Digital Spring Cleaning

phdcomics save


I cannot stress how important backing up files is. It’s one of those things that many people learn the hard way. I’ve lost enough bits of work over the years of doing school homework and undergraduate coursework on computers that I now have a slight obsession with saving my work every couple of minutes and also regularly copying my files into several different places. I still occasionally lose a bit of work, but mostly through unpreventable and sudden network/computer crashes. I have a serious fear of and aversion to this happening and use creative damage control options (once I even resorted to taking a photo of my frozen computer screen and using it to re-write a paragraph of work after restarting the computer).

I would much rather prevent the loss of any data, if at all possible. Some of my regular preventative strategies for minimising chances of losing work are:

  1. At the end of every day and sometimes throughout the day too, I will back up the most important files I have been working on by copying them into my dropbox folder.
  2. I tend to have a subfolder labelled ‘old drafts’ in any folder with ongoing work (e.g. paper I am writing, talk I am preparing or database I am using for analyses). This is just in case I accidentally or deliberately delete something I later decide I need.
  3. I also write a note to myself in my calendar to back-up everything (to a different drive, preferably more than one) about every 3 months.

I’m sure this all sounds great and hyper-organised but it is not a full-proof system. To begin with, I have a ridiculous amount of duplicated files all over the place. I regularly use lots of different hard drives (2 on my work computer, 3 networked drives I can access from any university computer, 2 drives on my laptop and one external hard disk) and about 5 memory sticks scattered about the place. Also, in addition to uploading files to dropbox, I still sometimes email things to myself (old habits die hard). It can occasionally be tricky to find something, especially if it’s something I haven’t worked on for a while.

I have gradually learned to label documents, folders and subfolders in a sensible and informative way but this just means that some files/folders have rather lengthy names. Sometimes I need to use the search tool in Microsoft to find where I squirreled away a particular document.

One helpful thing which goes some way towards mitigating the chaos is that I have one primary drive I use, where I keep all of my up-to-date files and I put back-up files in the various other places. Lately I’ve been trying to do some tidying up to sort through the mess. However, deleting files is a slightly frightening thing to do and involves double checking things really are duplicated or massively out of date. Generally, I just leave things be as I have loads of extra storage space anyway.

I have a similar approach to my emails. I like to keep my inbox relatively clear so as soon as I have read and replied to or otherwise dealt with an email, I file it away. I have a labyrinth of folders and sub-folders for my emails. I only wish our email client at work was as sensible as Googlemail so I could label/file emails under more than one category. I do tend to have to use the search tool quite regularly, so obviously my filing system isn’t optimal.

If anyone has any tips on keeping your digital stuff organised and backed-up, do share.


2 thoughts on “Digital Spring Cleaning

  1. Piffle says:

    “Type, save, type, save, save” I do that!
    I don’t label or file any of my emails and just use the search function. It works for me.
    Duplicate files are annoying but I have plenty of them!

  2. staceybroom says:

    I’m definitely with you on this! I too am constantly pushing save and saving files in folders within folders, on USBs, emails to myself etc. It’s comforting to know I have everything, including drafts…until I need to find something, then it can be a nightmare!

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