Computers and other tech devices need regular maintenance. Without periodic care, you will likely end up with unplanned, disruptive, time-consuming, and expensive support and repairs. This document provides some guidelines you can follow to keep your computer running at its best.
If you use your computer daily, here are some tasks and practices to consider:
- BACKUP FILES. Some people use cloud synchronization services like OneDrive or cloud backup services like Carbonite. These are automated, but could be checked daily to make sure they are still running properly. If you run your backups manually, using click+drag to copy your important files to an external drive, then doing this daily can be a good practice to get into. Throughout the day, if you are working on sizable documents, presentations, or projects, it is a good idea to use the “Save As” option to create versions of your work. That way you can recover from any mistakes. It’s a good idea to maintain two backup plans such a local hard drive as well as a cloud service. Automated system will backup files as they are created or changed. Some run hourly. Others continually make backup updates as needed.
- NOTE: Some people use an external drive for storing their data files. If the computer crashes, the data files are safe. A backup can be performed by copying the external drive contents to another external drive.
- SLEEP MODE. Using sleep mode can improve your own health by promoting better sleep because you’ll be less likely to obsess over “finishing up” some project. Instead, you’ll just put the computer to sleep, and resume your work when you wake up.
- NOTE: Computers that have a battery power source can safely be put in sleep mode to conserve power and allow you to return to your work where you left off. If there is a power outage while the computer is in sleep mode, the low power of sleep mode should allow it to remain in sleep mode for an extended period of time beyond the typical battery runtime. So, a laptop computer or desktop with a battery backup power system can remain in sleep mode even if the outlet power is disrupted. If your computer does not have a battery power system, it could be improperly shut down if the power is interrupted. Improper shutdowns can corrupt files and cause other problems. If you do not have a battery backup power system, then it is best to turn off the computer when not in use.
Here are some weekly tasks and practices to consider:
- ANTIVIRUS. Make sure antivirus software is updated. Run a scan and review any recent security notifications.
- BOOKMARKS. People usually synchronized their bookmarks using the cloud service available for their browser. For example, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Apple Safari, all offer the ability to keep your bookmarks, browsing history, and other data safely synchronized and backed up across all of your devices. If you don’t use a cloud service to backup your bookmarks, then you should regularly export them to a file that gets backed up.
- BROWSER CHECK. Google Chrome offers a browser security scan to check for malicious extensions. You can also perform checks on other browsers like Firefox and Edge. Any installed extensions should be familiar.
- CLEAN START. For Apple computers, when performing a shutdown or restart, there is an option to “Reopen windows when logging back in.” Usually you will not want to have this box checked because it will result in all your open programs and files opening again. When you restart weekly, be sure to remove this checkmark.
- CONTACTS. Most people store their contacts using their web-based email service, or on their smartphone. The contacts are have automatically backed up and synchronized. If you use some other method of saving and organizing contacts you will want to back those up. For example, with Microsoft Outlook, you should export all of your contacts manually to a PST file. Depending on how frequently you add or change contacts, you may want to backup with more or less frequency.
- EMAIL REVIEW. Some email providers automatically delete junk email messages after 30 days. This includes the messages you mark as junk and the ones automatically identified as spam. It’s a good idea to check your Junk folder weekly to avoid having any important emails get overlooked and deleted.
- RESTART. Many people don’t regularly restart their computers. This could eventually result in problems. It is good to save all files, close all programs, and restart once a week. More about this is in the next item, “Save and Close Files.”
- SAVE AND CLOSE FILES. Some people go from one day to the next never closing out their programs and files. While this may be okay for a few days, it’s probably a good idea to close out all browser tabs, documents, and programs once a week to give your computer a clean restart. On computers and mobile devices, it helps to periodically close out programs because they clutter your device. Some programs do not properly pause in the background, so they use up memory and processing power until closed out.
- UPDATES. Microsoft generally issues weekly updates for Windows as well as other component updates. [Source] So, it is a good idea to check updates weekly. In addition to Windows updates, you can check for updates to your antivirus software, printer software, or other products. Some brands of computers include special software for hardware specific updates, such as Dell SupportAssist or HP SupportAssistant.
- iOS. Periodically Apple will release a security update for the iOS operating system used by their iPhone and iPad products. Some of these updates are small but important. Annually there will be a more significant update that includes new features and possible changes in appearance. Checking these weekly can be done in 10 seconds per week, so it’s not a big commitment and ensures that you get updates soon after they are made available. To do so, go to Settings > General > Software Update.
- Update Problems. Keep in mind that with any updates to any computer or device, usually the make your device faster and more secure. Sometimes they will cause problems. The benefits generally outweigh the problems.
