Backing up your work: The reasoning & the process

For those of you who know me (either online or offline), you will probably hear at one point or another how much I LOVE external hard drives.

Why I back up at all

Why not, really?

It’s like flossing. You KNOW you should do it, and do it regularly, but sometimes you slide.

In one of my favourite TV series “Sex and the City”, Carrie Bradshaw, one of the main characters of the show, didn’t back up her work regularly on her Macbook and lost ALL of her written articles saved on there.

I have also experienced the effects of NOT backing up. I only got burned once when I was in high school and I lost some important documents or photos, and I vowed to never lose my data again.

This was before the age of external hard drives being affordable, so I burned everything to a CD.

Yes. Everything burned to a CD.

When your work is backed up:

  • you aren’t living on the dangerous, digital edge
  • you will never face the IT department again in tears, mascara running down your face
  • you will never feel rage or anger when your computer dies in the middle of a project
  • you sleep better at night, knowing that if your computer conks out, you’re okay
  • you will be a cool cucumber when your computer takes a dive into the river
  • you are not going to lose those precious photos or home videos
  • you are not going to lose your scanned, never-to-be-replaced-again documents

Billions of reasons, really. 🙂

Why I back up everything at least twice

I should note that when you move a file or document from your computer and “back it up” on a hard drive, you aren’t really backing it up.

You only have ONE copy of the file in question, when you move it from your computer to your external hard drive.

You would need to move 2 copies of the file into two separate hard drives to move it off your computer, or else it’s technically NOT a back up.

With that being said, having two backups means that just in case the one copy corrupts (happened more than once to me with video and Excel files), you have another clean copy that you can use instead.

Thrice is preferred, but that means I’d have to buy another 3 or 4 hard drives.

Why I don’t use syncing software

I am not someone who enjoys using a lot of programs for something that I feel doesn’t deliver an adequate return on my time spent using it.

If I can be organized on my own with folders and good system, without extra software bebopping around, I’m much happier.

I will also be the first to admit that I find syncing software a bit confusing. I think you have to map each computer folder to your hard drive folder.

It’s only a bit of work at the start, but I really like the flexibility of being able to move folders, rename them, delete them without having to worry about re-mapping folders again.

What brands I’d recommend:

Western Digital, Seagate, Iomega and Verbatim for the USB keys.

Those brands have never lost data for me, and always work beautifully.

My father says that LaCie works great for him, but the rest of us (excluding my mother who doesn’t even know what an external hard drive is) are in the Western Digital camp.

How to buy a hard drive:

  • Always buy the biggest size you can afford (The 2TB is the biggest size you can get)
  • Always buy a USB-powered hard drive (The 1TB size just came out in Passport form)
  • Never cheap out on a hard drive (I bought 2 cheap hard drives once. NEVER AGAIN.)
  • Remember when you are handing over your credit card, that your data is irreplaceable

You can buy a 500GB hard drive for about $130 now.

It’s quite decent, and 500GB is more than enough space for most folks.


Here’s a quick visual of what I use on a regular to a semi-regular basis:

Not pictured:

  • My first external hard drive, bought 6 years ago still going strong – 60GB
  • 2 USB work keys – 8GB secured to backup projects and 4GB open to pass around

Backing up the Macbook

I USE: A 120 GB Seagate External Hard drive

Note: I don’t back up my PC because of my double-backup strategy described below.

And I also haven’t found a good software that will properly, and reliably make Carbon Copy Clones of my hard drive the way the AWESOME Carbon Copy Cloner program for the Mac has.

When I have a snafu on my Macbook, I just restore it back to the week or the time when I had last backed it up as being “perfect and current”.

NO ISSUES AT ALL. I love it.

Unsecured Documents

I USE: A Western Digital Hard drive (160GB) and a Comstar (120GB)

Note: I highly recommend Western Digital hard drives. I have never had one die on me…yet.

This includes photographs, backing up the blogs, recipes, sheet music and personal documents.

All the things that I don’t mind if an average person gets a hold of the data.

Secured Documents

I USE: A Verbatim USB Key (16GB) and a Sandisk USB Key (16GB)

Note: I highly recommend Verbatim’s USB keys. Their password protection software trumps Sandisk’s

I keep this on a USB key with a password protection on it.

It’s all my scanned bills, my taxes, my receipts, and anything I don’t want an average person to be able to look at.

Storing Videos in the Interim

I USE: 2 Western Digital Hard Drives (500GB) and (320GB)

I watch a lot of videos. A LOT. But I hate dragging out my huge 1 TB’s to grab videos or music off it, so I just keep a current copy of what I’m into on these hard drives.

It’s also great as a travel hard drive to keep me busy and entertained.

Storing Videos in the Long-Term

I USE: 2 Western Digital Notebook Hard Drives (1TB) each

Note: I highly recommend sticking to USB-Powered hard drives.

I hate using these, because they require an external power plug.

It’s great for people who have offices or desks where these hard drives will never move, but I work on the kitchen table most of the time.

I archive all of my videos and music on here to copy over to my other hard drives when I feel like watching a season of something.

I know they’ve just released the 1TB Western Digital Hard drives in a handy passport form, powered by USB.

I am holding off on buying them because there’s no real need at the moment, as these are working fine for now.

A bit cumbersome to use daily, but fine.

If the price drops to something more reasonable, I’ll consider picking up 2 USB-powered drives to replace these.


The Camera Folder

When I have a new photo downloaded from my camera’s SD card for example, I first unload it from the card into a folder called “Camera”.

I do this because when you edit photos directly on the SD card, if you make a mistake and delete a photo by accident, you cannot retrieve it from the Recycling Bin. It’s gone for good.

So I like to unload the images into a Camera folder, and sort and edit through them, just in case I make a mistake.

After I’ve edited the photos and I want to actually transfer them out, I organize them into folders and put them in another folder named “Transfer”.

The Transfer Folder

This Transfer folder holds everything temporarily that has NOT been backed up on my hard drives.

I put new photos here, documents I’ve created and want to save, backups… etc.

Nothing is permanently removed from this folder unless I have backed it up twice on two separate, external hard drives.

Why this system works for me:

  • Any file I access on a daily basis stays on my computer, but they’re few and far between
  • No unnecessary files are stored permanently on my main computer
  • Frees up a lot of hard drive space so my computer is quicker
  • If I want to access my files quickly, I just plug in one of my hard drives to grab them
  • It’s a forced procedure to ensure that I back up everything twice

It has taken me about 2 years to come to a comfortable procedure that:

  • Isn’t too finicky that I am confused about what hard drive is for what
  • Forces me to back up twice at all times
  • Keeps my main computer clean and organized
  • Gives me a reason to buy hard drives in the name of backing up data

What about you? What’s your backup strategy?

About the Author

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.