They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’d like to add “technology failures” to that list.
Someday it will happen to all of us: our laptop will crash, our iPad will take a dip in the pool, or a homeless guy will steal our phone while we’re at a church trying to help him find housing for the night. (True story.)
If you’ve made it to the year 2017 without experiencing a technology disaster or losing important data, please let me rub your head for good luck. Then you need to get to work on this tech disaster preparedness checklist right away because you are on borrowed time, my friend!
Backup Computers and Devices
If your computer is anything like mine, it’s filled with digital sheet music, backing tracks, recital programs, photos, videos, studio fliers, lesson plans for group classes and countless other resources for my studio and the rest of my life. (Not to mention, every paper I ever wrote in college and will probably never need again, but I’m ignoring that for now.)
I’ve never completely lost my digital files, but I have had some close calls and that’s enough excitement for me.
Now I’ve got a thorough system in place so if my computer ever crashes, I can restore the files from multiple sources in just a few clicks. WIN.
The 3-2-1 Rule
This is the rule I follow for data backup: 3 total copies of data, on 2 different mediums (devices), with at least 1 copy off-site.
The original files are stored on my computer hard-drive (1st copy), which is copied to an external hard-drive (2nd copy), and I use a cloud backup service (Backblaze) that backs up my files in the background while I work, all day, every day (3rd copy, offsite).
External hard drives are a very affordable backup option, but it does take discipline to keep them up-to-date. If you never connect the hard drive to your laptop, it never gets updated and you’re no better off for having one.
I use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, which lets me automate the backup and run it over my home network so I don’t have to manually plug anything in. This is definitely an easier system to maintain, but more expensive to set up.
My previous strategy was to have a recurring reminder in my To Do app to run a backup to my external hard drive every Thursday night and then put the hard drive in a fire- and water-proof safe until it was time for the next backup. This system worked for many years before I upped my geek game with the NAS.
Cloud backup services have the benefit of running in the background while you work, so they capture any files you update between manual backups.
Backups shouldn’t stop at your computer. Be sure the contacts on your phone are being stored in the cloud and not just on the device. Use a service like Google Photos, iCloud Photo Library, or Dropbox to automatically backup every photo and video you take so you never lose those proud student performance moments!
Set Up a Password Manager
I do a lot of website development, and every time I ask for a password to log in to a client’s web hosting account they say something like “Oh, try ‘Sparky1995’ or ‘$parky1995’ or …” some other variation of their pet’s name and a significant year in their life.
We all know we shouldn’t be using the same few passwords everywhere, but it’s a hassle to remember different passwords for every service.
And that’s where we’re going wrong. We shouldn’t be trying to remember them all. This is what password managers are for!
A system like LastPass (affiliate link) or 1Password can generate a unique, secure password for each online service you use and store them in a secure vault that you access with a single master password. That’s master password is the only one you need to remember.
Be sure to choose a password manager that works on your computer and other devices because if it’s not everywhere, you’ll resist using it at all. (Been there, done that.)
Use a Surge Protector
In the age of desktop computers, it was natural to set up the computer with a surge protector once and then forget about it. With the portability of laptops, this protection from power surges often gets neglected.
I keep a surge protector like this one at my primary workstation. With so many outlets, I can keep my laptop, second monitor, printer, speakers, and desk lamp plugged in all the time and still have plenty of open outlets for random visiting power cords.
If you’re always on the go, consider a single outlet, portable surge protector that you can move with your laptop.
Computers aren’t the only thing to protect – make sure your phone chargers, digital pianos, TVs, and other expensive electronics have surge protectors, too!
Finally, if you have a surge protector that your dad gave you eight years ago, it might be time to upgrade. Experts recommend replacing surge protectors after any large event (like a lightning strike nearby) or every 3-5 years.
Enable Find My Device
Most modern devices have a built-in feature that allows you to locate the device anywhere, whether it’s gotten lost in the couch cushions or stolen and taken across the country. Usually enabling these features only takes a minute. Here are some directions to get you started:
Windows PCs – Find Lost Device
Apple Products – Find My iProduct
Android Phones and Tablets – Find My Android
Just yesterday I misplaced my phone (while it was silenced, of course), and it only took me a moment to find because I could login remotely and make it ring.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
More and more websites are beefing up security with two-factor authentication (2FA). This is a fancy way of saying, if anyone (including you) tries to log in to an account from an unrecognized device, they’ll have to provide the password AND a second piece of information, like a security code that is texted to your phone number and has a short expiration window.
This is a good feature for keeping the hackers out because even if they know your password, they would also have to know that second factor information to get access.
You may have dozens of accounts, each with its own two-factor identification process to set up. Don’t let this bog you down. Start with your email account and go from there. Here are links to directions to get you going:
For every other site, check out Turn on 2FA.
Set Up a Recovery Phone Number or Email
If you ever get locked out of your email account (which, if you use Gmail, could mean you’re locked out of your documents, calendar, music, and pictures as well), you’ll want to have a recovery phone number or email address set up. This just makes it easier to get access to your account if you forget your password (which won’t happen, because you already set up a password manager, right?) or get locked out because of too many failed login attempts.
Gmail makes this process easy. A quick search for your email provider and “recovery phone number” will turn up directions to set it up with other services.
It may seem like a lot of work, but most of these precautionary steps take only a few minutes to set up and they can save you hours of headache and hassle when (yes, WHEN) there is a disaster.
Don’t forget – any money you spend on equipment or services to secure technology you use for business is tax-deductible!