September 01, 2009

“I Lost All My Files!”

It was a day like today when my computer went kablooey.

Around this time last year, the power went out, and the computer whirred to a stop. The next time I tried to start up the computer, it destroyed my user account. The computer literally wouldn’t boot up until the user account, which contained all my personal files, was removed. I had to save my files, but how? It took more than a day of trial and error before I managed to create a new account and save all but five of the files from the old account.

That was lucky. Those episodes don’t always turn out so well. On other occasions, I’ve lost days of work and months of e-mail messages. And there is always a chance of losing everything that’s on a computer or any other device where you have files. At least five times a year, I hear from someone who says, “I lost all my files! What can I do?” It seems to happen to everyone eventually: a broken hard drive, a misplaced CD, a stolen laptop, or a phone that won’t turn on. And then an important file that could so easily have been copied and secured the day before is gone forever. Or, in the worst case, all the files are gone.

When this happens, it isn’t just bad luck. It’s a sign. The cost of keeping files safe is measured in minutes and pennies. When we neglect it, it is because there are so many other things around and so much going on that we lose track of the things that are valuable.

It is basically the same thing if you are losing track of your important obligations and objectives in any area of life. Are there tomatoes rotting in the garden because you can’t find time to pick them? Bills paid late because you forgot? Missed a party because by the time you got everything else done and got over there, it was over?

Don’t ignore the signs. Signs like these are trying to tell you that you need to do something more to keep your life under control. It’s not necessarily just about your files, though certainly, if you lose some files, make sure you have a backup of whatever files you have left. (In fact, if you want to stop reading right now for a minute while you make a backup of something, I’ll understand.) But then, what other really important possessions have you lost track of? What other important things, things that need to be done, keep getting put off?

And then, most importantly, what’s getting in the way? What things that don’t matter so much are taking you away from the things that really do matter?

The way the world around us works, it’s hard not to fill your life up with trivia, trivia that distracts you from what you’re really trying to do. You’re doing about as well as everyone else if, in a year, you use about 10 percent of your possessions and complete about 10 percent of your to-do list. What that means is that there is enormous potential to cut back. And you only have to cut back a little to restore sanity to your life. Give yourself 10 minutes a day to make backups of your files, pay the bills on time, and generally keep things under control — and if that’s not enough, 10 minutes more. That may be all it takes to feel secure again about where you are. Considering what you get out of it, it’s not much time to spend. And in the long run, you will actually save time by avoiding the inconvenience of calamities like lost files.

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