We all depend on our computers to get our work done. We take for granted that a computer is supposed to work for us, but we also feel we have to accept that the reverse is inevitable—we think we have to put up with various malfunctions and complications in order to get our machines to do what we want them to do.
But you don’t have to put up with regular malfunctions on your computer. You don’t want your computer to be a moody acquaintance, you want it to be a supportive ally. And you can have it be that way, if you can recognize when your computer is running the show, and take corrective action.
Here are some suggestions for managing your computer instead of letting it boss you around:
1. Set up an automated backup system. There are several good internet-based backup services (our favorite for both Windows and Mac is CrashPlan) which will eliminate the scariest part of using a computer: the knowledge that it could lose your data. With an automated offsite backup, your computer can no longer threaten you, because your data is safe in the cloud.
2. Use security software, especially if you are on a Windows computer (but consider it if you’re on a Mac, too). Because the second scariest thing your computer might do is let in viruses and malware, and allow them to do unsavory things like send out spam or harvest your information. Viruses often make your computer slow down and do weird things as well. So be safe in order to be productive.
3. Observe how you use your computer. Are there time-consuming things you do over and over again? In other words, is your computer wasting your valuable time? Look in your application’s menus and help documentation to see if there are keyboard shortcuts which can speed up things you do all the time. Using key commands to copy and paste, for example (control-C and control-V to copy and paste in Windows, command-C and command-V to copy and paste on the Mac) is faster than using the mouse each time.
4. Remove programs you don’t use, or at least get them out of the way so you don’t have to think about them. Most computers come with tons of software you’ll never need or want to use, and their shortcuts litter your desktop. Throw those in the trash! And if you really want to get serious, there’s good free software (especially for Windows) to remove this so-called “crapware.”
5. Get your computer checked out if it’s getting weird, slow, or crashy. Computers are complex devices, and sometimes they need the TLC of a professional who whispers their language. There’s no reason to live with pinwheels or hourglasses. You need your computer to keep up with you!
6. Think about what you wish your computer could do. Modern machines are very capable, very flexible instruments, so they can probably do almost anything you want (within reason). Start a “wish list” of things you want it to help you with, then search Google for the items on your list. Odds are there’s someone out there who’s been able to make it happen.
It’s your computer, so it should always be clear who’s the boss in your relationship: You!
Ivan Drucker and Caroline Green are the principals of IvanExpert, Inc., a Mac-focused technology consulting firm. IvanExpert advises small businesses in the New York City area on how to leverage their tech to be more efficient and productive. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.