Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Sooner or later you'll lose something that you're working on due to a crash or other failure. There are habits you can develop to minimize the impact.

While using a Excel work sheet my computer froze. After reboot the worksheet appeared minus all the data. What happened? How do I recover?

Anyone who's used computers for any length of time has been in exactly this same situation. I know I have.

And you'll find that most of us have developed a habit that you might want to consider as well.

First, the short answer to your current situation is unfortunately simple: the data is most likely gone, and you can only recover by starting over and entering it again. I know that some will suggest convoluted approaches to looking at temporary files, or worse, but in my experience that wastes more time than just biting the bullet and starting over.

Why did it happen? Who knows? These are computers and "stuff" (or a few other words beginning with "s") happens. It shouldn't but it does. If it happens too often there may be problems worth investigating, but "it froze" isn't really enough to know where to begin.

"These are computers and 'stuff' ... happens."

So, knowing that it happens, and knowing that it's bound to happen at exactly the wrong time, what might you do differently the next time?

If you were to watch me type this article, you'd see me occasionally type "CTRL+S". That happens to be my editor's "Save Document" shortcut. Because I've been bitten by this exact same issue - sometimes bitten very hard - I've trained myself to save the document "every so often". Every page, every paragraph, it doesn't really matter too much how often, just realize that if something happens, you'll likely lose everything you've done since the last time you saved.

So far I think I've hit CTRL+S about 5 times. It's just become a habit.

I know that a lot of you are thinking that Excel (and Word, and other applications) have something called "autosave" where they do something roughly equivalent to my manually saving the document periodically. That's very true, and you should absolutely make sure those features are turned on. They have also saved my work at times.

But there are two problems: sometimes they don't, and not all programs have an auto-save feature.

But all of them have a manual save feature.

So, learn what the keyboard shortcut is to save your work in progress, and get in the habit of doing so "every so often".

Nope, you shouldn't have to; things should always just work and never crash.

But we all quickly learn better.

Article C3384 - May 16, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 17, 2008 6:42 PM


I have to give the latest version of Office props on this one (though I rarely do). Office 2007 and possibly earlier versions, have an auto recovery feature. It's not something I rely on in lieu of saving frequently, but it has saved me retyping a few paragraphs now and again when I get the random crashes that MS OS's are well known for.

I'm not sure if this is tied to the auto save feature or how it works, but if the system crashes, after I reboot, the next time I open the program, Word will say "you didn't save these files before you closed, now what?".

Again, NOT to be used instead of backing up, but you can't save ever minuet, but it can help. Now what I don't know is if this works when the actual office application crashes and burns. Ordinarily it's another component that fails.

Steve Burgess
May 20, 2008 10:27 AM

I agree with what you've said - but what if starting over isn't an option or represents many hours of work? Then a (one of the possibly multiple) temporary file might be valuable, even though it might not contain the most recent changes to the (formerly) active document. And as the computer froze, it probably didn't have time to deleted the temporary, invisible file it was creating while drafting the "real" document. So, one might go to a high level folder, select Tools:Folder Options:View:"Show hidden files and folders". Then, using the Start:Search utility, search for unique text that ought to be in a cell in the spreadsheet. Then they should change that option back to "Do not show hidden files and folders"
Not too complicated, a little dangerous, but maybe not such a bad idea if starting over means hours of work, or completely lost. Although the white paper I reference here is oriented toward lawyers, it discusses how these multiple temporary invisible files get formed:

Stuart Ball
May 20, 2008 12:22 PM

I totally agree with Leo. I've hit Ctrl-S so often in my years as a teacher, I think the nerves and muscles involved have become hardwired. I've been working with computers since my first Commodore 64 and my school's Apple II's. It didn't take too many lost tests, lab instructions, and grade book pages before I bought into the mantra of, and then save again. Whenever I pause to collect my thoughts, it's Ctrl-S. At the end of each paragraph, it's Ctrl-S. When I transfer the toothbrush from one side of my mouth to the other, it's ... no, strike that one. I never need to retype more than 5 minutes of work.

There are other tricks, too. When writing long e-mails, do the composition in a simple text file. Then, if you need to open a search box or look up a file on your computer or network, everything you've written is still there. (Assuming, of course, that you saved before you opened another window or tab.) When you're done writing, copy and paste into the body of the e-mail. As an added bonus, you have the text of your message stored in a separate file.

One pet peeve of mine is software that uses anything other than the standard key sequences (Ctrl-S, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, etc). It's much better now than a few years ago, thanks to the proliferation of standards for Windows (and Macs, I assume, although I know almost nothing about them). But there is still the occasional "free spirit" programmer who thinks it is good for users to reexamine their habits. They should be exiled to a deserted island to ponder their misguided notions.

May 22, 2008 4:00 AM

A similar bad one is is situations like now: typing comments into a page or forum, then submitting it only to have it say "unexpected error, now your done", I make it a habit before I submit I select all the text, right click, copy, then if all goes well I forget it, and if it plays up I can paste it back in.

May 22, 2008 11:37 PM

I've used Word's (and other MS Office programs)autosave feature for years - set to every 5 minutes, and it has saved me untold minutes/hours of work when the power fails, the computer freezes or what have you. It actually works better than most MS Office features IMHO.

Sometimes I remember to save manually, but often not, so it's well worth setting the autosave to something near-term, every 5 minutes has worked very well for me over the years.


Mary Atkins
March 19, 2010 12:07 PM

While sending an e-mail and I do 'CTRL+S' and lose my e-mail---how do I get it back?

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