9 Ways to Save Your Computer's Life

About a year ago, I was in the market for a new computer. It wasn't that my current computer was bad, in fact, I'd never had any problems with it, but as technology progresses and megapixels on cameras continue to make larger file sizes, It was time to pick up a laptop that could deal with the new demands of the industry. Because I was so happy with my older computer, I decided that I would buy it's newer and faster predecessor.  
Now with my current computer about a year old, it's motherboard somehow got fried, my hard drive wiped, and I had photos in varying degrees of being processed for clients. When something like this happens it...well, it sucks, but it doesn't have to be a catastrophe. By preparing for the inevitable ahead of time, you won't risk getting sued in the event of being unable to deliver proofs, to your clients, and you'll have a game plan of how to get you computer up and running with all your files back within the timeframe you committed to your clients:
The time to act is before your computer gets sick. This means _now_!
1. Always try to set the expectation of clients so that you're able to exceed their expectations.
If you know that you can get files to them in a day or two, why not give yourself 3 weeks? Well, there are couple reasons:
A) What if your bogged down with more clients than usual?
B) What if your computer crashes and dies?
C) What if you'll be traveling during that time or have a vacation planned during that time? (Hopefully you're not leaving clients hanging unnecessarily)
Giving yourself a healthy buffer of time to deliver proofs to clients is just good common sense.
2. Create Recovery disks for your computer.
This can be done the very first day you bring your computer home or to your office.  
What this does for you: If your computer ever acts up in a way where you need to go through and uninstall things to figure out the source of your problem, these discs will set your computer back to their original factory settings. You'll be able to do it yourself for free.
Expect to need 4-5 blank DVDs and _at_ _least_ an hour of your time. You can breeze through creating recovery disks in an evening while you watch television in another room. Just check during some commercial breaks, and insert the new discs when ready.
3. Back up first! Then, back up again! And again! 
The key to never losing files is to back them up immediately before doing any edits. In my instance, I back up onto an external terabyte drive, while my computer simultaneously backs the same files up into a cloud server, then I add them to a permanent back up storage in the cloud and before there was the permanent back up storage in the cloud, I also stored them on cd's and dvd's at my mom's house. I'll explain each back up below, but if you're a photographer, These are extememly important steps and should be at the start and end of your post-processing checklist.
4. Have an external terabyte drive.
This won't protect your files if you don't back them up on the terabyte drive on a regular basis, nor will it help you in the event of a fire, tornado, or theft. And any files that did not make it over to the terabyte drive before your computer got sick won't exist anymore.
Alternatively, and before terabyte hard drives existed, I'd back files up by making copies on CD's and DVD's and stored them regularly at my mom's house. The alternative was to get a safe deposit box at your local bank and store the disks there. 
5. Purchase automatic data recovery from someplace like Carbonite or Livedrive.
With these services anything on your computer can be put back onto your computer or even onto a new computer within 30 days, Even if you accidentally delete them from your machine or your hard drive has a core dump.This also depends largely on your Internet service provider speed.
6. Consider permanent data storage in the cloud 
You can also get permanent data backup storage in the cloud for anything you deem important enough on your computer. Like the external terabyte drive, you'll need to have very good data archiving practices for the permanent storage backup. Options are Livedrive and Dropbox.
This doesn't mean that you should promise to hold onto those files forever for clients either. In order to keep your computer running relatively fast and have storage for future clients, we have to have our limits. However, although your clients may be finished with the ordering process, you may have special plans in the future for some of the pictures, Having them stored permanently away from your terabyte/hard drive ensures you'll always have them for when time lets up and you have the chance to work on those side projects. And they'll be better protected in the event of a fire, tornado or theft.
Moreover if you're a professional photographer, this keeps you from getting sued. If you're photographing 3+ families a week that's a lot of files's. If youre storing them in permanent cloud storage immediately once you get the files onto your computer, you won't ever run the risk of not having those files and even if one client's batch of photos didn't make it all the way to permanent storage before the computer decides to die, you'll have that time to focus first on just getting those client's files back instead of all your files. That's peace of mind. 
7. Always request discs of important computer programs or subscribe to a service that will allow you to load the program again on your computer instead of purchasing one-time downloads.
If they're important enough to you, make sure you have a way to get them back onto your computer without having to shell out another large sum of money.
8. Consider the help of Best Buy's Geek Squad to help you quickly get your computer fixed or replaced. 
Geek Squad is great because they're just a short drive away for most people, however the wait time may be longer than SquareTrade which has a 5-day service guarantee although you have to ship your computer using postage and perhaps a supplied specialized box for your device. For a great comparison of these two warranties/services read about them on Lifehacker here: http://lifehacker.com/467133849
Even if you don't want to shell out that much money for something that may never break, You can bring your dead computer to Best Buy's Geek Squad and for a one-time fee of $199.99, you'll get a year's worth of Tech Support which includes the following:
  • 24/7 Tech Support
  • Diagnostic and Repair (Regular price without Tech Support: $199.99)
  • Virus Removal (Regular price without Tech Support: $199.99)
  • Operating System Installation and Repair (Regular price without Tech Support: $129.99)
  • Software Installation and Repair (Regular price without Tech Support: $29.99)
  • Password Reset (Regular price without Tech Support: $29.99)
  • Memory Install* (Regular price without Tech Support: $39.99) *Additional hardware and labor may be required at additional cost
  • Annual Computer Tune-up (Regular price without Tech Support: $99.99)
  • Hardware Removal (Regular price without Tech Support: $19.99)
  • Troubleshooting assistance for all computer related issues
  • 15% Discount on all Geek Squad Services not covered by Tech Support
The answer was obvious for me to pay for the year of Geek Squad Tech Support because without it, I would have paid at least $380 and if anything fishy happens with this computer within the year-to-date purchase of this service, it will either be free or pretty close to free. 
9. Consider using your Discover Card for an additional year of warranties. 
If you use your Discover Card to purchase your electronics, you'll receive an additional year on any warranties your receive or purchase for your computer.
I will never forget a conversation I had during my senior year work/study program in high school with my boss who's only wedding photos were snapshots her guests were kind enough to make duplicates for her when they heard that her photographer had run out of town because "something happened to the negatives." Her story to me as a teenager stays with me even in my 30's and has probably influenced me more than anything else to always back up my files in multiple ways and have back up plans for my back up plans. 

