Ok. Take a deep breath. This is hard, but you’re going to get through it. Just because you watched your computer crash doesn’t mean that your life has ended (I personally know people who have been through it and survived). In the moment, it seems like the end of the world, but don’t panic yet. Instead, go through this checklist and take action instead of screaming into your pillow and cursing the heavens (unless that makes you feel better – then do do that first; I’ll wait for you).

Step 1: Check Sources For Your Backed-Up Documents

Chances are that you’re panicking a little bit less if you had an external hard drive that you backed up regularly. You might have also had your important documents saved online in one form or another (even Google Docs works just fine). If it was really all just on your hard drive and you didn’t have your most essential photos and documents anywhere else – well, someone probably told you so, but that doesn’t make things any better right now. If your computer hasn’t crashed yet and you’re reading this for the future, please, please do some research right now and decide how you’re going to repent. There are too many free (or very cheap) options not to make sure this tragedy doesn’t befall you. It’s also a good idea to have an internet backup plan just in case.

Step 2: Determine How Bad the Crash Really Was

Sometimes, you can restart Windows in Safe Mode (click that link to make sure this is the right option for you) and get your system running again for long enough to shut it down the right way this time, restart it, and see everything come humming gloriously back to life. You can also try rebooting using Last Good Configuration, System Restore, or Recovery Console (depending on the version of Windows you’re running). You can also use a variety of boot disks to try and get things up and running again. If this sounds pretty technical, it certainly can be; if computers aren’t really your area of expertise, call in a favor and ask your smart techie friend to lend you her skills. You may be able to recover sooner than you think. If not, you might be buying a new computer and doing a lot of work from scratch.

Step 3: Be Honest with Your Clients

If that last option ends up being the painful road you have to travel, don’t wait too long to let your clients know what’s going on and how soon they can expect work they were depending on you to complete. While you’d like to hide this like some shameful secret, it’s really not necessary. Everyone’s had those terrifying blue screen moments, and they can relate. Even if your clients aren’t thrilled that they’re going to have to wait for work (or reassign it to someone else for the short term), they’re going to be much more frustrated if you simply drop off the radar and pretend like nothing happened. Own up to your mistake (always back up! Always!) and move on, a wiser human being who’s learned from sad experience.


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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