How to Setup a Crash-Proof Backup System for Your Mac

It’s inevitable. Sooner or later, your hard drive will fail or you will accidentally delete a file you meant to keep. And, as a corollary to Murphy’s Law, it will likely happen at the worst possible time—the day you finish writing a long report or manuscript, complete your annual budget, or have to make a major presentation.

A Young Woman Looking at Her Computer in Frustration - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #3175196

Photo courtesy of ©

It is happened to me more than once, which is why I am such a fanatic about backups. Here’s the system I use with my Mac.

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  1. Buy a good backup drive. Better yet, buy two. Keep one at your office and one at home. I use the Western Digital My Book. You can get a 1, 2, or 3 TB (terabyte) model, starting at $99.00 from Amazon. I consider that cheap insurance.
  2. Divide the drive into two partitions. On the Mac, you can use Disk Utility to do this. It is found in your Application\Utilities folder. Launch the program, then click on the Partitions tab. Create two partitions of equal size. On my Home backup drive, I named the partitions: Home – Time Machine and Home – SuperDuper (more about why below).

    Screen Shot of Disk Utility’s Partition Tab

    On my office backup drive, I named the partitions: Work – Time Machine and Work – SuperDuper.

  3. Use Time Machine and SuperDuper. Time Machine comes free with every new Mac. It works great. It makes a copy of every file and every iteration of that file. If you want to “go back” to the version of a file you created five days ago (assuming you have backed up every day), you can.

    As long as your backup drive is plugged into your computer, Time Machine will back it up every hour. The first backup takes forever, because the program is backing up every file on your drive. Subsequent back ups only take a few minutes, because the program only backs up the files that have changed. (The most painless way to get started is to do the first backup over night.)

    I also use SuperDuper. is a slightly different animal. It creates a bootable, backup disk that you can access via the Mac’s Finder program. It looks just like any other drive. In an emergency—like a total disk failure—you can boot directly from the backup drive.

    Just make sure that you select the appropriate partition when you do each backup. Use the Time Machine partition for Time Machine backups and the SuperDuper partition for SuperDrive backups.

  4. Automate the whole process. This step is optional. But, once you get it set up, it requires zero maintenance or involvement from you. All you do is plug in your backup drive, and each backup begins.

    If you only use one backup drive (say, at the office), this is a snap. Time Machine will remember which partition you used last. You can also setup a SuperDuper schedule. I have my set up to backup as soon as I connect my laptop. That’s all there is to it.

    Screenshot of SuperDuper Backup Schedule

    If you use two backup drives, as I do (and as I described above), things get a little more complicated. You can use an AppleScript and a little program called Do Something When to automate the process. You can read a description of how to set it up here. Unfortunately, the link to Do Something When Setup (halfway down in the article) is broken. Here’s how I have my rules setup:

    Screenshot of Do Something When Setup

    If you can’t figure out how to automate the process, don’t sweat it. You will simply have to select your Time Machine drive manually via your Mac’s System Preferences | Time Machine | Select Disk command.

You can also use DropBox, SugarSync, or MobileMe to backup mission critical files, sync between computers, or share files with your family, friends, or colleagues. But that will have to wait for another post.

Question: What is your current backup setup? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • pdncoach

    This is intriguing. However, having an on-site backup is hardly fool-proof. Even if kept in a “fire-proof” safe, file storage will melt within minutes in a fire. Why not pay super-low annual fee to for secure automatic online backup and close to one-click restoration?

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s why I use two backup disks, one at the office and one at home. It is unlikely that I would have a fire in both places. I am not opposed to offline storage. In fact, I use SugarSync for this exact purpose. As you may know, there are several of these services available. Macworld recently did a review of the most popular ones. Unfortunately, Carbonite got the lowest rating.

      • KevinCu

        Take a look at ioSafe hard drives: They’re fire and waterproof backups. As their marketing states, “Come hell or high water…”. :-)

      • Billyraff


        I wanted to reach out to you because I am trying to learn more about backing up, now that my old WD MY Book is no longer showing up on my mac. I went out and got a new 1tb passport. I also use Super Duper and have never used time machine. I would love to chat with you if you have the patience. I really need a Q & A session. I am not completely helpless, I just need some straightening out. I have a large family with 5 kids and 7 different users on my IMac, 3 others have expanded to laptops. Right now none of the laptops have ever backed up their files and the IMac is now without a working My Book. My goal is to clean up some of this mess and get us protected.

