In a previous post I talked about disk images vs file backups and when to use each. In this article I will focus specifically on file-level backups and give you a checklist you can use to make sure you are backing up everything you need.
As a general rule, you should try to keep all of your data in one place — or in multiple manageable places (see my article on windows partitioning for more details). For the basic user, the best plan is to keep all of your data in the MyDocuments folder. MyDocuments is designed to organize your data, your pictures, your videos, etc. I like to add folders to My Documents in addition to the default ones to help organize my files a little better. You can add folders for what you need — for example, financial, work, home, etc — it’s up to you and how detailed you want to make it.
(Windows 7 caveat – almost all user data is stored in the C:\Users\[username] folder so you may have an easier time putting a backup together vs. your Windows XP friends — but check this list to make sure you do get everything as the \Users directory is not foolproof – see #’s 5 and 6 to see what I mean).
1. MyDocuments – this folder should include all of your data files (word, powerpoint, excel, etc) as well as your pictures, videos and music. So if you are actively using MyDocuments, backing up this folder will cover most of what you need to backup.
2. Pictures (if you are not using MyDocuments).
3. Videos and eBooks (if you are not using MyDocuments).
4. Music (if you are not using MyDocuments).
5. Bookmarks and (optionally) passwords from your web browser. And if you are using more than one web browser, make sure you backup this information from each browser individually.
6. Other Application Data — certain programs do not use MyDocuments unless you tell them. Quickbooks, for example, stores its data in the program directory. So look through your Programs (C:/Program Files) and see if there are any programs that you use that don’t use MyDocuments to store the backups. If you are unsure, open up the program and try to save a file and see where it defaults you to when you try to save (unless you’ve told it otherwise, Quickbooks often likes to backup to C:\Program Files\Quickbooks, so if you just backed up MyDocuments you’d lose this data!
7. Desktop Items. Strangely enough, desktop items are not stored in the MyDocuments folder and many of us (myself included) like to use the desktop as a temporary holding area (that becomes less and less temporary as time goes on). The easiest thing to do here is to find the desktop folder and copy its contents. It can usually be found (in Windows XP) under C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Desktop.
8. Email data. Depending upon which email client you use, you will likely have a data file. If you have online email (Hotmail, Gmail) then this won’t be a problem as your email is stored on the web. But if you are using a program like Microsoft Outlook, you will want to backup that data file. With this data file you can easily move to a new machine and get all of your emails back.
This is a pretty exhaustive list but once you’ve setup your backup plan and have it in place, daily backups (or backups at whatever interval works for you) will be easy. And if you plan to move to a new machine, you will already have most of the work done. If you are moving to a new machine, you can check out this post which is a checklist for moving to a new computer — which I will put out in the near future.