Help! I’ve Lost My Files

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Rescue Accidentally Deleted Files, Photos, MP3s and More

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We’ve all had that moment. That gut-wrenching, sinking feeling of dread, often verbalized by an emphatic “Oh [insert word of choice]!” Your file, the one you were working on for the last few hours, days, even weeks -- is gone. Whether it’s due to a user error or a computer malfunction, it’s painful to lose it.

The computer whizzes tell you over and over to save your document every few minutes. But let’s be real: once you’re in the thick of it, it’s annoying to

And start again.

Some programs now come with a handy function that automatically saves your documents in a temporary folder. However, it’s not always easy to find those files.

One quick recommendation from a non-computer whiz: as soon as you open a new document or file, save it with whatever name you want to call it (even if the document is still blank). That way, if you get interrupted and lose the file, it’s a lot easier to recover.

Deleted Files
The good news: if you accidentally (or purposefully) delete a file, chances are it’s not actually gone. Windows often keeps deleted files in the Trash or Recycle Bin. Double-click the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop to see what's inside. You can drag and drop the file to the location you want, or right-click on the file and select Restore, which will automatically return it to the location from which it was deleted.

Lost Files
If you’re in the middle of working on a document and your program freezes, crashes or is forced to close before you can save, all may not be lost. Many documents can be partially if not fully recovered.

The first step is to search for the original document. Make sure you can view hidden files so you get a full result list. To enable this view, in Windows Explorer click on Tools and then Folder Options. Click on the View tab and make sure the “Show Hidden Files and Folders” option is marked.

Worried woman at computer Next, click the Start button and select Search (there’s usually a magnifying glass next to it). Click on “All Files and Folders.” This is where it comes in handy to name and save a file as soon as you open it. Many programs, including Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), will auto-save what you're working on every few minutes. So, even if you haven’t saved in a while, you might be able to find a more complete version that was auto-saved before the crash. In the box under “All or Part of the File Name,” type the name of the document you want to find. In the “Look In” drop-down box, click on My Computer and/or your lettered drives if you have a networked machine. Then click Search.

If you don’t remember the file name or didn’t name your file, try typing a * and then the extension (the three-letter acronym for the type of file). For example if you are searching for a Word document, type *.DOC in the “All or Part of the File Name” box.

Automatic Backup Tools
If you were working in Microsoft Word and were savvy enough to plan for these sorts of disasters by proactively enabling the Always Create a Backup Copy tool before the crash, you can take the above steps but in the “All or Part of the File Name” box, type *.WBK and click Search.

What’s the Always Create a Backup Copy tool, you ask? In Word, click on Tools and then Options. Click on the Save tab, you’ll find a check box called Always Create a Backup Copy.

In this same Tools/Options dialogue box, you also have the option to change how frequently Word auto-saves your files with the AutoRecover option. If you’re like most and don’t save at regular intervals, you might consider setting it to auto-save frequently.

The Autorecover feature is available on most Microsoft Office programs, and provides an emergency backup for open documents if an error occurs. Keep in mind: this is not a substitute for saving, as these files are not stored indefinitely. A temporary file can include all changes that were made prior to the last auto-save. So, if you are auto-saving every two or three minutes, you should be able to get most of the document back. If you have a crash and this feature is enabled, try re-opening the program (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) you were using. The program should open with an AutoRecover pane that displays the most recently auto-saved files. If the file does not appear, you can manually search for AutoRecovered files by following the steps above to search for a file. In the “All or Part of the File Name” box, type: *.ASD and search in My Computer.

Temporary Files
Another option is to recover the document from your temporary files. Follow the steps above to search for a file. In the “All or Part of the File Name” box, type: *.TMP. This will bring up a lot of files, so you can narrow your search by clicking “Specify Dates” and do a search limited to the time period that you last worked on the file.

Sometimes temporary files are stored with a tilde symbol (~) and might not appear in a *.TMP search. If you didn’t find what you were looking for, repeat the search above but in the “All or Part of the File Name” box, type: ~*.* and modify your dates.

One Last Thing
If your file is still lost, or if you don’t want to go through all these steps, there is software available like Search & Recover -- which scours your hard drive to find deleted and lost data. Programs like Search & Recover are especially handy if the file was lost long ago, as the temp and Autorecover saves only hold onto data for a short period of time.

When all else fails, it may be time to talk to a techie for a forensic review. Which can get to be pricey. Which serves as a reminder…

Start again.

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