Illustrations by Harry Campbell

12 easy PC tasks you should be doing (but aren't)

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.

If you’re using Windows Vista, 7, or 8, the operating system automatically defragments itself once a week, late at night. Just search for “disk defragmenter” in the Start menu or Start screen and click the result if you want to see when the process runs. If, however, you’re still using Windows XP, you need to manually defragment every couple of weeks or so using the built-in defragmenter (Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter).

However, you’ll want to disable Windows’ automatic disk defragmenting if your machine contains a solid-state drive. Fragmented data doesn’t slow down SSDs because of the way they read and write information—in fact, hardware manufacturers say that defragging adds unnecessary wear that can reduce the life span of an SSD. So in this case, turn it off!

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