My note-taking tools, part 3: backups

This is the third part in a series about my note-taking tools and system. In Part 1, I expalined how I use OneNote 2010; in part 2, I explained the role paper plays in my system, and how I use a pen tablet. Now in this section, I’ll explain why I think backups are so important for any system, and how I accomplish some peace of mind.

Backups are critical for any important data. That goes for anything that you or I want to keep. While digital backups are frequently discussed these days–who hasn’t heard horror stories of someone losing all their work?–paper can be lost just as easily. I don’t know about you, but I often misplace documents. Spending time searching for them is lost productivity time. And since paper only exists in one place at one time, if anything ever happens to that physical item, it is lost forever. Therefore, I believe going digital offers a potentially much safer alternative to paper, provided I take some procautions.

One step is done via Dropbox. This free service allows you to syncronize a folder on your computer (My Dropbox) to their online servers. Yay cloud computing! This is done seamlessly anytime a file is changed. By saving all my academic work in my Dropbox folder, it is automatically backed-up every time I change a file. Not only that, but I can set up Dropbox on additional computers (remember my desktop and netbook?), and I can access all the files online. This gives me incredible flexibility. I can work on a paper anywhere with internet access. It also duplicates my files in three different places (desktop, netbook, and dropbox servers), thus providing some protection should something happen to one of my computers. Oh, it gets better too. Dropbox also saves previous versions of a file. This means that if you accidently do something stupid, like say save over your important paper (don’t laugh, I’ve done it!), you can simply restore an older version. More peace of mind. Did I mention it’s free? You get 2 GB of storage, more than sufficient for documents, and you can pay for additional storage if you need it. Sign up via this link, and I get additional storage space when you join. Ok, sales pitch over. I’d highly recommend it even if I didn’t get any extra space out of the deal. Dropbox. Great. Period.

OneNote 2010 also addresses some of my backup concerns in a similar way. It can automatically sync my notebooks to Microsoft SkyDrive (such an inspiring name, isn’t it? Life in the cloud…), which nearly seamlessly syncs my notes on both my desktop and my netbook and even my iPod touch. As with Dropbox, I can also view the notes online, though editing is limited.

I also have some built in backup by having my notes in both paper and digital form. If something happens to one, I should have the other. The internet isn’t failproof, and I do run into situations where I don’t have internet, the internet is down, my batteries aren’t charged, or some other electrical mishap occurs. It’s always good to be able to cope with these setbacks. I also try to save important work (i.e. term papers) on a flash drive, external hard drive, or some other medium. In the even that these cloud services dissapear, I like the idea of having yet another duplicate around.

That’s it from me! Hopefully you enjoyed a glimpse of my organizational life. If you enjoyed this, I have plans to write about my experience with Microsoft speech recognition (it was amusing), and perhaps some other things as well. And of course I’ll continue to post about my experiences in grad school and life in Belfast.


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