We use our computers and phones more than ever, and they hold more pieces of our lives than ever, including documents, pictures, contacts, calendars and more. However, those devices don’t last forever, and if something bad happens to the device, the important information it holds could be lost. 

Unless, of course, you take the precaution of backing up that information that would be hard or impossible to replace. While the term “backing up information” might sound intimidating and technical, it really means copying your information to somewhere that won’t be affected if your computer breaks or is lost. Thankfully, the backup process can be painless and potentially very rewarding! There are simple procedures, including tools built directly into Windows 10, that make it easy to back up your computer information, and give you protection and peace of mind. 

Before you get started: You’ll need somewhere to put your backup information. Best to use an external disk hard drive (which typically connects to your computer by USB cable), burn a CD or DVD, or use an online service such as OneDrive. You also could use a USB flash drive (also called “thumb drive”), which is convenient for backing up a few files, but such drives typically are not reliable enough to permanently hold all your most important backups. 

File History backs up data automatically

File History, a feature integrated into Windows 10, can be set to back up your information automatically. All you need is an external disk drive, connected by USB to your computer. Find File History in Settings, under Update & Security > Backup, or type “backup” into the Search box on your taskbar. When your drive is connected by USB, click Add a drive and select the one you’ve connected to hold the backup. File History will use this as the preferred drive for this and future backups.

Screenshot of Backup settings in Windows 10

The File History tool then asks if you want automatic backup – switch it On to free you from worrying or forgetting about doing periodic backups. Click More options to set how often your information backs up (the default is every hour), how long backups are kept, and which of your folders are backed up or not.

Screenshot of Backup options

Manual backup is easy for fewer items

Manual backup means simply using File Explorer to copy files from their home on your device to another location. It’s an effective way to ensure specific items you want to keep secure have duplicates, but there are a few downsides to this method. For example, manual backup might not be a hassle for just a few files or folders, but it can be time-consuming with larger amounts of content (which is what makes File History easy and convenient). Additionally, the responsibility to keep your manual backup up to date falls on you, meaning it’s up to you to track when to back up, then actually perform the process.

Manual backup is, however, a simple exercise. First, open two File Explorer windows – I like to do this by using the Windows + E key combination twice and arranging the windows so they’re side-by-side. (You can use Snap assist in Windows 10 to do this quickly.) 

Documents folder in the File Explorer and OneDrive

In one of the windows, find the files or folders you want to back up, and in the other window, open the location where the backups will be kept. In the example above, I’ve opened one window for my Documents folder, and the other one for my OneDrive, so I can copy items from Documents into OneDrive. Click to select the files or folders you want to back up (remember to hold down Ctrl while clicking to select multiple items). Then there are two ways to copy the backup information:

  • Right-click the selected files or folders and select Copy (or press Ctrl+C). Then, click in the window of your destination location, then right-click and select Paste (or press Ctrl+V).

  • Hold down the Ctrl key and drag the items into the destination window. Release them and they’ll be copied into the new location.

All done! You can use the same technique to copy any information to other folders or drives, or to restore your backup information to your main computer if needed.

OneDrive can hold backup files

Speaking of OneDrive, it’s not specifically a backup tool, but it is a great option for backing up information, as a location to keep the backup copies. OneDrive is Microsoft’s own online storage service, which provides 5GB of free storage for anyone with a Microsoft account (such as you’d use for Hotmail, Outlook, Xbox, Office 365 or MSN – if you don’t have a Microsoft account, you can create one here). 

One reason OneDrive is excellent for file backup is that you don’t ever really need to perform a backup more than once! Once the backup files are in OneDrive, you can keep working with them directly from OneDrive, just as if it were another hard drive on your computer. This means you can access those files from any computer with an internet connection, and any changes you make are saved automatically.

The only catch about OneDrive is that opening or saving files usually requires an internet connection (unless you set up OneDrive Files on Demand in Windows 10). If you manually back files up to OneDrive when your computer is not connected to the internet, they won’t truly be backed up to the OneDrive online service yet. The next time you are connected, however, OneDrive “syncs” (short for synchronizes) the files online, at which point they are fully backed up.

There is one more thing that makes this OneDrive experience even better: you can use OneDrive on your phone or tablet as well. Not only can you use your device to access the files backed up to OneDrive from your computer, but you also can back up information from your phone, such as your photos, directly to OneDrive. That backs up your device’s information, as well as making everything available on your computer! Install OneDrive to Android devices from the Google Play Store, or to iOS devices from the App Store. 

Now you can keep your information backed up

I hope sharing these methods for backing up your data has given you the confidence to back up the things that matter most to you. Using OneDrive and File History are the most hands-off and reliable methods, but manual backups have their use and are better than no backup at all. Remember to check your backups periodically so you can browse, play or be productive with peace of mind!