the true objective of the Project. If you find that you are getting sidetracked, lop off that sidetrack and create a new project out of it. Don’t let it impact your current project. If you continue to get sidetracked, you’ll never accomplish the Project you’re working on. Remember, you only get credit for Projects and Tasks you complete, not the number of Projects or Tasks you started. The old adage, “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” applies well here. Don’t get caught in doing a lot of work that accomplishes nothing.

Once you have identified a worthwhile project, break it down into smaller and smaller pieces. You can’t eat the whole Elephant in one meal, but you can do so over time and in far smaller pieces. (Not that I’m encouraging you to eat an elephant, we need to preserve them.) As you break the pieces down further and further, there will come a point at which it is small enough to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. The SMART rules help you scope out your tasks.

SMART rules are simply a guideline to help you know when they are at a point that they can reasonably accomplished. If the goal is not SMART, it will be harder to accomplish than you expect. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.


S: If your tasks are so fuzzy as to not actually be able to define what they are, they are not tasks. They are wishes. Be specific in what you want to accomplish, not wishy-washy. For example, “I want to do my Genealogy” is not a very good goal. It is so fuzzy that there is no way to accomplish it. What do you want to accomplish in Family History? Be specific.


M: If you can’t measure your tasks, you won’t have the means to know what the status of your progress is. One way to measure tasks is the time they take to accomplish. For example, I will index a batch of records in ½ hour is measurable. I will search for my ancestors is not. Which ancestors? Where will you go to research them? What resources do you have to do so? Who will you ask for help?


A: If the tasks you are undertaking are not achievable in a reasonable amount of time, they will only cause frustration and failure. Be sure they can be achieved in a reasonable time period. However, this depends on the Project. Large projects take longer, but large projects are always broken down into smaller tasks that can be done in far less time and done either sequentially or in parallel. You cannot build a dam in a day, but you can do so step by step, just so each step is achievable and fits in with the whole.


R: If the tasks you undertake are not relevant to the objective you are trying to accomplish, you are side tracking yourself from completing the project, and are wasting time. Remember to compartmentalize. Things relevant to other projects need to be put in those other projects and left out of the current one. You can only juggle so many projects at a time and it is critical that you work on only the most important task at the time and not get distracted with things outside the scope of your objective. Although it is tempting to work on those other projects, it is better to complete one project at a time and complete it before going on to others. If you get distracted, you’ll forget where you were and have to redo work already done when you get back to the current project. It is also a good idea to keep Project logs while you are working, as Family History projects tend to take long periods and if you have to work on another project, you’ll know where you were when you get back to the current one.


T: If you can’t allocate a reasonable amount of time for the tasks to be completed, you’ll have no way to know if they will become so costly they will have to be abandoned. Set bounds for the amount of time the tasks should take and measure your progress against that time period. If it is taking longer than expected, there is a reason for it, and you’ll need to discover the cause and find a way to deal with it. For example, if you plan to go on a vacation and visit a historic site of interest to your ancestors, you’ll want to allocate enough travel time to get there, time for meals, sleep, etc. to have the time you’ll need to do actual research. If not, you may find you had far less time for research than you expected.

Organization can help you accomplish far more than disorganization, and SMART objectives and goals definitely help you become better organized.

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