10 Essential Windows Habits You Should Cultivate
Habits. We all have them. But are they good or bad?
Do you have the habit of NOT saving your files in multiple places or cleaning out all the old stuff? What about those update reminders, do you have the habit of ignoring them?
Good habits can sound like common sense, but when it comes down to actually doing them, we opt not to. Most of the time it isn’t because we don’t care, but rather we think it’s too much work or maybe we don’t understand the importance of the task.
I’ve laid out the essential habits you need for having the best Windows experience possible. And with Windows 10 coming out soon , this would be a great time to create new ones and brush up on things you may have become a little lax in.
Update, Update, Update
First and foremost, let’s get the most basic of habits out of the way. We’re all guilty of not updating. Whether it’s Windows updates, driver updates, or software updates, they can seem like a nuisance–”I have to update again? But I just did that the other day!”
You might face a few different scenarios. One is that you are completely oblivious to the need to update or how to update. Another is that you are unaware that updates are present and need your assistance to be completed. And lastly, you are apathetic and don’t care since your computer has been working “just fine” so far without them.
This last scenario can often be triggered by a failed update that you have been unable to successfully troubleshoot. This is perhaps the most frustrating one because you want to solve the issue, but can’t. There are, however, many things you can do to make Windows Update less annoying .
We aren’t going to get super in depth here because we’ve covered much of this already (see our article on everything you need to know about Windows Update ). If you aren’t sure how your computer is updating, just search “Windows Update”, launch it and see if there are any new important or optional updates. If you aren’t certain whether you should ever install an update, do a quick search online to see if there are any repercussions by installing that update.
Updating drivers isn’t an every day task, but it is something you should be in tune with. We’ve published a recent guide on finding and replacing outdated Windows drivers . It goes into how to use the tools on your computer and third-party software to ensure you have the most up-to-date drivers.
Software updates, specifically third-party software, is another big one that often goes unnoticed. Some software will automatically prompt you or at least have a function for you to check for new updates, though you still have to be mindful and attentive to updating them. Other software leaves it in your hands to search online for a recent update. It can be cumbersome updating so many programs manually though.
One great option is Ninite.com. It is mostly viewed as a bulk software installation website, but can just as easily be used to update your currently installed software. Just check the boxes of the programs you know you have and run the installer. If any of those programs are out of date, the newest software version will overwrite the current one.
The method I most often use is FileHippo.com’s App Manager, which scans your computer for any outdated software. FileHippo has a vast database of free and commercial third-party software and should cover most of the programs you have installed.
Setting reminders to check for updates using a conditional tool like IFTTT , a note app like Google Keep , the Windows Task Scheduler , or a task management app can help as well. Lastly, Secunia PSI is another free solution that we have recommended in the past.
Set Up Automatic Backups
We always hear about backing up. But has it become so constant that we ignore it? Ask yourself: “If my computer, phone, tablet and any other devices all were destroyed at once, would I still have everything?” Is it stored on external hard drives and in the cloud? Do you have multiple backups or just one backup of everything?
I ask these questions as someone who is guilty of not consistently backing up or putting it off for later. It can be easy to think you’re the exception, but when was the last time all your important files, videos, pictures, and other information was securely stored away?
The key to ensuring this happens regularly is setting up automatic backups, both to the cloud and to an external hard drive. With each new operating system, Windows has made strides in making backing up easier and quicker with features like automatic File History in Windows 8 , comparable to Apple’s Time Machine.
In addition, OneDrive is a great tool and we’ve covered some ways you can customize and improve it in Windows 8.1 . You don’t need third-party software to back up your files as there are many free file sync and backup tricks available in Windows itself . However, if you do want want to use non-Microsoft tools, check out some of the free and paid programs we recommend in our guide for the 6 safest ways to backup and restore your files in Windows 7 and 8 .
Watch What You Download
This isn’t a Windows-only tip. This applies no matter what operating system you use. Paid software doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good software on today’s Internet. And just because someone recommends a free program, doesn’t mean it’s clear of bloatware–we’ll get to that in a bit. Always be sure to do your own research on programs before downloading them.
Getting software from a trustworthy source is crucial. MakeUseOf has a large inventory of tested software we recommend . Other good places to download from are the aforementioned FileHippo.com and Ninite.com.
