How Fast Can You Get Back To Doing Business?

Computer Crash - Back To BusinessIf your main work computer crashed – I mean really crashed, and was a total loss, hard drive and all – how long would it take you to get back to doing business?

Would it be so long that it would cripple your income stream (and possibly cost you your best clients), or would it be a momentary blip that you easily recover from?

If you’d rather have it be a little blip (rather than a big “Oh, bleep!”), read on.

The Big Three: What You Need To Prepare For

There are three things that slow you down when it comes to getting back in business after an unrecoverable computer crash (or the dreaded laptop theft):

  1. Replacing the computer
  2. Setting up all your software and settings (again!)
  3. Getting your data back on the machine

Step #1: Replacing The Computer ASAP

Now that your machine is lost/stolen/busticated you’ll need to be able to get a new workhorse in place in the shortest amount of time possible. And to keep that time short, you need to have already prepared for it ahead of time. A few options to consider:

  • Ensure you have the purchasing power on hand right now. You know how much it would take to replace your computer, so you want to make sure you have the ability to spend it on a moment’s notice. If your replacement computer will cost $700, keep that much open on a credit card. Or, if you have a particular store you shop with, you can get a line of credit from that retailer ahead of time. The bottom line is, you don’t want to have “finding the money” to limit your options when you have to get back to doing business.
  • Ensure you know exactly what you need to replace what you have. Make sure you have a set of minimum machine specs on hand. Know what CPU/RAM/Hard Drive/etc. you need at the bare minimum, so you can jump right in and find what you want.
  • Keep a running file of computer deals. If you get a lot of email coupons, archive them in a folder (or use a real folder for ones that come in the mail). When you’re in a pinch, you’ll thank yourself for having those money-saving coupons handy. You can also keep a few “deal sites” like GotApex? and FatWallet in mind for finding current specials.

Step #2: Setting Up All Your Software / Configuring Your Settings

This is where a lot of time can be spent if you’re not careful. Chances are you have a lot of software you use and a great many settings/bookmarks/saved passwords all over your machine. It could take you hours and hours to get that back up to where it was – that is, unless you handle it intelligently ahead of time with strategies like this:

  • Keep all your CDs/DVDs in one place. If you have CDs/DVDs, keep them all together. You don’t want to be running around finding install disks (or serial numbers!) when your business is on hold. Make it easy on yourself.
  • Back up every installer you download. If you download a lot of programs and utilities, save them all in a common area (that you back up, of course). This way you don’t have to go on the hunt for all of those little programs you use (that may not even be available anymore).
  • Make a running list of all the tweaks you make to your system. If you like to have your software set up in a particular way, or you have a lot of plug-ins or programs that need specific information (like passwords for social bookmarking sites or cryptic usernames for FTP programs), save them somewhere – anywhere – so you won’t be left out in the cold when you have to set everything up again.

Step #3: Getting Your Data Back On The Machine

This is the simplest part – but it still takes time, especially if you have a large amount of data. It still takes time to dump 30 GB of critical info back onto your machine. A few tips to speed up the process:

  • Make sure all your data is backed up in one place. Naturally, you want to have more than one copy of your backup, but you want to be able to have all your data in one place, so you’re not scrambling around trying to figure out where things are. This is a common issue for people who use multiple computers. make it easy on yourself and have a central place where you keep your stuff.
  • Keep project-critical stuff separated from archive data. If you have 50 GB of data, that’s going to take a long time to transfer to your machine. And time is money. But if you keep your project-specific data separated in a way that’s easy to find, you can transfer that 2 GB over in a flash and save the archive stuff for an overnight job.

So Tell Me, How Fast Will You Be Back In Business?

Now that you know these tips, how fast will you be when your computer has its inevitable meltdown? Join the conversation below and let us know your strategies (and personal tips).



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  1. Jon says

    I’m quite happy I have 2 computers and an external hard-drive, my comp started acting weird this week-end (my main computer). One thing about the installers though… once your computer crashes, it’s usually the right time to decide if you wanna reinstall stuff (I know I won’t reinstall a lot of the junk I had on mine hehe)

  2. says

    I’m pretty good about backing stuff up, but my organization is lacking. As you mentioned, it’s important to keep your backups in one spot. Mine aren’t all in one place, and I have several CD’s that aren’t marked. I’ve been meaning for a long time to get more organized, so maybe this is the push I needed.

  3. says

    This is a great question and one I was forced to think about once when I thought my computer was toast. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could be up and running again within a day simply because every single thing I write is stored online somewhere or has been emailed to someone.

    I find that online storages is ideal because you can get to it anywhere at anytime quickly and easily.

    Great question!

  4. says

    I wrote a post about maintaining good offline backups of your data, and keeping up with it at the end of January.

    Loosing data can be traumatic and difficult to recover from. It happened to me once, and I swore it wouldn’t happen again.

  5. says

    Christine –

    Keep in mind as well that you’ll want to ensure your online stuff is backed up … even online services can fail/go out of business/get hacked/lose data.