        • Michael Hyatt

          Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to provide that kind of guidance, Billy. I would highly recommend that you make an appointment with a “Genius” at an Apple Store near you. Their support is amazing—and it is free. Thanks.

    • Loren @ Life of a Steward

      Services like Carbonite are great for certain needs – such as storing photos, spreadsheets, documents, etc. I use an offline backup, however, because I need to backup my entire computer (system files, application files, etc.) and then get up and going as quickly as possible in the event of a hard drive crash. Not only did carbonite not seem well suited to backing up system files and application files, but you’d be retrieving your data at the speed of your internet connection. And even with blazing fast speed, that would still take unacceptably long for me.

      I actually do an offline backup and take it offsite (to my parents’ house).

      • Michael Hyatt

        That’s a really good point. In fact, it is one of the reasons why Macworld rated it so low. The company doesn’t provide a DVD restore option. Restoring via the Internet could literally take days. Thanks.

    • Sarah B Richardson

      I love Backblaze. Got my back up sent on an EHD twice already!!! They back up your EHD too. Carbonite didn’t last time I researched…

  • Randy Kinnick

    Great information. This is definitely something I will be setting up for my Macbook.

  • Randy Walton

    Good recommendation. However, I think you underestimate the value of solutions like DropBox and SugarSync. On your previous twitter recommendation I just moved everything over to SugarSync. I am blown away by how simple, quick, and effective this is. And now I have access to all content via a browser, my iPhone, or my iPad when traveling. The simplifies the complexity of a hard drive based back up and provides greater overall utility.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Why do you think I underestimate it? I mentioned them both DropBox and SugarSync at the end of the post. In fact, I use both. I simply wanted to keep the post focused on an offline backup solution.

  • Chad

    I agree with a prior comment about SugarSync. It works great for important files. But gets expensive if I want to backup all my photos and music.

    But what I want to add is a suggestion to go to the network version of the same Western Digital hard drive you are using. It will automatically backup as many computers as you want whenever they are connected to the network. The initial backup takes even longer than a USB drive but once that is done, it’s continuous and you don’t have to worry about plugging anything in. And it should work pretty painlessly on up to five computers or so.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree on SugarSync. I simply use it for my documents folder, a few application support folders, and no music, photos, or movies—for the same reason you stated.

      I actually just ordered My Book Live (the network version) this morning. I think it will be a great solution for the whole family, plus provide a way for us to share media files. Thanks.

      • Larry

        I would be leery about allowing connections to My Book Live from the Internet due to inherent security issues with almost all of these home internet appliances. Using the device on a in home wireless network isn’t a problem assuming your home wireless network is setup with security. The problems can crop up when you allow connections from outside your home network (i.e. The Internet). This is a good blog posting that talks about the problems with security on home network devices. While probably a bit technical the basic premise is the security of most home networking devices leaves a lot to be desired and you can mitigate your risk by not enabling connections to them from the Internet.

  • Travis

    This was awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  • Scott Hunter

    Great post, Michael – and good advice. We always tell ourselves [in our organization] that you can’t have too many backups. …on another note, I just wanted to mention that I’m slightly amused that the frustrated lady in the photo above is actually using a Windows laptop instead of a Macbook. I suppose that means she’s frustrated because she couldn’t follow your advice. :)

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s because it is impossible to find a frustrated user and a MacBook in the same picture. ;-)

      • Scott Hunter

        LOL. I’m with you on that one. :D

      • guest

        Having just invested in a MacBook which is yet to be delivered, I hope that statement turns out to be true in my house!

        • Sarah B Richardson

          I disagree. We own both a PC and Macbook Pro.
          We are always a lot more frustrated with the Mac…

  • Jonathan Riggs

    So, every file is backed up by both Time Machine and SuperDuper? Why both?

    • Claude

      Hi Jon

      Like Michael said: Super Duper is different; it creates a BOOTABLE copy of your hard drive on the backup drive. T/M does not do that. So there is a double bind protection.

