Backing up: Not a fool’s errand

What would you do if you lost everything? Me, I’d yell, cry and probably throw my last something at a wall. As much as we’d like to think we aren’t ruled by our possessions, I believe certain items like letters and photos of loved ones carry a lot of value. As these items become increasingly digital, the risk of loss increases while the perceived risk decreases. You might be thinking that your digital files are safe and nothing bad will happen to them. But, according to the video below 60 million computers will fail this year. That’s comparable to every Canadian losing their computer, finding it and then losing it again.

Tomorrow is World Backup Day. It may sound like another random day without purpose like Piano Day (the 88th day of the year) but I think its value lies in trying to make people aware of the benefit of backing up.  Looking at you’ll see that (at the time of writing) only 4,100 people have pledged to backup their data. That’s a very low number considering how much risk there is each year of data loss.

Why are so few people pledging to backup their data? I think there are many reasons but I would not be surprised if one of the main reasons is that many of us don’t see our digital files as all that important. We may still see a divide between “computer things” and “real life.” We may lock our front door at night but we don’t pay much mind to our digital possessions. In fact, you may dismiss this post’s relevance to you because you’ve never lost any digital files. If that’s you, then World Backup Day is here to help you understand the importance of protecting your files from loss.

Consider how much of our information is digital: wedding photos, papers for work and school, banking info and tax documents, travel plans and sensitive correspondence. If you are reading this, you probably have at least one digital device, probably two (a computer and a phone), with all kinds of documents, photos and videos. Perhaps you quickly whipped out your phone to capture your grandchild’s first steps or maybe after a long and agonizing process you filed your taxes online and have a copy on your computer. What you risk loosing ranges from valuable family history to documents you are legally required to keep in your possession. And if you are a business owner, data loss could result in you needing to fold your operations.

As for how easily files can be lost, there are three important things to remember. One, your devices are easily lost or stolen. Over 160,000 phones are lost or stolen each day. Two, around one in three incidents of data loss occur by accident. Three, hard drives do not last forever; they will break down and your data might be gone forever.

Are you scared? You should be. Just kidding, fear is a terrible motivator and can lead to bad decisions. However, now that you are more aware of the importance of backing up your data, let me offer you a short guide on how I backup; it’s different from the method on and may help you.

How to Backup Your Data

Like cars, you can have your backup plan be automatic or manual. If you search the web, you’ll see some “lively” debate as to the merits of manual over automatic and vice versa. I prefer manual backup because it gives me more control and peace of mind knowing that I have definitely backed up my files. If you would rather the convenience of automatic backups, follow the steps outlined by the people behind World Backup Day. If you want to take the time and manually back up your files, read on.

Note: Backing up your data, automatically or manually, is always easier with a habit of good file organization. The time invested in organizing your files into a logical system will save you time and anxiety when trying to restore files from a backup or simply trying to find that one video you love of your crazy brother in-law from Easter when he made the gravy explode. If you want a lengthy and thorough guide on how to organize your files on a computer, check out this guide.

My backup method follows the 3-2-1 backup rule. This means that I have three copies of every file, stored in two locations, and one of those locations is “offsite.” I’ll explain offsite locations in more detail below.

Of the three copies, two are backups and the other is the copy of my files that I might be working on or have ready at my fingertips. Of the two backup copies one should be at the offsite location.

Step 1 – Get an external hard drive

Buy an external hard drive that’s bigger than all of the storage you currently own. This is where you will store your most important and sensitive files. Don’t store sensitive documents like banking and tax records on the Cloud. There’s too much risk there. In my household we have a laptop with 130 GB and two desktops with 750 GB and 1 TB (1,000 GB) between them. This adds up to 1.88 TB. We own a 2 TB external drive just to back up that data. We should probably get more space soon because photos keep getting snapped and I keep writing new stories and blogs.

Step 2 – Choose an “offsite” location

Your offsite location is a place where your backup will be protected from theft, fire or dueling superheroes. If your apartment burns down, only your primary files will be toast if your backup is outside the apartment. Ideally you should be able to access the offsite location easily, so bank safety deposit boxes are not that good of an idea because you’ll have to deal with their operating hours. Lots of people choose cloud services like Dropbox or iCloud, and those are fantastic for automatically backing up your phone, but they can get pricey if you have too much data. You can also go with a trusted family member or friend. You’ll have your files safe and you’ll get to hang out with said loved one on a regular basis. Win-Win.

Step 3 – Actually backup your data

This is the most important step. Everything else is pointless if you don’t do this. When you’re at your computer, plug in your external hard drive and copy and paste all the folders and files you want backed up. DO NOT cut and paste. Sorry for raising my voice there, but one time I cut and pasted files and experienced a problem when the cut files did not paste and were lost in the aether. So, copy the files and paste them onto the drive.

Note: Depending on how many files you have; this could take hours. Sometimes, when backing up I like to take the time when files are moving to do chores around the apartment, like cleaning the bathroom or baking a cake. If you choose to pair your backing up with a specific chore, you’ll hopefully get in the habit of completing both tasks. This means you’ll have secured your files and you’ll have fresh baked goods on a regular basis. Who loses in that scenario? No one, that’s who.

Step 4 – Build the habit

As hinted at above, backing up your data regularly is important. If you don’t do it regularly, you run the risk of losing your new data and being in the same danger of file loss as before you started. If you need help remembering, set a reminder on your phone or your calendar.

Step 5 – Relax

This is the best step, and easiest if you’ve backed up your files. With your files securely backed up, you can relax knowing that those embarrassing photos of your kids are safe and ready to be shared with their friends on their wedding night or other socially acceptable occasion. Sit back, relax and enjoy those baked goods you made.


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