Pay Attention When Installing Software
Similar to watching what you download, it’s important not to continuously click Next while installing a program without regard to what you’re clicking “Next” to. By clicking Next, you are agreeing and saying “yes” to whatever is in that window. This is how you end up with random programs, browser toolbars, and other junk on your computer that you have no idea what it is or how it got there.
I’ve shared this practice in countless articles because it still is such a prevalent bad habit. For more information, please refer to the simple checklist to safely installing free software .
You may not have installed some of this junk software yourself though, and that is what we call bloatware. It gets packaged with your new computer and can be confusing whether you need it or not. You don’t. Refer to our guide on removing bloatware from your new computer . A great takeaway from that article is to “read the sales pitch” and spend a bit more money.
Set Restore Points
Restore points are essential for any time you install new updates, programs, or make system changes to your computer. Should something go wrong, being able to revert back to the last known working state is extremely useful. And the sooner that restore point has been made, the better.
We have published a thorough guide on everything you need to know about restore points –what they are, how to make them, and why you should use them. For those of you using Windows 8, it’s not a bad idea to know the difference between a system refresh, reset and restore .
Use a Non-Admin User Account for Daily Tasks
This is something I have been guilty of not doing. As a “tech guy”, I want the most control over my system and perhaps you feel the same way. But using your main account with elevated administrative privileges can result in significant damage should your system’s security become compromised.
This security measure is even relevant with the new Microsoft accounts . It’s better to be safe than sorry. Create a second user account with admin privileges and reduce your primary account to a standard account. Now you can have the best of both worlds, with better Windows security without giving up control.
Dump Unnecessary Maintenance Tools
I feel like we are finally starting to overcome the way of thinking that we need to clean the Registry and defrag hard drives. We’re our own enemy in this one as many of us who first recommended tools for registry cleaning have now been saying for years that they aren’t as good as we originally thought . So please stop buying into their hype and refrain from using them altogether–they’re a myth.
I recommend researching what the Registry really is , which is a scary place. I think after you discover that, you’ll be a bit more hesitant to just let any program access your computer’s brain.
You don’t need third-party disk defragmenters either, especially if you’re running Windows 7 or higher. The default disk defrag tool works just fine. Also, all Windows operating systems from 7 on up defragment automatically, so you shouldn’t even worry.
If you do happen to notice that fragmentation is exceeding 10%, you can run a manual scan. Defragging too often , however, definitely falls into one of the many ways we can overzealously clean our computers , ultimately breaking them.
Clean Up Old, Irrelevant, and Temp Files
What does help keep your computer running smoothly is removing old, useless files. These can be duplicates, temporary, or just files you no longer need. Using a program like CCleaner (our CCleaner review ) to scan for these can be useful. In addition, finding what on your hard drive is taking up the most space, so that you can slim down those areas, can be done with a tool called WinDirStat (our WinDirStat review ).
This may seem overwhelming, but many of the things you can do to clean up your hard drive can take 10 minutes or less .
SIDE NOTE: Clearing temporary files, such as cookies, too often can have adverse effects, since your computer utilizes those to speed up processes. But in general, if you’re noticing your computer being sluggish , check out how much space is left on your hard drive–you may need to do some weeding and reorganizing of files.
Start Managing Your Files Better
Speaking of reorganizing files, start managing your files better! Stop spending time looking around for where you stowed away that document or picture.
Clean up your desktop , create a file management system , and start enjoying the perks of using a computer. After all, a computer is supposed to help you do things faster, but you can’t do that if you don’t know where anything is at!
Reboot Your Computer More Often
It may seem like a hassle to restart or shut down your computer. We’re in an age of now and we don’t want to wait for it to boot up. But occasionally restarting it can fix many issues . Have you ever noticed after your computer has been on for days and weeks that it gets slower and slower? Not to mention those updates that require a system restart to install completely, which takes us right back to tip #1.
Just try to be more mindful of restarting your computer more often–you may be surprised the difference it makes. A good compromise may be learning how to restart your computer like a pro to speed up the process and make it more accessible.
What Good Habits Do You Have?
I’m confident that if you dedicate yourself to integrating these habits into your daily workflow that you will have a much better Windows experience the rest of this year.
Now I’d like to hear from you: What other habits do you have when using Windows that make a world of difference and help you use it more productively? Please share in the comments!
Image Credits: Young sprout via Shutterstock