      Hey Mike: Did I get this right?

      • Michael Hyatt

        Yes. Also see my note above. Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes. Time Machine backs up to a single file and backs up every new iteration of the file. However, you can’t access the files except through Time Machine. Also, it isn’t bootable. SuperDuper, on the other hand is an exact replica of your hard drive. You can go to a specific folder and retrieve a file. However, it only has the most recent version. It is also bootable.

      Hope that helps.

      • Jonathan Riggs

        My question then is why use Time Machine at all? Is it more convenient to retrieve an older file (assuming your system boots fine)?

        • Michael Hyatt

          Because sometimes you want to go back to a version of a file at a specific time or date.

      • BT

        FYI: The specific term for “backing up each iteration of the file” is called “journaling”.

        Thats what I like about TM over cloning, you can restore a deleted folder from a few backups back, not just newest one. Interesting using both at the same time on the same backup disk. I had not considered that.

        Windows Server does something called “Previous Versions”. It is essentially the same technology. (Yes, I did mention Windows and Mac in the same paragraph, I administer Windows domains from my mac. =) )

  • Guy Wyers

    Hey Michael,

    I have been following your blog for a while. I especially like your post about leadership, productivity and tools and gadgets. This one is spot on as usual, even if I can’t implement it literally, since I’m on Windows infrastructure.
    Just one small comment though: about the nice photo accompanying the post; I can’t imagine what made you select that picture, as the girl is clearly working on a DELL latitude laptop ;-)

    Keep posting, because I like reading them.

    • Bret Mavrich

      I was going to mention it, but just yesterday I made a New Year’s resolution to be less snarky. :-)
      (Thanks for scratching the near-irresistable itch.)

  • Brad

    I use Good Sync ( for my file backups on my Windows workstation. They have a free version for small jobs and a reasonable price for unlimited file backup. I run a synchronization each night.

  • Scott Hunt

    I intend to use Time Machine as the primary backup for my Mac but have yet to take the time to figure it out. I have copied my drive onto MobileMe, but for the past few years my primary backup for critical files has been a jump drive. I also email a copy of my WOP to myself every week or so.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Time Machine is extremely easy to setup. Literally, plug and play.

  • Loren @ Life of a Steward

    Thanks for sharing your personal solutions. Backing up is something most don’t think about until it’s too late. One thing I’ve wondered about is the failure rate of portable hard drives like the ones you use. I wonder if it’s wise to buy two and alternate your backups to each drive – or some other similar solution.

    Another benefit to backing up is virus recovery. I got a nasty one on my work machine, and my friend (who manages the IT department at a very large company and knows what he’s talking about) told me that pretty much the only way to really recover was to just restore my system from a backup.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That us an added benefit of having a backup at work and at home.

  • James Castellano

    I’ve been using flash drives for my files. Thanks to this post, I’ll be buying a hard drive backup and let time machine do its thing

  • Marilynnbyerly

    As well as keeping several versions in time on a secondary hard drive via Time Machine, I periodically make a copy of my hard drive on a flash disk and keep it in my security box at the bank. I also keep a permanent copy of all my books and articles on a separate disk in the same place.

    A paper copy is also a good idea because digital copies can become damaged, and some software and documents are hard to translate into new formats.

    On one of my earlier Macs, my word-processing program made an automatic copy of what I was working on in five minute increments. I really miss that feature but have yet to find a way to do this in Pages.

    • bbking

      how are you making copies on your flash disk. Flash disk are pretty expensive, are you using a small flash drive and only taking some files?

      • Marilynn Byerly

        You can get an 8GB flash drive for $6 or cheaper if you shop around.

        And, yes, I only make copies of my different document files on my flash drives. For whole computer copies, I use an external hard drive set up with Mac Time Machine. I also use CDs to keep copies of my photos, etc., so they can’t be contaminated by a virus, if one got past my firewall and virus protection.

