Backing Up for a Moment

photo of donkey in mirror
"Hey! Watch where you've been!"

This is finals week for me and my students, and it happens every quarter: A students arrives to class breathless (or sends an anxiety-ridden email) to say that his hard drive crashed or his laptop froze up or he lost his flash drive, the consequence of which is that no trace remains of his essay/technical report/take-home exam.

I feel for these students at the same time that I must decide what if any concessions to make regarding deadlines (I also at times engage in a willing suspension of disbelief that this catastrophe just happened to occur the day before a major assignment is due, but that’s another issue). I feel for them because I’m not nearly as conscientious about backing up as I should be.

BACKING UP (from the California DMV)

  1. Put left hand at top of the steering wheel.
  2. Place foot on brake.
  3. Shift to reverse.
  4. Check in all directions for traffic, children, animals, and objects in or moving toward his/her path.
  5. Release parking brake.
  6. Place right hand on the back of the seat and look over right shoulder through the rear window.
  7. Release the foot brake slowly. Apply accelerator if needed and be ready to brake to control the speed of the car.
  8. Occasionally look quickly to your left.
  9. Move slowly and avoid sudden movement of the steering wheel.
  10. Turn wheel to the right if you wish to back to the right. Turn wheel to the left if you wish to back to the left.
  11. Press brake gently to stop.
  12. Shift to park.

It seems so complicated! However, I can share one easy-peasy back-up trick that I learned from my husband. It requires almost no effort and has saved me many times:

The Email Paperless Trail

Whenever you are working on a writing project that takes several days to finish, email yourself a copy of the document before turning off your computer for the day.

Wallah! From a web-based email server, you now have instant access to the latest version of your work in progress.

This back-up practice offers at least two additional benefits: You can now work on your piece on any computer that has internet access, and you have a record of drafts both partial and full that lead to your final version. While computers make revision oh so much easier than typing drafts and making corrections by hand before retyping, they also mean we lose the tangible testimony (unless we often print hard copies) to the work involved in getting from A to Z. What if you deleted a section early on that now you want to include? An email paperless trail allows you to go back to almost any stage of the process and revive old versions.

When your project is finished and the “in progress” drops from “work,” you can delete the emails to save space, transfer the documents to a desktop folder, or, if you have unlimited email storage, archive them for your future biographer to stumble upon and analyze. 🙂

What’s your favorite way to back up?

14 thoughts on “Backing Up for a Moment

  1. Like you, I email important documents to myself.

    At my university the same happens of course. Some students run in in tears, bringing the crashed notebook. And every time the reason is the same: in a hurry, not saving in time, no back up to an external source. Sometimes it breaks my heart, so much work down the drain.

    PS your site looks AWESOME Lisa, I love the new design. Very peaceful 🙂

  2. I have to give my recommendation to google docs.
    I started using them a few years back. Keeps things safely in the cloud and makes for a great collaborative tool for group projects.


  3. Emailing is a good method, but it’s not sufficient for all of your important documents. After my great bloggie implosion of jan 2011 (thinking my hosting company was doing routine database backups, only to find – one corrupted database later – that they weren’t… I established automated backups for my blog and I bought an external hard drive and I now have continuous 100% backups for my laptop. I rest much easier now 😉

  4. I use jump drives and usually archive documents using CDs. I even have some of the first original Death’s Island chapters achieved on a floppy disk. 😀
    E-mail is a cool idea. I never thought of that.

  5. I obsessively save and back-up my work all the time. I don’t usually work from a computer other than my own, so I haven’t tried emailing myself. I use a flash drive and back up on both of my computers.

  6. Lisa,

    I love the email method. My problem is that I tend to forget – or am afraid – to delete the old files.

    The one thing I want to do soon is buy an external hard drive. I’m still able to save plenty of documents on my jump drive, but sooner or later that will be full.

  7. I like this idea a lot, since I actually don’t have a computer and use multiple computers at mulitple libraries. But you should know I’m a really old guy, and back when I was in school, before computers, major catastrophies happened to our work as well – we called them dogs! Amazing how much paper a regular sized dog can eat.

  8. Lisa,

    I started using the e-mail method when I was an undergrad at the age of 50! I would wake up early, write or read for an hour or so, mail what I was working on to myself at work, sneak some time to write at lunch and then mail it back home again.

    (I have to admit, I had to ask my professors for a couple of extensions because I printed the wrong draft, or simply had writer’s block too long to finish a paper in time. Thank God, they were always granted.)

  9. I have a special gmail account that I only use to email my files to so I know they’ll always be there, safe and sound. 🙂 I also still burn a couple of DVDs of all of my important files every couple of months — but not as often as I used to!

  10. This is a nice post. I like the idea of e-mailing the file. It happened to me that a few days before my postdoc interview my hardisk died and I very smartly sent my presentation that I prepared for my thesis defense to a best friend of mine to look over. Eventhough it was not the final version that I e-mailed still saved me from heart attack.

    I now suggest 2 more options
    1. There is something called I-drive online. You can back up upto 5GB as often as you want.

    2. You can also buy portable I-drive as small as the size of cd and is quite cheap.

  11. Thank you all so much for the great ideas!… blog backups… flash drives… gmail… I-drive…. I’m pooling the suggestions to share in a post next week. Doing a better, more systematic job of backing up my work is part of my goal of being more organized in general.

    Kelsey, floppy disks–now that brings back memories!

    keroome–I love the “dog” nickname. 🙂

    EllenMarie–I usually give the extensions and then wonder if I’m being too lenient. Thanks for the confirmation. I find that students who really are trying to pull one over on me don’t do very well, even with the extension, while those who have a legitimate technical problem do just fine. 🙂

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