Where the hard drive ends: Why you need to back up your computer

I’d wager that most people reading this blog have some important documents and files stored on their computers and phones. I’d also be willing to bet that less than half of those people have backed up their devices. I don’t blame them – backups are really, really boring. But, in this case, the opposite of boring is misery, because losing all or some of your files can be a horrible (and maybe even expensive) experience. Here are a few tips to get you moving on the road to Backup-land.

The key to backups is redundancy. That means you need to have multiple copies of your files spread out over more than one location. Even if your files are stored in the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.), you could still lose them. Experts recommend a best practice called the 3-2-1 rule. Scott Hanselman, who blogs about this sort of thing regularly, explains the principle this way:

  • 3 copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important.
  • 2 different formats – Example: Dropbox + DVDs, or Hard Drive + Memory Stick, or CD + CrashPlan, or more
  • 1 off-site backup – If the house burns down, how will you get your memories back?

Overwhelmed? It’s okay. 3-2-1 is the best-case scenario for backups. It’s an almost fool-proof method, but some might call it extreme. It all depends on how much you value your files. If your time is limited, but you still want to do something to protect your documents, consider starting small. Here are a few options.

  • Use an automated solution. Companies like Crashplan and Backblaze offer “set-it-and-forget-it” backup software for a few dollars a month. For some people, that’s a little expensive, but it can be worth the peace of mind.
  • Be selective with your backups. You don’t need to have multiple copies of everything. Take a minute to think about what’s truly important to you—it might account for only a fraction of your total files. Then, when you have some time, copy that important content into one folder called, say, “Backup_May_2016.” Then you can copy that folder to another location, like a flash drive or a Dropbox folder. Every month or so, add any new files to it, and update the file name to the current date.
  • Use free online storage. You probably already have one account with Google, Microsoft, or Apple. Open up an account with one of their competitors to take advantage of the free storage they offer. This can function as an off-site backup—keep one backup folder on a flash drive in your desk, and another one in Google Drive or iCloud or wherever.

A decent solution is much better than no solution at all, so find a backup method that works for you, and stick to it. If you have any questions or suggestions, let us know in the comments.

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