Many common computer and tech problems that arise could be avoided with some basic maintenance. Here’s a list of suggested tasks to perform regularly.
As a consultant, I usually instruct people on these things whenever I meet with them – providing a personalized strategy that meets their needs.
If you use your computer regularly, it’s a good idea to have automated daily backups. In many computers these run every hour to backup any recently created or changed files.
When writing longer articles or books that are time-intensive, consider saving frequently using the Save As feature and give the file a name that includes a revision number such as My Great Book Rev 7. Each new version you save provides a backup of the work done so far allowing you to go back in time to a previous version.
A common and sad problem is when people mistakenly select all, delete, and then save their blank document or presentation by mistake. When you save overtop of an existing file, it will be very difficult to recover it.
Computers are usually configured to update their software and operating system automatically. However, these updates sometimes don’t happen. For example, if you use your computer for short periods of time, and otherwise have it turned off completely, then the updates won’t happen. Consider leaving your computer on overnight once a week.
In addition to operating system updates, there will be updates to Java, Adobe software, Microsoft software such as Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and others. It may be necessary to manually check for updates to these.
There are utility programs that scan your computer for software, check the versions, then check with the provider to see if a newer version is available, but this requires an additional program. Sometimes it’s easier just to simplify life and do a few things manually.
Virus Scan. Some people seem to get computer malware quite frequently. Other people can go for years without getting malware. You’ll want to determine how often you seem to be getting into trouble with malware and scan accordingly. Monthly scanning is a good place to start. A program like Malwarebytes protects in realtime and also can conduct scanning. Some malware will remove antivirus software so make sure your antivirus is still installed and actively protecting your computer.
Software Inventory. If you’ve ever installed some software and subsequently decided to stop using it, or gradually used it less and less, then you may want to check your list of installed programs to make sure there are no unnecessary programs. Also, it’s a good practice to ensure that no programs have slipped into your computer as the result of infected websites.
Browser Extensions, Plug-ins, and Add-ons. There are a number of names given to the software that runs within browsers. Some of these applications are useful. Others are malicious or slow down the computer. Programs like Adblock Plus and AdBlocker Ultimate are considered to be okay. Malicious browser extensions can get added without you being fully aware of what is happening. So, it’s good to check for these regularly. Antivirus software isn’t good about blocking these.
Backups. Monthly or perhaps weekly, you may want to check and make sure your backups are running. Be sure the external drive hasn’t become disconnected. Perhaps go through a trial run of restoring a file. Even if you have a cloud synchronized drive (like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive or iCloud) it’s a good idea to have a local backup as well. If a catastrophic failure requires restoring terabytes of data, it will go more quickly with a local drive. Also, if you have huge files to backup, that can take a while to upload those to the cloud given that upload speeds are usually 10% to 20% of your download speed.
Speed Test. It’s a good idea to check your Internet speed on a realgar basis. A clean ad-free way to do this is to go to Bing.com and search for speed test. You can then use the Bing speed test service.
Data Use. Being mindful of your data usage is important, both for your mobile devices and also your home internet service. Excessive spikes in data usage can be a sign that a neighbor is using your WiFi to download illegal movies that you’ll be legally responsible for, or perhaps a virus has taken over your computer for use as a global file server for illegal unsavory content. If you’re a Mediacom customer, you can go to Mediacomtoday.com/usagemeter/
Hard Drive. Checking your hard drive monthly can help you ensure it isn’t filling up to capacity with data. For each person the frequency of this will be different. If you work with video production, this could be a weekly task. For most people it could be done monthly.
Subscriptions. It’s a good idea to have a spreadsheet where you can keep track of various subscriptions for software and services that may be expiring. This could include antivirus software annual renewals. It could include website hosting and domain registration renewals. These monthly check-ins are a good reminder of when to expect certain fees to be charged. This is also a good time to check your bank and credit card statements for unexpected charges, and when you see renewals coming up, consider cancelling any services you don’t use.
- Microsoft charges an annual $99 fee for their Office 365 subscription plan.
- If you’re an iPhone user, check for recurring subscriptions purchased through the phone. To do this, go to Settings > iCloud (not labeled but found at the top of the Settings screen – tap on your name) > Tap on iTunes & App Store > Tap on your Apple ID email at the top of the screen > select View Apple ID > scroll to bottom of screen and select Subscriptions. From there, try to cancel any undesired subscriptions.
- Also, make a note of any discount or free trial periods that may expire. For example, Sirius XM satellite radio has a $5 per month offer. When that expires, you’ll start getting charged $16 per month.
Cloud Data. Once a year, it’s a good idea to download all the data that services have on you. For example, you can download an archive of everything stored in the cloud of companies like Google or Facebook. That way, you’ll have a backup in case their systems go down, get corrupted, or get hacked.
Email Archive. Most email services maintain every email you’ve ever sent or received. These can go back years. You may want to use an email client to periodically copy those emails to your computer. Perhaps once a year, copy all the emails that are older than one year. These could be saved on your local hard drive and backed up. This would allow you to delete them from the cloud service. So, if your email account gets hacked, the hackers have limited access to all your personal communications. There have been billions of accounts hacked in recent years. Hackers use that information to contact all your friends with spam and phishing emails. They can also get insights into what services you use, where you bank, where you go on vacation, door codes you may have given to service people, and other details about your life.
File System. Some information on our computers grows from one year to the next, such as software that contains libraries and collections of music or photos. There may be documents and spreadsheets that contain many years of data. However, other than these dozen ongoing projects and files, there are many documents that can just as well be archived into a time capsule for the year. One method of managing files is to keep top-level folders by year that contain all the files from that year. At the end of December, copy forward any ongoing project files or folders. Leave your music and photo libraries alone (assuming you use software for these). In this way, previous years’ folders become time capsules for that year. If you keep your original photos in folders named by date and event, location, or trip, then you can leave those originals in the relevant year. It’s nice to begin each year with a clean folder structure. Using this method also makes it easier to backup only the current documents from the current year. Previous years can be copied or backed up once since they will remain mostly unchanged.
Passwords. Managing passwords is something that could be done on a monthly basis, but most people are just too busy to commit to a long list of weekly or monthly tasks. At a minimum, it’s important to review your passwords annually. Make sure you have all your login information recorded either using a password management program, or a password protected spreadsheet, or perhaps a bound book. You’ll want to date every entry in your password list. This lets you know when a password was last changed or updated. Keep all the other account information recorded as well, such as security questions. Consider changing your passwords once a year. This could be as simple as adding a unique number to the end of every password. Be sure to use unique and complex passwords for every service you use.
Continuity Planning. If something happens to you, do you have a plan regarding how you want your data and online services to be managed? Once a year, it’s a good idea to review your various online accounts. Choose one or more people to update, maintain, or shut down those accounts if something happens to you. Have a plan for what becomes of your data. For photos, writings, audio, videos, and other content that you’d like to share with family or others, consider having that information already stored on an external hard drive, or even better, create a personal blog where you share everything in real-time. Then all your insights, humor, wisdom, and so on can be available on the web needing no additional management to distribute. Whatever you decide to do, it’s a good idea to review those plans each year.
Thanks to Nicholas Johnson for helpful input that was used to develop this document.
This document was originally published on 28 Nov 2018 at 1:11 PM CT. Below are notes about modifications and additions since then.
- 20181226we1158 – Added information about checking monthly for unwanted software and browser extensions.
- 20181225tu1205 – Added tip about checking monthly data usage.