If at all possible, review your genealogy files before you begin any phase of research. Study them, learn them, memorize the direct family lineage, particularly for the portions you are researching. It is important to take notes or files with you for reference. If you have a laptop computer or hand-held computer, make sure the files are up to date and complete. If you wish to take a file folder of documents and charts, do not take the originals. They can easily be lost and then research begins again. Very frustrating!
Do you know where your ancestors lived? Locations are extremely important, not only for the vitals such as births, marriages and deaths, but also in between for tracking migrations and relationships. It can be very helpful to have charts showing which ancestors you are researching in given states, counties and countries. Many of the popular genealogical software programs have features for compiling such lists.
Look at your research and make sure it makes sense. Do you (accidentally!) have somebody giving birth when they were only 10 years old? Are the locations correct? Always check county formations. They perhaps died in Forsyth Co., North Carolina in 1810, but that county was not formed until 1849 from Stokes Co., North Carolina. Knowing the boundaries and parent counties will save on research time.
While you can locate this county formation information on Internet, it is also helpful to be able to use either of these books:
Red Book American State, County, and Town Sources ed. by Alice Eichholz Ph.D., C.G.; published by Ancestry.
The Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, published by Everton Publishers.
Before doing any research, make a list of what you want to locate and where it might be. It is helpful to use Research Logs to record information such as this and also to make note of what you discovered or didn't find. There are plenty to choose from at Free Genealogy Forms and Charts, http://www.genealogysearch.org/free/forms.html. In addition, many genealogical software programs allow you to make logs and charts which can be printed out or saved to your laptop for easy reference.
What do you do once the information has been found? Hopefully the to-do tasks will include documenting the information. Where was it found? An excellent book to use when documenting is:
Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills
The same author has written quicksheets which are extremely helpful when on a research trip. They are:
Quicksheet Citing Online Historical Resources
Citing Ancestry.com Databases & Images Quicksheet
Check online book sellers, such as Amazon.com for genealogy books or make a trip to your local library to see if they have them.
Allocating your time can be tricky when doing genealogical research. If you are going to a library, such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, it is important to make the most of your time, but also to take breaks. Get away from the laptop, microfilm reader or books long enough to rest and regroup. Once you are back home with the information, what do you do? Use it as soon as possible, evaluate the evidence and add information to your genealogy files.
Remember that you will never have 100% positive results. Negative results can be positive results in that you know a particular ancestor or family was not in that record or location. Look elsewhere, but keep looking. Your ancestors await you!