Your computer is probably the single most important piece of equipment in your business. When it's not working properly, your entire business slows, employee productivity dips, customers aren't served--or aren't served properly--and partners get frustrated. If you're ignoring your computer's maintenance and upkeep, you could find yourself in trouble someday.
The good news is, maintaining your computer's health doesn't have to involve much time or many resources. Here are seven things to consider that will help you take better care of your computer:
1. Think before you install. So many times I'm told that someone's computer isn't working properly only to discover they've downloaded several programs from the internet or from a CD of a friend. Installing software on your computer will take up space on your hard drive, which will eventually slow your computer down. These random programs could also be an open door for viruses and cause other programs to crash. So install as few programs as possible on your computer. If you can, use a second computer to "play with" and test programs you're thinking of using company-wide.
2. Install the right software. Ensuring your computer is protected from digital vandals is critical if you want to keep information safe. It's therefore important that you install both an antivirus program and a firewall software program. These two critical pieces of software, which you should update on a regular basis, will serve as a wall of protection for your computer.
3. Update your operating system. Microsoft Windows is the software you're most likely using to power your computer programs and control how your computer operates. It's critical that you update Microsoft Windows on a regular basis by going to the "Windows Update" website http://www.windowsupdate.comto automatically update your operating system.
4. Dump what you don't need. Every few months you should regularly inventory your computer to find and delete the programs you don't really need. These unused or unnecessary programs take up valuable hard drive space, and if you're not using them, you should remove them from your computer via the "Add/Remove" programs option in your control panel.
5. Defragment your hard drive. Your hard drive is one of the hardest-working parts of your computer-you're using it all the time, every day (whether you realize it or not) to access the programs you use and store the files you create. But the hard drive doesn't save the files in any particular order; instead, it uses the first empty space it encounters (space that's created when you delete files). So the pieces of data become scattered around the hard drive, making it slower for you to access the data stored there. That's why it's critical to defrag your hard drive on a regular basis to keep things running as quickly as possible. Do it monthly if you're a "light" computer user and weekly if you're a power user.
6. Keep things clean. I've seen offices where people have paper and stickies all over their computers, covering up the air vents. To help ensure your computer runs smoothly, don't cover the air vents-you need to keep the internal components as cool as possible. You should also vacuum your computer every few months to clean out the dust that accumulates.
7. Security is important. When things do go wrong, you want to be prepared. Therefore, its important to always backup your important data. You can back it up online, to an external hard drive or to a central server, or you can place the data on CD-ROMs or DVDs. Whatever method you choose, make sure to back it up on a regular basis so that if your computer crashes, you can easily recover your important data.
Ramon Ray is Entrepreneur.com's "Tech Basics" columnist and editor of Smallbiztechnology.com. He's the author ofTechnology Solutions for Growing Businesses and currently serves on the board of directors and the technology committee for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.