  6. says

    We all deal with this very pro actively AFTER it’s crashed. Then we make great plans about how we’ll do better next time. :-)

    What’s cool is there are some services now like Carbonite – which will upload all your data (and incrementals all the time or each night) and IF you have a failure it’ll actually restore everything on your new drive.

    In theory that’s the most workable solution EVER.

  7. says

    A really neat new laptop security product is at It is the only 3 in 1 product out on the market today that can help 1)prevent theft, 2) protect info, and 3) recover lost or stolen equip. And, if you laptop is lost or stolen, you can blast a stolen computer screen to the computer with a nicely worded message from you to the thief! Anyone who references your blog in Oct 07, can call me at 303-670-8800 and get one for free.

  8. says

    another quality free backup solution is Mozy. It is an online, offsite, secure storage solution. It encrypts and backs up your info on a schedule or automatically.

    the account is free for the first 2gb, and if you want unlimited, then you only pay about $5/month per computer.

    very nice if you ask me.

    Check it Out (yes, it is a referral link, if using the free account, both the referrer AND referee get an extra 256mb of space to start with):

  9. says

    Oh, and this looks like a really good, redundant, and reliable external drive. Obviously you should have multiple redundant backups, but this one would be a good one to have on your desk for quick access:


    also, make sure that your most accessed backup drive is FireWire 800, it just makes things so much faster. It can copy several gigs in minutes. For me, it is great for video projects.

  10. says

    Great tips! I’m doing most of these things and could be working on the most important stuff in a few minutes on another computer. As for getting my main computer back up, the part that would take me the longest would be actually acquiring another computer. After that, I could be completely up and running in a day, I would think. Good things to think about. I just made a note on my to-do list to add a nightly backup.

  11. AntEater says

    I keep all my data on an external firewire drive. For backups I use another external firewire drive. On the backup drive I keep a compressed image of the full system partition as well all user data. With my Linux setup, I can boot off a “live” CD and recover my entire system including fully restoring all applications and customizations in less than an hour.

  12. says

    Lucky for me my only gripe in this is how frequent I make backups (note to self, do more often)

    Settings is a non issue for me, for my line of work I use Linux so all my settings are files in my home directory. I get to test that theory about once every 6 months when a new release comes out I want to upgrade.

    I think recovery for me would be the time to get a replacement unit, plus an hour and a half for reinstall and syncing my data back.

    Though it would be a good idea to keep up with what I would like to replace my current system, Linux can be picky sometimes and without proper care that could mean something doesn’t work. (Mostly wifi, 3D interface or card readers, mangeable, but a waste of time non the less)

  13. Klaus says

    The answer to your question depends a lot on the computer system employed. I am working on a Mac with two external backup harddrives. They are actually the same size as the internal drive. Software used is Super-Duper which creates a bootable exact copy of my harddrive. Backup is automatic every night.

    Time to get up and running? Simple, exactly the time it takes me to drive to the nearest Apple vending store and buy a new iMac. Back home I just plug in the backup drive and boot directly from there.

    About 25 seconds later I will be exactly where I was last night with all data present. Copying everything back onto my new machine might take a while but that can be done the next night.

    The drive can obviously hooked up to any Mac made the past couple of years, so my Buddies old backup notebook will do just fine for a while. Please do not try this with windows!

    Back when I started in my current job that was one of the primary reasons to choose a different computer system. But to be honest, until today I never needed the backup.

  14. says

    Although all the advices in this post are sound, to the question “how fast can you get back to work,” the answer should be something like “5 minutes.” When we talk about computer failure, we really mean Hard Drive failure, in 10+ years of working as a web designer I’ve never had to suddenly replace a whole computer… The HD is the computer part most likely to fail without much warning. And for that, the best remedy is to have a bootable mirror of your drive automatically updated every night. When the main drive fail, you just restart from the other drive…

    I wrote an article on how to set this up, as well as an automatic off location backup of your work files, to minimize effects of serious accidents like fire etc… It might be of interest to some:

  15. says

    An interesting article, and a great discussion too. I work for a data recovery company, and we are constantly shocked by the stats re people who don’t back up their computers at all. I came to work for Selkie Software after my computer crashed and they helped me to get all my data back – I had some backups, but my last backup had been about a week before that. Being an avid photographer, I thought there would be stuff that I couldn’t retrieve, but I was able to get everything back with Selkie Rescue Data Recovery.

    Data recovery is one of those things you never want to think about – you don’t want to anticipate your computer crashing or losing all your files – but the reality is that it happens more frequently than any of us want to know. Selkie is a bootable CD (and soon to be available as a bootable USB key as well) that you CAN use after the fact. Windows does not have to be intact as Selkie Rescue goes under the operating system to give you access to all your files on the broken computer. Check it out at

  16. alicia says

    I never back-up my data so I always like to have a do-it-yourself data recovery program on hand just in case. It’s funny that someone already mentioned it above: Selkie Rescue is the one that I have always trusted. Only last week when I installed the new Itunes and it gave me the BSOD I had to use it so I would’nt lose my data when restoring my computer before the new install of ITunes. I think people should have a back-up system AND a data recovery program, regardless.


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