- VOICEMAIL. When your voicemail inbox gets full, it’s time to delete messages. Any messages you may need to refer back to can be saved outside of your voicemail system. To do so, use the Share icon to email yourself a copy, or save to files, or send using AirDrop with an Apple computer. Doing this weekly helps avoid the problem of messages piling up, and it’s a reminder to follow-up or complete any remaining requests that you’ve received from others.
- DRIVE SPACE. Over time you will get a good idea of your available drive space trajectory. For most people your available drive space will not change much from one month to the next. If you work with large numbers of photos or videos, you may notice the available space changing more significantly from one month to the next. Keep an eye on your available space and have a plan to put larger files or large collections of files on an external drive.
- INTERNET SPEED. It is good to check your Internet speed at least monthly. You can test the speed by going to Google.com and searching for speed test. This should bring up a top result with a blue “Run Speed Test” button to start a speed check. Keep a notepad and write down the date and speed on that notepad. Make a record of the download speed and upload speed. On the top of the notepad, write down what your Internet speed should be based on the service you are paying for. Make sure the speed is similar to what you are paying for. Drops in speed could indicate a problem with your modem or the signal coming into your home. For slow speed issues, you can contact your service provider and request that they run a test remotely.
- PASSWORDS. It’s a good idea to change your passwords once a year. This need not be done in a single 10 hour sitting. It’s better to have a monthly plan to periodically change your passwords. For some low priority accounts you might skip a year. Having a system in place is important. This is also a good time to review your password management system.
- NOTE: Your smartphone and browser may offer a special feature that compares your passwords against a known list of breached passwords. Password managers will notify you if you have an account setup on a website known to have been recently compromised. If the date you last changed your password is after the security incident was reported, then the password manager will consider your login secure. Password manager software can also compare your passwords to make sure you don’t use the same password more than once.
- SECURITY CHECK. It’s good to periodically check your email addresses for security breaches by using the haveibeenpwned.com website.
- PROGRAMS. Check your list of installed software and take a screenshot of the list. On Windows computers this can be found in Control Panel under Add/Remove Programs. On Apple computers, you can find this list in the main Applications folder (not the folder in your user Home directory). Make a note of any new programs or any unusual programs you don’t recognize. Contact a tech savvy friend for anything that looks suspicious.
- STARTUP. Having programs configured to start when you turn on the computer can slow it down. With a Windows computer, you can review and change this by going to Start > Settings > and in the Find a Setting box type the word startup. Then go to Startup Apps. A common list would be Cortana, Microsoft OneDrive, and Windows Security notification icon. For Apple computers, go to System Preferences > User > Login Items (not Login Options). Review the list. These should be familiar programs.
- NOTE: Malware can sometimes be found installed and configured to run automatically when a computer is turned on.
- BATTERIES. If you live in a region of the world impacted by storms and power outages, you likely have various devices such as rechargeable flashlights, two-way radios, extra laptop computer batteries, and power backup systems for emergency use. These systems need to be regularly charged and tested to assure they are working properly and ready for use. Some batteries will drain over time, and become damaged if they are completely depleted. Have a piece of paper near these devices so you can write down the most recent maintenance check date with notes.
- BIOS. Computers have a simple operating system installed in their hardware that allows changes to hardware settings and the loading of the main operating system such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, or Apple macOS. For Windows and Linux computers, the BIOS needs to be upgraded periodically. Updates to the BIOS can help with stability, security, and performance. Depending on your computer, this may require some advanced tech skills.
- DRIVE CHECK. Your drive should continue performing properly for many years. If you check it regularly, that can help give you an insight into any physical errors or file corruption before an issue becomes widespread and catastrophic. A failing drive can be replaced more easily if it is addressed early on.
- Apple. For Apple computers, go to the Applications list and in the Utilities folder click on the Disk Utility. Select a drive to test from the left column and choose the First Aid option from the top row of icons. Be very careful when using the Disk Utility software because there are options available to completely erase hard drives. If you are running First Aid on an external data drive, the Disk Utility program may request you unmount it first (unmount without unplugging). When done you can right click (or control click) and choose to mount it again.
- Windows. For Windows computers, go to the file explorer, and right click on the Local Disk C icon, then choose Properties from the drop-down menu. From the Tools tab, you can run the Error Checking option. This will check your drive for errors. There is also an Optimize option on the Tools tab, but the system will probably already be optimized.
