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12 must-do PC tasks

Alex Castle | April 8, 2013
Computers may have become a lot more user-friendly over the past decade, but they're still far from perfect--PCs require a certain amount of configuration and maintenance to operate at their full potential. Unfortunately, because we humans are also far from perfect, we frequently don't put in the work we should, and we end up with a slower, sloppier, less secure machine as a result.

Software happened. You installed all sorts of applications, and they took liberties with Windows, setting it up so that any variety of programs and services now launch automatically when the operating system boots. These days, Windows is launching 30 programs every time it starts up, meaning that you have to wait an extra few minutes before you can check your email.

You need to take back control of your computer's startup sequence.

First, run CCleaner. You used this application earlier to clear out some hard-drive space, but the utility does double duty as a startup manager. Click the button labeled Tools at the left of the CCleaner window, and then click Startup. You'll see a list of every program that is currently set to launch when Windows starts. Scan through the list, and whenever you see a program that you don't need to use every time you start the computer, click it and select Disable.

If you want finer control over the startup process, I recommend WinPatrol, another great free application. Like other utilities, WinPatrol shows you a list of startup programs and services--but it also gives you the option to schedule startup so that your computer doesn't try to load everything at once. To do this, find the program that you want to delay in the main Startup Programs tab, right-click that program, and select Move to Delayed Start Program List. After that, you can switch to the Delayed Start tab, select a program, and click the Delay Options tab, where you can choose how long you want Windows to wait before launching the selected program.

Organize your inbox

When you're trying to get things done, email can be your worst enemy. Sure, it's invaluable for doing business and for keeping in touch, but it can also be a distraction and a massive time sink. You might not be able to get back all of the hours you spend on email, but you can at least reclaim the wasted time spent staring at your overflowing, messy inbox.

First, create multiple folders ('Labels' in Gmail) dedicated to specific topics in order to better organize your messages. An average user's selection might include folders designated for work, bills and receipts, newsletters, and the like. Create a new folder in Outlook 2010 by selecting the Folder tab and clicking New Folder (in the New group). In Gmail, click More labels > Create new labels in the left pane.

Next, clean out the inbox. I know that the task seems daunting, but the purpose of the inbox is to serve as a temporary holding zone for new messages, not to be a permanent warehouse for every email you've ever received. Sort your messages into the folders you just created, ruthlessly deleting any items that aren't worth retaining. Keep email that needs responses in your inbox, or better yet, create a 'Needs response' folder and sort the messages there.


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