  • Jeff Randleman

    I don’t use a Mac, I use a PC. But my setup is similar. I also use WD external drives, one at the office and one at home. I’ve set up my system to back up all my data and files, but not a complete mirror of my hard drive. There aren’t really any great utilities that I’ve found for the PC platform for this, most of them taking far too long. So I’ve set up my own little scripts to back up files when those drives are plugged in. It means if my laptop crashes, I’ll have to reinstall my softward, but all my important data is backed up. I backup daily, weekly and monthly, depending on the software and how often I use it.

    Thanks! Great info!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Have you ever thought about switching to Mac and using Parallels to run the Windows programs you need? You would then have the advantage of simple backup. Just a thought. Thanks.

      • Jeff Randleman

        Actually, I’ve toyed with that idea. Financial considerations are preventing me from making that jump right now. We are trying to keep our spending down, due to the fact that we are expecting our fifth child any day now. Thanks for the thought!

  • Anonymous

    Love this. I don’t have a backup system, but certainly need one. Will invest after my Mac gets back from the shop. Getting a new keyboard, because a family member’s dog “dribbled” on it while it was in my lap. Yes, that seriously happened.

  • Robert Talbert

    I’ve fallen out of love with Carbonite after 1+ years of using it because of the speed issue. My wife and I were looking for an offsite whole-system backup solution, and by “whole-system” I mean documents, iTunes library, iPhoto library, the works. Carbonite seemed to work well for a while but somehow in the last couple of months, Carbonite has been extremely slow AND slows our entire system to a crawl when it’s backing up, which is all the time. We have to deactivate Carbonite just to make our system usable, which seems to defeat the purpose.

    Probably in the near future we’ll use Carbonite only to back up documents, and move to some system similar to what Michael is suggesting for backups of the entire system. Might buy a 1 TB hard drive for video, photo, and music and back those up once a month, keeping it in a safe deposit box at the bank when not in use.

  • Michelle S Brinson

    This post is ever so timely for me. I’ve been reading all sorts of articles about how to do this, what to do, what to buy, etc. I finally broke down and ordered the Iomega. It should arrive any day now. So what to do next? Well, I wasn’t sure. However, I believe your advice will be most helpful. I think the only other challenge I have… is that I have both a desktop and a laptop. Can I use the backup device for both or do I need separate ones for each? Any suggestions?

    • Michael Hyatt

      It all depends on how big the drive is. If it is big enough, you can certainly create different partitions for each set of data. Thanks.

  • Richard Mabry

    Since I work at home, using a MacBook with external display and keyboard, I only have one computer to back up. I, too, use Time Machine to a WD hard drive. I also have regular back-ups of important files to my dot Mac account, so I have them off-site. However, I don’t have a bootable back-up, which is why I may add Super-Duper. Thanks for the info.

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  • Brandon

    I don’t have a mac…so what are some softwares that would work with a PC? I currently have no back-up. Just the anti-virus stuff.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Someone else will have to help here; I haven’t used a PC in six years, so I am out of the loop.

      • Bret Mavrich

        …though you might add that it only takes about 6 weeks of owning a Mac to drift blissfully out of the loop.

    • Anonymous

      The comments I wrote above about CrashPlan apply equally well to pc’s. Image with Acronis and then backup locally and offsite with CrashPlan and you’re well protected.

  • Reader John

    It used to be that a USB drive couldn’t be bootable, so maybe you should say that the backup drive should be firewire if you want it bootable.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is a good point. You can’t boot unless it can connect via firewire.

      • Anonymous

        That was a PowerPC limitation. Intel Mac owners can boot from either USB or FireWire (confirmation on SuperDuper!’s site).

        • Michael Hyatt

          Good to know. Thanks.

  • Oliver Aaltonen

    I highly recommend CrashPlan. Their CrashPlan+ software and online backup service is extremely affordable (from $1.50/mo) and provides continuous protection to multiple destinations (ex an external USB drive, another computer in the house and CrashPlan’s online vault) without needing to fiddle with any advanced scheduling.

    The CrashPlan software is a file-level backup, like Time Machine, so you may still want to use SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner (Mac) or Acronis True Image (Windows) to create bootable disk images on a regular basis. They’re not critical, but they’ll greatly speed up the recovery process if you lose your entire drive.