How Portrait Photographer, Angela Ferguson, Uses Astrid for Her Business

Hope everyone is recovering from Hurricane Sandy. I am deeply saddened by the lives that were lost and homes that were destroyed. Just a week before Sandy reached NYC, I was in the big apple for the annual PDN Photo Expo. The pictures and footage I've seen of the devistation feels surreal. It's bone-chilling to think such a fate was also forecast to be headed toward Maryland and I'm so thankful that almost everyone in Maryland got to see the storm move away. I've heard stories of NYC hospitals losing power and heroic attempts to get power to NICU infants. New York gave me hope when people started lining up for buses to get back to work and daily routines in the midst of the devistation Sandy left them. Routines can be life-saving when there's been so much lost. 

On a happier note, I was recently asked to make a guest blog post for Astrid, a very helpful to do app for the iPhone and android smartphones. Below is a draft I wrote for their blog.


Astrid is my favorite to do app and helps keep my business running smoothly. When I got my iPhone 4s, I thought Siri would be the end of my search for an assistant app that keeps me on track with my business, but I found that the Reminders app got quickly cluttered with a long list of “stuff.”  Things were in no particular order, even when I put in due dates, so I keep that app around just for location-based reminders when I need to pick up something at the grocery store.

It got me thinking, “I bet there are other to do/reminder apps that also use voice recognition that would save me time,” but it was the Astrid app that sold me with its ease of use, reusable checklists and reassurance that when I give a due date, I don’t have to think twice about whether Astrid heard me correctly.

Reusable Checklists

I love having reusable checklists for various aspects of handling my business. Consistency helps build brand and Astrid helps me to not miss a step along the way. I’m human and therefore fallible, but Astrid isn’t so I set these reusable checklists up and now I don’t have to rely on myself alone to make sure that everything I need to do in a day gets done.

