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My Redundant Productivity System

My Redundant Productivity System
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    Backing up your data is an essential part of digital life and protects you from losing important information. But when something goes wrong with one of your systems, it can mean you have to sift through thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of files for each project you’re involved with.

    Over the last few months, I set up a redundant productivity system. While I ensure that my data is backed up in all the traditional ways, what’s even more important to me is having redundant operational systems that mean I can keep working as if nothing happened while repairs are underway.

    For instance, if my computer fails and I’ve merely cloned my data, I have to search through Library folders for Firefox bookmarks and Address Book contacts. While you can clone a bootable drive in case a hard drive fails, sometimes system failures that don’t involve your hard drive mean that the problem is more extensive and loading up the clone is impossible. Your motherboard dying is an example of such a situation.

    My laptop has been in a repair shop for four weeks and they’re only just now “diagnosing the problem” – yet I haven’t had any issues with workflow disruption. Although as of this week I’m going to be out of the home office more often and will need something more powerful than a PDA but just as portable, a four week window without any serious kinks is pretty good running in my books.

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    It’s fairly simple to set up such a system, but it is dependent on having various bits of hardware. That said, all of my hardware is getting out of date and it still works—there’s no need to have the latest and greatest.

    Hardware Set-up

    I classify the hardware in this system in two categories: control systems, and storage solutions. This is because a back-up system only requires you to have storage solutions, but to be redundant when systems fail, you need various ways of accessing and manipulating that data.

    Control Systems

    I have a desktop (Mac mini), laptop (iBook) and a PDA phone (O2 XDA II Mini which rarely has reception). Some people can make it work with more or less, but that’s enough hardware for me to function with redundancy. Your needs will generally differ based on your line of work—a film editor will need something fancier—and your need for portability.

    I use the desktop system as the hub. This isn’t to say it’s where I do most of my work, and in fact when my laptop’s in working order I spend most of my time on that. But given its greater expandability, generally greater storage capacity and the fact you can tether a bunch of non-portable peripherals to it, like large external drives, I ensure that my data is always centralized and most up-to-date on the desktop. My PDA synchronizes with it, and so does my laptop.

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    Another good reason to use a desktop as your central hub is that the more you carry something around with you, the higher the chances are that you’ll cause damage to it. The desktop stays in one place. They are also usually peripheral driven, so when a keyboard, mouse or monitor is the problem, it’s easier to just plug another one in. My laptop’s problem is death of the keyboard and power system thanks to coffee spillage, which would’ve been easier to get around had it been my desktop keyboard that drank from the cup.

    The XDA has gotten a bit dodgy, like the last two O2 products I owned before it, so I keep an old iPaq loaded with current information and ready to go in an emergency. Overkill? Certainly. Redundancy is the point, after all.

    Storage Solutions

    While I back-up regularly, it’s far from a perfect back-up, mostly because I don’t have the cash to extend my internal and external hard drives to full capacity. For instance, OS X system folders don’t always get backed up, though system folders in the user hierarchy always are. I do my best to keep anything essential in as many places as possible. I’m a musician and this gets really hard with master recordings, which can chew up space like crazy.

    In terms of hardware, my local storage consists of two external hard drives – I have a 320GB tethered to my desktop pretty much all the time and a small 20GB that I carry around with me. Going back to the music thing (as I’m sure other professionals who deal with large project files sympathize), sometimes the 20GB struggles with Pro Tools or Logic Pro sessions, but when the price of 2.5” drives comes down it might be worth upgrading. I’m not really keen to carry the 3.5” 320GB drive with the power supply all the time!

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    Other Storage

    My own hardware is only part of the storage system. I use Gmail (and Google Docs, to a lesser extent) as a backup for critical files, and my shared hosting solution for $6.99 a month takes care of a broader range of things, both critical and non-critical. Anything that can be uploaded to the cloud in decent amounts of time is backed up this way.

    Cloud storage systems have me covered for most things under 100 megabytes.

    Software

    I’m a Mac user, so there are a few good options to keep the information necessary for redundancy backed up.

    Two of those programs come from Mark/Space, who make excellent PDA synchronization software called the Missing Sync, and SyncTogether which synchronizes information between Macs. Contacts, calendars, bookmarks, mail settings, notes and the like can be synchronized between machines using this software, and other information such as documents can be accessed through external drives, Gmail, shared hosting accounts and the like.

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    A good practice is to Gmail or FTP documents when you’re closing them, whether they are incomplete or complete. You can create FTP droplets using software like Panic Transmit to make drag-and-drop FTP backup completely painless.

    Folder Systems

    An unusual bit of advice is to employ standardized folder structures across your computers and external drives. In the vein of minimal disruption, you can continue working with drives you don’t usually use without having to adapt to wildly varying folder structures.

    This will vary based on the kind of work you do, but a balance between intuitive (both so you don’t have to think about navigation too much, and so you can set it up on new drives and machines easily), and well-organized is important. If you favor one or the other too much then moving between systems is hard.

    The advice in this article is fairly simple, but I’m surprised by the number of obsessive back-up geeks that don’t practice anything similar. With this system, even my PDA phone can fill in for a day’s work—while it might not be the most efficient way of working, systems fail all the time and having an awkward little keyboard and a stylus is much better than nothing at all.

    If you have a redundant system of your own, or improvements and suggestions for mine, let us know in the comments.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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