Over time, computers – desktops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones – outlive their usefulness. Some become slow with accumulated software updates/upgrades. Others become glitchy. Or the battery life wanes. Or the computer simply stops working entirely. Though my 2015 laptop was a lovely combination of slow and glitchy with low battery life, its writing and editing software worked well … so I ignored the annoyances (and programmed Microsoft Word to autosave and create file backup copies). Until one day when I couldn’t.
That day I was fighting a wicked head cold and decided to sit in the den on the comfy sofa with a hot mug of steaming tea instead of working at my desk. With everything set up, the last item to bring down was the laptop. On the bottom step of the stairs separating the kitchen and the den, I sneezed and lost my balance. The laptop slid out of my grip, flipped over and made a distinctive CRUNCH as it hit the hard parquet floor. Regaining my footing, I stared for a full minute before gingerly righting the laptop and lifting the top.
To my shock, not only was the screen not busted into a million pieces, the project I’d been working on was still visible on the screen. The computer gods were in a giving mood, and decided this device was not ready for the trash heap just yet. Relieved, I settled in and resumed working.
My relief lasted until 7 p.m. I put aside work at 3 p.m. because my head was pounding and my son was home from school. While helping him with homework, doing a load of laundry, somehow making dinner … the laptop went into sleep mode. And there it stayed when I tried to resume work.
Great. Just great. Time for an action plan.
The Action Plan, Step 1: Getting the Files Off of the Laptop
Yes, I know, I know … don’t I back up the files? The answer is yes, locally – on a portable hard drive. But I’d been lax on that task in the weeks leading up to the mishap.
Before calling the Geek Squad, I physically took out and then put back in the lithium-ion battery, and turned on the computer. And it did start up … but at a glacial pace. The laptop was clearly on its way out, so I downloaded all the files as fast as possible – which is to say, it took forever. But five nail-biting hours later, my information was safely ensconced on the portable hard drive and several flash drives.
The Action Plan, Step 2: Wiping the Computer
Wiping a computer – i.e. erasing all the data – when retiring a device is non-negotiable in 2019 in order to protect personal information. Luckily my now super-slow damaged laptop cooperated (though this action literally took overnight). On a Windows 10 device this means doing a hard “reset” to “remove everything.” This February Laptop.com article, “How to Reset Your Windows 10 PC,” offers step-by-step instructions complete with screenshots and an instructional video. Similar directions exist to wipe Apple products, including iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and Mac computers.
The Action Plan, Step 2: Shredding the Hard Drive
Recovering data erased as described above is difficult, but not impossible. So go one step further and ensure your device’s hard drive is completely destroyed: shred it. According to an article on SearchStorage.TechTarget.com, “A hard drive shredder is a mechanical device that physically destroys old hard drives in such a way that the data they contain cannot be recovered.”1
Some companies like PROSHRED Security and Shred-It offer these services for a fee, and will provide a certificate of destruction (seriously) for your records. I take my devices to a local South Jersey outfit called The Tab Group, Inc. Seeing the hard drives being demolished offers peace of mind; the experience is enjoyable cathartic, too – who on occasion hasn’t wanted to throw their computer out a window, like the old Second City Television (SCTV) intro?
If cost is an obstacle, sign up for event notifications on your township or county website. Municipalities often have free e-waste recycling at least once a year, and occasionally will feature a company that shreds hard drives for free.
The Action Plan, Step 3: Purchasing a New Computer
You’re frantic. Project deadlines loom. I totally get it. Even so … do not run out and purchase the first computer you see. I did my homework – an hour of miserably achy, stuffy-nose research (on my son’s notebook) to compare features, user and professional reviews, and pricing of both computers and associated word processing / office software. Two good sites for reviews are PC Magazine and TechRadar.
(An aside: word processing / office freeware is available, of course. Options include Office Online or Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. My preference is the one-time purchase of Microsoft Office for a single computer – which I will use for several years – as opposed to an ongoing Office 365 subscription. Every editor and writer should make this determination based on their individual needs.)
After finishing the legwork, I went to a store to look over two particular laptops … and to type. Editors and copywriters do a LOT of typing, and testing out a new keyboard is vital. In this instance, one keyboard was significantly smaller, making for an awkward, hand-cramping typing experience – despite the fact that the devices were the same size. My choice was made!
Due diligence saves time, and, potentially, money. For example, when looking into accessories a few days later I discovered my laptop had just gone on sale; I went back and received a $200 refund.
The Action Plan, Step 4: Setting Up the New Laptop
1. Turn on the computer and follow the on-screen setup instructions.
Windows 10 gathers a lot of your information for Microsoft. If you’re concerned about online privacy and security issues like I am, there are a number of quick actions to take at setup – especially using a local account to sign in instead of a Microsoft account. This Computerworld.com article, How to protect your privacy in Windows 10, gives a good instructional overview.
2. Install essential software, including but not limited to:
- Antivirus / anti-malware programs.
- Word processing and other office-related software.
- PDF editing software like Adobe Acrobat Pro.
- Other grammar / usage software for editing / writing.
- Design software; I use Xara Designer Pro for image manipulation for my website, blog, and social media marketing.
- Printer drivers / software.
- Browsers; I actually use three – Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft Edge.
3. Transfer any essential files back to your computer from the portable hard and flash drives.
The Action Plan, Step 5: New, Improved File Backup Strategy
My fresh approach? Keep the external hard drive plugged into the laptop to act as a mirror drive. I prefer keeping all files local – but cloud storage can certainly achieve the same goal. There is no wrong answer, only what works well for you!
What’s Your Plan?
This action plan is comprehensive, but not exhaustive. “What works well for you” also applies to the form and order of the steps, should your own computer unexpectedly go kaput … whether quietly or via a literal laptop drop.
Since it’s time to get back to work editing and copywriting on my shiny, new (and fast!) laptop, I will end with this question: What is YOUR plan? Please share in the comments below!
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