    I’ve been using this strategy for years, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with the crowd recommending CrashPlan, which I have been using on a variety of macs and pc’s since earlier this year since switching over from Mozy. The main reasons I prefer CrashPlan over Time Machine:

    (1) CrashPlan provides the best of both worlds – local and offsite backup managed from one straightforward application. You can even backup to your own offsite location, a work or friend’s computer, and avoid their otherwise reasonable offsite backup fees. This setup is very helpful when you need to restore large amounts of data, while still protecting you from theft or fire loss, which is a risk if you only backup locally.

    (2) Time Machine backups are not encrypted. Anyone who grabs your backup drive can read all of your data. CrashPlan is encrypted, whether local or offsite, so your data is safe. This is completely overlooked by most Time Machine users.

    (3) Time Machine is really slow and takes up a lot of space because it backs up files instead of bit level file changes. CrashPlan (and all the other online backup services) use the latter method to improve speed and reduce the backup footprint. (For a fee, CrashPlan will let you seed a usb drive for the initial backup so if you have a lot of data the first offsite backup will not take forever.)

    (4) CrashPlan saves unlimited file versions. With Time Machine, the number of versions is limited by how much space you have available, which never seems to be enough.

    I also create encrypted system images for quick restores if I have to replace a drive.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I just read through the promo stuff on their web site. This really does look cool. I may have to give it a try. Thanks.

      • Anonymous

        I think you’ll like it. Since you already have a couple external drives in different places, it would be easy to initialize a backup on both and then keep one at the office and one at home. CrashPlan can manage backing up to both locations then for a complete local + offsite solution. Unless you want some of the advanced features, this also lets you backup for free since CrashPlan only charges you for the advanced feature set or backing up to their data center.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for your informative post on back-up. I keep this process simple. I just have an external hard disk of 1 terabyte size for backing up my information in my laptop. I do take back up once in a week; and, I am fine with it. Nothing more nothing less.

  • Umberto Gatti

    I started using SugarSync a couple of years ago and I still find it very useful in many ways.
    If anyone wants to register for an account, feel free to use my referral code that will add 500Mb bonus to both mine and your account :)

  • rick hubbell


    Though I am not a mac user and many of your followers are, here is what I like about your resource posts. They are what I like to call “ruthlessly practical”. Sometimes with all the idealism and teaching type posts, bloggers miss this – especially Christian ones.

    You, on the other hand, have this covered too.

    Thank you for giving us all an example to learn from, in addition to the great info itself. You are obviously impacting many thousands of people – including me.


    • Michael Hyatt

      Wow. Thanks, Rick. I appreciate your kind words.

  • Jeremy

    I had an issue with time machine once. Their is an option to encrypt the back up file. Do not encrypt it. If the file is encrypted and one small part of the file becomes corrupted, then the entire backup will be corrupted. Very sad day. I spent hours on the phone and in the Mac store to try to get it fixed. There were several people who told me that they have seen this before.

  • Cyberquill

    The chick on the pic looks like she’s watching a boxing fight online. Shouldn’t she be working or something?

  • nl

    Interesting. My current system is a bit convoluted; it presently only does a good job for my home desktop, not my laptop…

    1) I have TM running to a FW RAID5 array;
    2) CrashPlan runs daily to keep a backup on a Mac Mini with a Drobo in my office, for my offsite backup solution;
    3) SuperDuper! runs weekly to an external FW drive (separate from the TM RAID array) with two partitions, one for a bootable copy of my internal boot drive and one for a clone of my internal data drive.

    For my laptop, I basically create a SuperDuper! clone when I can remember to connect an external drive I have for that purpose, which is not often enough. Right now, a bad solution, though.

    I have been considering eliminating the TM component, and turn the RAID5 array into a CrashPlan data store on the desktop, and having both the desktop and the laptop use CrashPlan to store to that RAID5 AND the offsite remote backup as well, with an upgrade to CrashPlan+ to enable continuous (rather than once daily) backups and versioning.

    I will still need to remember to run the SuperDuper! on my laptop periodically so that I have a bootable backup just in case, though.


  • Shane Sanchez

    Thanks for the post in the market for a back up hard drive now.

