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Eight Simple Tips for Keeping Your Computer Running Smoothly

by Office of Technology Policy & Projects Staff

Having a properly functioning computer is a must for helping your practice run smoothly. Using computer software, whether to manage your practice's finances, client contact information, and appointment calendars or to safeguard your computer from viruses, can save you time and money.

Protecting and maintaining your practice's computers are important but often overlooked aspects of running your practice. This article briefly outlines some low-cost, do-it-yourself measures that psychologists can take to keep their computers in proper working order.

Software Maintenance

Undertaking regular preventive maintenance on the software that runs and protects your computer will safeguard it from potential threats and help to keep it running smoothly.

Update Your Software and Operating System
Perhaps the most important step you can take to keep your computer secure is to check regularly for software updates and undertake routine system maintenance. PC users should visit Microsoft's "Windows Update" site regularly to determine if operating system and software updates are available. Some operating systems, such as Windows 2000 and XP, automatically notify users that updates are available and download and install the latest updates. Security patches for older operating systems usually need to be downloaded manually. Operating system updates for Macintosh operating systems are available on Apple's support site.

To learn more about system and software maintenance, read "Securing Your Computer."

Uninstall Unused Software
Unused software applications installed on your computer take up hard drive space and drain your system's resources. Consider checking once a month to determine whether the software installed on your machine is being used and uninstall any programs no longer in use.

To uninstall a program in Windows 2000 and XP, click on the Start button and then select the Control Panel icon. In the Control Panel window, click on the Add or Remove Programs icon. In the Add or Remove Programs window, scroll through the list of programs installed on your computer and remove any programs you no longer use by highlighting the unused program and clicking on the "Remove" button below it. If you are unsure whether or not you should delete a program, leave it and ask a computer professional for advice.

Install Antivirus, Antispam and Firewall Protection
Protect your computer and the information stored within it from harmful e-mail attachments, viruses, spam and malicious users by using antivirus protection, firewall protection, and antispam protection. These programs protect your computer from unwanted intruders that have the potential to damage or destroy your computer system and files. For more information about the type of protection the software provides, read "Securing Your Computer."

Safeguard Your Computer Against Spyware
As professionals who use the Internet to research and gather information, psychologists should guard against spyware, or stealth programs that invade computers unnoticed and collect personal information about the user. Spyware can monitor your Internet usage and search habits and record keystrokes, passwords, credit card numbers, chat logs and other confidential and private information.

To learn what spyware is, how to remove it, and how to guard against it, read "Beware of Spyware: Is Your Computer Being Monitored?" 

Hardware Protections

Using the proper computer equipment and regularly performing a few small maintenance activities will help to keep your computer running smoothly and efficiently.

Protect Your Computer Equipment from Power Surges
Power surges and lightening strikes can destroy computer equipment and the data it contains. A power surge is a spike in the electrical power flowing into your home or office. To protect against a surge or sudden voltage increase, consider purchasing a surge protector that allows you to plug multiple components into one power outlet. When purchasing a surge protector, examine the product and be sure it covers lightning strikes, offers insurance in case of failure, and contains outlets that accommodate your Internet connection.

Defragment Your Hard Drive
As you create and delete files and applications on your computer, the hard drive becomes fragmented. This means that data on your computer is split into pieces and stored in different areas throughout the hard disk. The more fragmented your data is, the less efficiently (more slowly) your computer operates. Defragmentation puts like data with like data, which frees up disk space and speeds up your computer. To defragment your hard drive, click on your My Computer icon, select the drive you want to defragment (most data is typically stored on the C:\\ drive) and right click. Select Properties and then the Tools tab. On the Tools tab, click on the "Defragment Now" button.

Check Your Hard Disk for Errors
All the information stored on your computer is saved to the hard drive. Checking regularly for errors occurring with your hard disk can alert you to existing problems, allowing you to resolve them before important information is lost. To perform this check, click on the My Computer icon, select the drive you wish to check (most data is typically stored on the C:\\ drive) and right click. Select Properties and then the Tools tab. On the Tools tab, click on the "Check Now" button in the "Error-checking" section. If errors are returned, consider consulting with a computer specialist.

Backup Your Data
Develop a comprehensive data storage and backup system to protect your data in the event your computer fails. To start developing a plan to back up and recover your data, read "An Ounce of Prevention: Prepare for Computer Failure."

Performing routine maintenance on your computer is the key to preventing computer problems in the future. By taking these steps, you can prevent future computer-related headaches, increase the performance of your computer system, and keep your practice running smoothly.

Date created: 2005
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