They say computers make life easier. I say they can make our lives miserable.
During the past two years, I've visited Apple's Genius Bar eight times in San Francisco and San Diego. I've watched my classmate cry in front of her computer after she found a Word document she had worked on for days corrupted. I've witnessed someone spill coffee on my best friend's MacBook Pro, and then felt enraged when he had to spend almost half its price to make the thing work again.
Now you may ask me: What's going on with our computers? Well, there is nothing wrong with the computers. It's us. It's our bad habits that led to these tragedies. Some habits may affect your productivity, data security, and even health.
Let's jump right in. How many of these bad habits are a part of your computing life?
1. Never Restarting Your Computer
Computers are just like us: when we get tired, we need a recharge to work more productively. Sometimes, if your computer is running slowly, it might just need a reboot. This is true whether you are using a PC or a Mac. I've personally suffered from this bad habit. One day, my Mac wouldn't boot up when I pressed the start button. I had to wait in line forever at the Apple Genius Bar in Union Square. The problem? My computer had been on for too long without rebooting, and as a result its internal hard drive went on strike. The lesson? If you feel your computer is sluggish, restart it. If you finish your work at the end of the day, shut down your computer. Don't just close your laptop, as that only puts it into sleep mode.
2. Using Your Keyboard as a Plate
Chances are that many of you eat and drink in front of your computers. This is bad for two reasons: First, there's a hygiene issue. Many surveys show that keyboards are one of the primary sources of bacteria, dust, and dirt that we're exposed to daily. Second, you may ruin your computer by accident. My best friend Eric paid hundreds of dollars to repair a computer due to a coffee spill. The key takeaway? Don't use your computer's keyboard as a plate, and clean it frequently.
3. Not Backing Up Your Data
I can't stress enough the importance of backing up your data. We keep so much precious data on our phones and computers, yet we fail to think through that all storage devices have a limited lifespan. You never know when they're going to kick the bucket — and once that happens, often without warning, it can be a data disaster if you haven't backed up your files.
Additionally, human error might trigger a loss of critical data. We tend to delete files quickly and thoughtlessly in the interest of freeing up disk space, only to find that much-needed files got cooked by accident. How do you avoid that? Make multiple backups of all your important data to an external hard drive, or via an online backup service like Dropbox or Google Drive.
4. Not Taking Breaks
Breaks are essential to your health as well as productivity. Staring at your computer screen for hours can cause eyestrain. Sitting for extended periods of time may cause blood flow issues that affect your health. According to a BBC story, long working hours and certain types of sedentary tasks cause fatigue and stress that is bad for your health. The studies mentioned in that story also show that workers doing excessive overtime, regardless of age, can suffer chronic stress and cognitive impairment. How often should you take a break? Ideally every 50 to 90 minutes.
5. Using One Password for Everything
Think of the passwords you use to log into your computer, Facebook, or online banking accounts. How many of them are the same? You'd be surprised to know how most hackers get into your online accounts: They take advantage of weak passwords; obtain one, then use it to log in to other vital accounts.
Maybe it's unrealistic to create different passwords for every online account you have. Although there are password management applications out there that can help, I'm not a fan of them due to security concerns. How do you protect your accounts? I suggest creating at least three types of passwords: A strong one for online banking and shopping, a moderately strong one for email and social media sites, and a generic one for forums or news websites.
6. Running Too Many Programs at Once
Here's another similarity computers share with humans: When they multitask, they become less efficient. In life, we're unlikely to reach our goals when we work on too many projects simultaneously. Likewise, when you launch too many programs on your computer at the same time, chances are that your computer will slow down, depending on CPU and RAM usage. Worse yet, your computer may freeze to death, forcing you to give it a hard reboot. A slow computer is not only a waste of your precious time, but a source of anxiety that is bad for your health. The bottom line? Try not to multitask at work or on your computer.
7. Not Removing Unused Apps or Plugins
A clean computer is much better than a cluttered one. We all download third-party apps. We install add-ons to Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. As time goes by, many of those apps and add-ons become obsolete, and sit unused in some corner of our hard drive. It's easier to ignore them than to take the time to get rid of them — but you should. Why? Because they can clutter your system. Some may even quietly run in the background and consume valuable resources. Plus, clearing off those apps and plugins can clear up hard disk space, giving you room for stuff you actually use.
8. Forgetting to Erase Your Old Computer Hard Drive
A survey finds that, on average, people replace their computers every 4.5 years. Cell phones are replaced much more often: In the United States, 51 percent of iPhone owners upgrade to a new model every two years. It's exciting to get a new computer or a phone, but failing to handle your old one properly can be costly. You might forget to erase data on the old device before you resell or donate it. Why bother? Because you never know if the new owner might access or recover your private data. Make sure you've backed up important data and erase your old computer hard drive for good before getting rid of it.
Computers are like co-workers. Building good computer habits will not only boost your productivity, but also help you live a healthier lifestyle. What other bad computer habits do you think we should get rid of? Share your opinion in the comments below.