  • K.C. Procter

    Thank you for the tech advice. I’m relatively new to Mac and don’t have a backup system yet. I do have a large enough external drive so will follow this little tutorial tonight when I get home.

  • Jeff Goins

    I use Crashplan, which backs up continually. Only time I’ve had to use it was when I transferred all my files from PC to Mac.

  • Joe S

    One thing to consider is getting 2 hard drives instead of 1 and then partitioning.

    I ran into an issue where the external hard drive I bought had a problem reading-writing data at all. The “head” mechanism broke, akin to the needle of a record player breaking. So the drive was pretty much unrecoverable.

    Getting two hard drives allows for complete redundancy, where as u sing 1 drive and then paritioning still relies on a single-string hardware component – the “head” mechanism – which if it fails, would kill both your partitions.

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  • Benjer McVeigh

    A great backup regimen is key. I use time machine on a WD drive for our newer MacBook (which I used in Seminary) and SuperDuper for our older iBook (which my wife usually used). The iBook recently died, and I’m thankful that we had a backup! One thing I’ve been meaning to do is to put our memories (video and photos) on data DVDs and send them to a sibling, just in case we have a disaster in our home, such as a fire.

  • Anonymous

    Legally I am not allowed to own an Apple product because I’m not a Tool!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t understand your comment. Care to elaborate?

  • paul andrew skidmore

    great post about the importance of backups and redundancy.

    i will say, however, that i’ve never known a Western Digital drive NOT to go down and lose all of its data. eventually any drive will do this, but WD drives are notorious for it. most people i know that know anything about harddrives will never recommend WD, especially the MyBook and Passport series. i’m a very socially timid person, but have often gone out of my way to recommend to a complete stranger that they swap out their MyBook or Passport for something else.

    then again, if you’ve got multiple backups, i guess you can keep replacing them. still, other drives will last longer and be more sturdy, though they may cost a bit more. i highly recommend G-Tech G-Drives, as they use Hitatchi drives, which many consider to be the best on the market. they also have a 3-year warranty. i try to replace my externals every three years anyway.

    of course, i do video work primarily, so i really run my drives through the wringer. so you can take all of this with a grain of salt!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t have any particular loyalty to WD, but I have had two of their drives for two drives and just bought another. I have not had any trouble with them. I also have a G-Drive that I use exclusively for media. Thanks.

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  • Andrew

    Thanks for another great post! One question….is there any particular reason (other than not having the redundancy of the second copy at your work location) that you don’t use an Apple Time Capsule so that it’s fully automated and doesnt even require you to plug your drive into your macbook?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Actually, I do use a Time Capsule now. (In addition to what I wrote about above.)

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  • rusbooz1

    Michael – You are spot-on with this post. There are also a couple of other solutions you might want to think about.

    One is to use a base station router connected to your external drive and back up wirelessly to that drive. It’s not fully supported by Apple but works great. That can eliminate connecting the external all the time. In your duplicate scenario, you would want to have the same set up at work as you do at home.

    As for paid offline service, CrashPlan Pro is the best on the market. It backs up your data via the cloud and it’s fast an secure. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Wayne Stiles

    Michael, what do you use to backup your blog’s content?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I use VaultPress. Love it. It’s from the same people who created WordPress.

  • Tim Grable

    We used to use Time Capsule but ran into major problem with it not working correctly. We’ve been using Crashplan for over 3 years on all of our computers. Very automated and easy to use/restore.

  • bbking

    thanks Michael for sharing your tips with us. I’m curious if there is a reason to partition the drives to use both superDuper and TM as opposed to just using one drive for each service so my home drive uses Time Machine and my Work Drive uses SuperDuper. I’m trying to figure a system for myself that is simple and safe.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s just a way for me to have both kinds of backups in both locations. Thanks.

      • CharliePharis

        Thanks for reposting this, Michael. Anything you’d do differently, given the new toys/gadgets/tools you currently use and recommend?

        • Michael Hyatt

          The only thing I am doping differently now, Charlie, is that I use CrashPlan, along with the setup I described. So I have four backups: CrashPlan in the Cloud; SuperDuper at the office; Time Machine at the Office, and Time Machine at home. It kind of sounds silly now that I write it, but my entire business is now literally on my computer.