- EMPTY TRASH. For those who empty their computer’s trash/recycle bin several times throughout the day, a reminder to empty it quarterly may seem unusual. This would be a minimum requirement and helpful reminder for those who would otherwise never empty the trash. You may want to consider erasing your drive’s unused space prior to the quarterly emptying of trash. How and why are explained below.
- ERASE UNUSED SPACE. Security programs like CCleaner offer an option to securely erase unused space. This process permanently removes any record of files that had been deleted and emptied from the trash. The benefit is that confidential materials would then not be recoverable. Erasing unused drive space can also make file recovery much easier. So, if you are 100% confident you’ve not deleted any important files that are no longer in the trash, you can erase unused drive space, then empty your trash. The items that had been in the trash are more easily recovered if the drive isn’t filled with hidden deleted files. If you perform data recovery, you will see only the most recent files emptied from the trash. The use of this method assumes some advanced technical skill and an understanding of its implications.
- RENEWALS. Various services renew annually. Have a piece of paper or spreadsheet you use to review every few months to make sure any upcoming renewals are ready to be processed. This includes making sure credit cards on-file for payment are current. You may wish to manually pay for renewals to make sure they are processed. This is also a good time to check your drivers license, passport, auto registration, and any other renewals such as FCC-issued radio operator license renewal.
- ROUTER UPDATES. Some network WiFi routers should perform updates automatically. Products such as EERO, Google WiFi, or NEST devices are designed to stay updated with the latest security patches. Other brands may require that the owner go into the router configuration portal and manually update to the latest firmware.
- SPEED. To keep your computer performing at top speed, periodically run the tasks recommended in the article “How to Fix a Slow Windows Computer” to help. [View]
- WEBSITE. Check your website hosting and domain renewal information to make sure it doesn’t expire. Having an annual renewal date, with all services renewing on the same date will help make this a regular familiar task. Checking quarterly helps identify any unexpected issues.
- BIOS. Computers have a type of operating system on a chip (BIOS) for managing the internal hardware component settings. This may need periodic updating. Annual checks should be fine. These are called firmware updates. For Dell computers, you can go to the Dell Support page and search for any new BIOS updates. If you have a custom computer, your motherboard may have a dedicated USB port where you can have the firmware on a flash drive and it will update that way.
- CLEANING. Depending on your working environment, the computer may need physical cleaning once a year. This is done using pressurized air. Being careful about static, you can also spray any areas inside the computer where dust may have accumulated.
One-Time Setup Checklist
The following one-time checklist should be reviewed initially. Once set, these should not need revisiting.
- ANTIVIRUS. Antivirus software should be installed as an additional layer of protection on top of the built-in Windows security. Multiple security programs could conflict, so decide on one to use. As of 2021, Malwarebytes is a good choice.
- USER ACCOUNTS. For optimal security, set the Primary user account to be a limited account for daily use to reduce the impact of any malware or viruses. Setup a Visitor user account with limited access if one doesn’t already exist. This account should be used by family and friends rather than the primary user’s account. Setup a Maintenance user account with admin rights for system updates and maintenance.
Seasonal and Monthly Schedule
For some people, it helps to have a seasonal and monthly schedule. Below is an example of how you might schedule in the above maintenance tasks seasonally.
WINTER (Dec – Jan – Feb)
- In the winter months, especially after temperatures begin to reach below freezing, sometimes Internet speeds can drop if equipment and connections are strained by exposure to the elements. Check your Internet speed to make sure it continues to be fast, and call your provider if the speed drops lower than expected.
- Prepare your files and folders for a new year. Setup folders for the concluding year’s files that won’t be brought forward into the new year.
- As daylight hours are shorter, consider working on some sedentary projects such as pruning and reviewing password lists and cleaning up your contacts.
- During the less busy winter months, it’s a good time to consider the cleanup and speedup of a computer, or perhaps replacing an older one if upgrades are no longer an option. Speed up your computer for a more efficient year ahead.
- Check online privacy settings for social media accounts.
SPRING (Mar – Apr – May)
- Upgrade any outdated software and remove old programs no longer being used.
- Review your list of expiring software, services, and websites.
- Consider taking some tech classes from your local community college or public library. [View Examples]
SUMMER (Jun – Jul – Aug)
- The summer months are a good time to be outdoors and active. Think of ways to dial back your dependency on technology and reduce time spent on computers.
- Develop paper based alternatives and low-tech solutions.
FALL (Sep – Oct – Nov)
- As photography season comes to a close, consider organizing and reviewing your photos. Make sure they are backed up.
- Perform firmware updates, and other recommended manufacturer updates.
- Go through old boxes of cables, manuals, software, plugs, adapters, and electronics clutter. Look for items that can be donated or those that need to be thrown out.