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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.

To keep your inbox clean going forward, continue the practice of sorting messages as you receive and respond to them. Alternatively, you could use Outlook rules (File > Manage rules & alerts > New Rule under the Email Rules tab) or Gmail filters (Gear icon > Settings > Filters tab > Create a new filter) to auto­matically sort incoming email to specific folders based on criteria such as the sender or specific words included in the message. Most major email clients support message filters.

If you don't want to deal with the hassle of manually maintaining your inbox's sanctity or creating a plethora of automated rules and filters, check out Sanebox, a $5-per-month service that works with any IMAP email account and does a scarily good job of sorting your incoming messages.

Finally, get proactive and unsubscribe from any newsletters or daily-deal email that you don't regularly read. You'll be surprised at how much inbox clutter that action can eliminate.

Automate everything

Keeping your PC running smoothly and securely doesn't have to be a headache. Many of the tasks that are described in this article have to be performed only once, or involve software that updates automatically. For the rest, Windows' baked-in Task Scheduler can help you keep programs running on a regimented schedule.

Start by searching for Task Scheduler by name in the Start menu (in Windows Vista and 7) or Start screen (in Windows 8). Once it's open, click the Create Basic Task option to make a simple but automatic, timer-based action. The wizard that pops up will ask how often you want the task to be performed, and what program you want it to launch. For example, you could set up a task that launches CCleaner and SpaceSniffer every two weeks.

Since a basic task won't actually launch a scan when it opens a program like CCleaner, it isn't a completely automatic approach. Still, postponing necessary maintenance is a lot harder when Windows pops up the needed tool on a regular basis. Windows ninjas can coax programs into running specific tasks using a mixture of the Create Task option, called-out command-line arguments, and a hefty dose of experimentation--but that's a whole article in and of itself.

Should you defrag your drives?

If you've been using PCs for more than a year or two, you have probably heard about how important it is to defragment your hard drive regularly. Defragmenting ("defragging," more commonly) consolidates the data on your drive. Although modern hard drives don't see much of a speed boost when they're defragged--unlike the drives of yesteryear--it's still a good idea to defrag your storage periodically to prevent heavy fragmentation from becoming an issue over time. If nothing else, the odds of recovering lost data after a disaster are increased if you defragged your drive recently.


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