The Smart Way To Backup Your Stuff Part 1: Basic Organization

As an IT professional I have this near legal obligation to tell people to back their stuff up. I think the State of Texas actually tried passing a law that said, “Every conversation with a computer nerd shall include the phrase ‘back your stuff up’ and ‘Han shot first’.”

The phrase, “backup your stuff”  really annoys me because it doesn’t say anything. Most of the time people just tell me, “Yeah I should really start doing that”, then they don’t. Likely because they have no clue how to do it, or see the price tag on a lot of backup solutions (I also hate the word solution when applied to a piece of hardware or software, as if either solves anything). Or they don’t have time.

So what I’m going to do with this set of articles is show you how to back your stuff up for very little cost, or possibly free. I like free. Also I’m going to talk about how to change your habits so you don’t have to worry about it as much. You’ll have the side benefit of being able to get to your stuff anywhere.

Figure Out What You Need To Backup

You need to spend about five minutes figure out what you need to make a backup of. Some of these backup programs like Carbonite will kind of figure this out for you but, really you should know what you have, where it is and how to back it up manually. You also need to know why your stuff is important.

So let’s take a look at what you might have. Here’s a short list of stuff.

  • Pictures – Family photos are the first thing people ask me about backing up. Most people don’t even care about anything else. If their computer crashes they always ask me to get these back if I can’t do anything else.
  • Videos – Falls under the same class as above. Plus you might have movies you downloaded you might want backed up, or at least put somewhere else so they don’t take up space on your computer
  • Documents – Most home users don’t have just a ton of documents lying around on their computer. You might have a resume, some stuff you brought home from work, maybe that novel you are writing, and some other stuff. Tax papers and things like that fall into the ‘documents’ category as well.
  • Music – A lot of people are really attached to all the songs they’ve downloaded over the years.
  • Applications – The programs you have on your computer.
  • E-Mail – Self Explanatory
  • Contacts – Your phone contact list.

Change Your File Habits

I know a lot of people who just throw everything on the desktop and try to remember what it all looks like and hope for the best. This is a bad idea. One trick to a good backup system is having your stuff organized in the first place and being consistent. I don’t know how many catastrophes I’ve had to deal with that would have never happened if there was a little more organization and consistency.

First of all, use the Libraries in Windows 7/Vista. They’re awesome. Put your music in your music folder (iTunes does this automatically), videos go in Videos, documents go in Documents, and pictures go in the Pictures library. This will not only make things a lot easier to find, it also simplifies what you have to back up, and if you do decide to just buy a backup program it’ll make it a lot easier to recover your stuff.

So if you know where your stuff is now, and it’s not organized, go ahead and take twenty minutes to dump everything in those folders. Don’t worry about making sub folders if don’t have them already, just move everything into its proper Library. I’ll post some suggestions on how to organize this further, but go ahead and just dump everything into their proper folder right now. It’s amazing how little time this actually takes.

Note: Cut and Paste, or drag and drop everything where it need to go. If you Copy and Paste you’ll end up with duplicates, which will cause you to use twice as much space.

Change Your E-Mail and Contacts Habits

I’m going to show you how to do something practical now to ensure some things will probably never get lost.

This applies to small businesses as well as home users. One thing I’m always asked, especially when a cell phone dies is, “How do I get my contacts back?”. The other is “Will I lose my e-mail?” in the case of dead PC’s. Well, if you are only concerned about this when your phone dies, you’ve already lost the game. Personally I used to use one of the utilities that came with my phone to import/export my contacts list to my computer and link it up with Outlook. I then backed up everything from Outlook using the Export feature and making copies of my PST files.

Guess what? I lost all that stuff years ago due to a combination of faulty hardware, and a bad backup! I had to start over.

But guess what? I haven’t had to make a backup of my contacts or e-mail since 2007 and I have every last one of them. I have lost many computers and phones since then.

Here’s what you need to do.

 

Step 1 – Get a Gmail account now.

Step 2 – Use the tools Gmail has to import your e-mail from whatever other service you use, or from Outlook/Outlook Express.

Step 3 – Import all your contacts into Gmail, or enter them manually.

Step 4 – Sync your smart phone to Gmail, this works on Android, iPhone, and Blackberry. Believe me, I know, I’ve done it for dozens of people.

Step 5 – Always use Gmail to add new contacts. Always. No Exceptions. Cool thing, if you enter a new contact on your phone into the Gmail address book, it will sync automatically to Gmail. If  you enter one in Gmail, it will sync automatically to your phone when you open your contacts list!

 

Now, barring Google going out of business and all their stuff being destroyed, you’ve got a pretty solid guarantee of never losing your e-mail and contacts ever again. Plus, they’ll all be with you wherever you go.

Another side benefit is that if you use Google’s online services it can show you your contacts on its other services.

The biggest most awesome benefit when you get a new phone all you have to do is sync it to the same Google account. Like magic everything is on the new phone in a matter of seconds.

Part two about actually making a backup of your stuff will be posted very soon!

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