When you’re thinking about backing up your files, you need to decide where to store the backup. Do you want to use a flash drive? An external hard drive? A DVD? An online service?

Each of these has its own pros and cons, and we’ll take a look at them in turn. But first, let me give you some information on organising your backups, so you won’t tear your hair out a few years down the line: Organise your data well and give your backups a good name that includes the date!

Now what on earth do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. Let’s say I want to back up my accounts. Everything related to my accounts lives in a top-level folder called – not terribly imaginatively – “Accounts”. This folder holds the company file for my accounting software, a folder for my tax returns, a folder for my invoices, a folder for my receipts – you get the idea.

When I back up my accounts, I give the backup folder a name that includes the date of the backup. If, for example, I backed up my accounts on the 31st of March 2014, I would make a copy of my entire “Accounts” folder and call it “Accounts 140331”. If I made another one on the 30th April 2014, I’d call it “Accounts 140430”. Why do I reverse the date? Simple. All my account backups are stored in the same place. If I look at them, and sort them by name, they will automatically appear in date order!

So, that’s the naming done. On to organising your data.

I find it easiest to organise my data into a hierarchical folder structure. I’ve already mentioned my “Accounts” folder, with sub-folders for invoices, receipts, tax etc. But the accounts folder is in turn inside my “Business” folder, together with others, such as a marketing folder, which holds everything concerned with marketing, a projects folder, which holds my various projects, a clients folder, which holds information about my clients and so on.

Organising my data in such a way makes it very easy for me to easily create meaningful backups. I can, for instance, back up my entire business folder. That backup will then contain my accounts, my projects, my client information and everything else I keep in there. But this structure also allows me to do backups of my projects quite independently. If I’m working on a new project, for example, I may want to do a backup every week, or even every few days. Do I want to back up my entire business folder that often? Absolutely not – that folder is very large, and doing a backup of the entire thing would be a huge waste of time and disk space.

I don’t even want to back up the entire projects folder – just the project I’m currently working on. By organising everything in a well-structured hierarchy, I can do that quite easily, keeping my most urgent data safe without wasting time or disk space by backing up other projects that are already finished and therefore won’t change on a day-to-day basis.

One very important point to bear in mind when organising your files is that, if you’re using any kind of software to manage things, you should tell it to save its project files into the appropriate folder on your computer. Now what do I mean by that? Let’s take my accounting software, for example. The software I’m using saves everything into what it calls a ‘company file’. However, my accounting software doesn’t know about my lovely file organisation – instead it will try to put my company file into the folder it’s been installed to, which can be quite hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Furthermore, that default folder isn’t part of my file backup plan. If I left things like that, my company file would never be backed up alongside of my other accounts stuff – not a good option!

Fortunately the solution is quite easy. The first time I saved my company file, I used the “save file as” option in the file menu of my accounting software, and specified that it should be saved in my accounts folder. Now I have everything in one place, and nothing gets left out of my monthly accounts backup.

Of course it’s not only accounting software that does this. Any piece of software where you create a project of any kind will do the same. If you’re doing video editing, for example, your editing software will have a project file that saves all of the information about where the video clips can be found, where you cut videos, which transitions you used and so on. If you’re using such project-based software, make sure the project file is stored in the relevant folder so it’s included in your backup. You can usually do that through the “save as” or “save project as” option in the file menu.

With the organisation of your data done, next time we’ll take that look at the different storage options for backups. See you then!

 

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