Macbook with an orange external hard drive on desk.
Academic life

It’s never too soon to save

No, I’m not talking about saving money (although that’s pretty important, too). “It’s never too soon to save” is a little mental reminder that I periodically chant when I’m writing. Yeah, it seems painfully obvious. Save your work. Back up your data. But, like saving money, it’s something a lot of us either put off, do randomly, or wait until a near-data-death experience forces us to take care of business.

Saving your work = staying calm and organized

Surely data backup is too mundane a topic for an academic coach? I disagree. Nothing is more stressful than worrying about or actually losing your precious work. A few years ago the hard drive on my MacBook melted down. I had to leave it with the computing services department for about 6 weeks. But it was nothing more than an inconvenience. Literally every document I needed was backed up and accessible on multiple devices.

As academics, our work represents years or even decades of scholarship! It’s simply irreplaceable. And let’s face it: even losing the last paragraph you typed is infuriating when the power cuts out or your program crashes.

If you don’t have a system in place for your digital back up: don’t worry. It’s not too late (yet). Here’s a few simple ways to get started that require very little tech savvy and not much time.

External hard drives

If you have a desktop computer, I highly recommend an external hard drive that’s permanently connected to your machine. It’ll just sit on your desk behind the computer and magically come to life every so often to create a full back up of your entire hard drive and an “image” of the full system (operating system etc.). If you use a Mac, you can set up your external drive as a “Time Machine.” On PCs, Windows has “File History” and “Back up and Restore” options. You can even buy fireproof drives if you want to get hardcore about it. Either way: Set it and forget it.

For your laptop, invest in a small portable external hard drive. You can get 2 terabytes for under a hundred bucks. If you move your laptop around a lot, you won’t want to leave the hard drive connected all the time. That’s ok! You can (again) set it up as an external back up (time machine) and your computer will remind you to plug it in every few days. It only takes a few minutes to refresh the back up and then you can disconnect the drive and put it somewhere safe.

Macbook with an orange external hard drive on desk.
Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

The cloud

The cloud: What even is it? Where is it? Why do people have so many naked selfies on it? These are existential questions that I won’t attempt to answer here. But in the age of the cloud, there are even fewer excuses (like, zero) to not have a continuous back up of your work. Importantly, cloud-based storage makes it super easy to pull up any document on your desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, e-reader, or whatever other connected device you have handy. This is great for travel, conferences, teaching, and more.

There are a lot of cloud-based storage services and chances are, you have access to one through a Google account, Apple iCloud, or your institution’s subscription to something like Office 365. I have all of those but the one I use most consistently (and even pay for extra storage within) is Dropbox.

Whatever service you choose, it should ideally be accessible in two ways: online and on your computer’s hard drive. With online access, you can log into your account from ANY computer – not just one you own – and pull up any file you need. On the computers that you DO own, your cloud storage system should download any updates to any document on any device. Meaning that you have pretty much instant access to the most recent versions of your work.

For example, you’re in the midst of working on a paper in your office but you need to rush home to wait for a delivery. Just save the document. No need for USBs. No need to email your document to yourself. When you open up your computer at home, it’ll sync with the cloud and your paper will be ready to go, just as you left it. Easy peasy.

Privacy, confidentiality, and safety

Maybe you’ve been reluctant to use the cloud or even portable hard drives because of privacy concerns. For instance, you have sensitive research data that could identify participants. Or you just have a lot of naked photos. Either way, I hear your concerns. You’ll have to do a little research to see how private and secure your cloud network is. But don’t let that stop you from backing up the majority of your work either online or on a hard drive. Sensitive files can be stored on a USB or portable drive in a locked, fireproof cabinet or a safe if necessary.

No excuses!

My syllabi include the following statement: “Computer problems are awful but not an excuse for late or missed work. Back up all your work consistently.”

As professionals whose life’s work is almost entirely contained in digital files, we need to be on top of keeping our materials safe. The peace of mind that comes from never worrying about a deleted file or corrupted hard drive is priceless. It’s also enormously time-saving. Think about the hours lost trying to recover a file or recreate your ideas! Set aside some time this week to decide which system will work for you. And then save like your life’s work depends on it.

Need a little help?

If you want to learn more about one-on-one support for getting your digital world organized, check out my coaching services including FREE Strategy Sessions and my affordable Declutter Your Work Life package! Contact me anytime here or via Facebook.

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