One tip is that I use numbers for processes that have to be done in order. Then, when I need to use that reusable checklist, I assign them each to the same due date starting with #1 and they will appear in order. Here’s some examples of my reusable lists:

Post-processing procedures  --i.e. get pictures from camera to computer, add copyright, back up method one (cloud), back up method 2 (external hard drive), cull any rejects…

Shot lists -- i.e. newborn, baby, child, teen…

Setting up web hosting on my website for proofs

Gear checklist – based on type of photo session

Saving Time with Voice Recognition

Using my voice makes things so much quicker than tapping everything out with the keyboard. With Astrid, I can use my voice to say that I want something done on a certain date and time in the future and Astrid will not only make the new reminder, but also pick up on the due date and specific time. Then, it not only schedules the correct due date and time for the reminder, but also checks with me using a pop up to make sure that’s what I’m wanting.

On a rare occasion if I mention a date that isn’t when I want the due date set for, I can go in and edit that reminder quickly using the button Astrid provides in the pop up notification that will take me directly to the settings for that specific task.

Seriously, that quick notification pop up is like peace of mind for me. It reassures me that everything’s scheduled correctly so that nothing falls between the cracks. And Astrid is not a diva; she doesn’t force me to have a specific time, and if I don’t want a due date, she’s fine with that too. I can say things like, “in the morning”, “afternoon”, or “evening” and I can also use the voice button on my phone’s keyboard (iPhone 4s and up and maybe on some android phones?) to add a due date/time to previously entered reminders and Astrid will also pick up on this with a notification pop up.

Astrid even integrates with my calendar with just three quick taps. When the notification pops up, even if it’s correct, I can tap on the edit button (#1), followed by a tap on when it’s due (#2), and tap “Add to Calendar” (#3).

I prefer to use the microphone found on the keyboard of my iPhone 4s that uses Siri’s voice recognition when I create reminders in Astrid because it allows me to compose the reminder text in parts (appending as I go) unlike Astrid’s microphone which replaces what was previously written.

Quiet Hours

However, I appreciate that Astrid won’t bother me during my “Quiet hours” unlike the reminders that pop up in my calendar – if you’ve ever set a notification in your calendar for an event that is set for the whole day, you’ve probably gotten the unpleasant notification that woke you up at 12AM at some point if you have an iPhone. With Astrid, “Quiet time” can be personalized by tapping on the three horizontal bars in the upper left, then click on “Profile” followed by “Quiet hours”

Astrid also has the better name in my opinion; it reminds me of a character on the tv show, Fringe. It makes me smile inside to think that I could be a crazy scientist working for Fringe…

Taking Things Further

I use one additional app for projects where I am relying on other people for collaboration. That app is Google’s GoTasks and it fills a very small but important need for my business. In Astrid, I can set a date to contact a person, but if I don’t reach him or her and have to leave a voicemail or email, I can quickly have Astrid set up a time for a followup attempt, but that doesn’t help me see how many clients and organizations I currently work with and where I am in the process for each of them. 

As my business has grown, I’ve found it a little confusing to see what progress I’ve made with each current client and organization I work with using Astrid alone.

To fix this, I use GoTasks for its hierarchical capabilities so that I have a map of what needs to be done next with due dates for each project and subtasks for each organization and current client. Again, GoTasks plays a very small but very important task of showing me how many plates are currently in the air at any given moment, where all the plates are in a single glance, and when each plate needs to be spun. 

For instance, I photograph rehearsals for the Baltimore Concert Opera and so in GoTasks, I can see what dress rehearsal is next, which ones I’ve received payment for, and what they need from me, along with where I am in the process with each of my current clients. Now, based on the next steps and potential follow ups that are in GoTasks, I know what tasks/reminders to tell Astrid using just my voice.

I should also mention that I just found out Astrid now gives its users the ability to visualize their progress using Astrid's premium service for people like me who have more complex workflows, which I am excited to try out but will hold onto GoTasks as a back up in case Astrid isn't able to automatically create a hierarchy chart of my projects, organizations, and current clients, including next steps and follow ups like I'm hoping it can. Otherwise, I'm sticking with using both apps because they each serve an important purpose in my success. 

Astrid in my personal life

Astrid is now also starting to take on my personal tasks and I love that I can collaborate with my husband since he also has the Astrid app and we’ve done the “agreed to share lists with me” thing. This came in handy just this past week. My husband needed to schedule a yearly physical, except this time, I added the task to his Astrid to do list and set it to repeat every year. That’s one less thing clouding my focus or getting forgotten.  Thank you, Astrid!