When you think about spring cleaning, you may focus on your house, your desk, or your filing cabinet. But cleaning out your computer can be just as important. A backlog of files, emails, applications, and programs can slow it down.
What’s more, even with virus protection, the majority of computers still have malware that needs to be digitally scrubbed away, according to Guy Citarella, founder and CEO of Tech to Us, a Hartford, Conn., company that provides technical support to both individuals and businesses.
Here are some tips from information technology experts on the best ways to safely clean your devices.
Before you clean
Before jumping in and pressing “delete,” consider a few things first:
What is your organization’s file retention policy? Justin Thomsen, CPA/CITP, shareholder at Slate Accounting in Reno, Nev., and an AICPA Leadership Academy graduate, said CPAs need to be aware of file retention policies. Your organization’s policy should specify which types of files to keep and for how long.
Is your organization in the cloud? If you’re using the cloud, that’s where your files should be stored, rather than on your desktop, Thomsen said. If you’re storing your personal files on the cloud, consider using a third-party backup service such as Carbonite or Mozy for disaster-recovery purposes, he said.
Do you have an IT department or an external IT support business providing maintenance? Check with them before doing any cleaning, Citarella said. “If you have an IT department, the last thing you want to do is go in there and try to do things on your own,” he said. “There may be underlying things that are set up there that you’re not aware of.”
If the computer is on a network through your employer, your access could also be restricted, Citarella said.
How to clean
If your organization gives you the green light to clean your device, or if you simply want to make your personal computer run a little faster, try these steps. Citarella recommends “cleaning” in three ways every few months: removing temporary internet files and anything that would be considered “junk;” eliminating any malware; and reducing the number of programs and applications that are automatically running on your computer.
The best part? Automated services provided online or on your computer can do this or assist you. According to Citarella, a few of the best-known ones are:
- CCleaner: Download CCleaner from Piriform to scan through files and web browsers. It’ll make recommendations on what you can clean off your computer. The app can also clean out temporary files, broken shortcuts, and other problems that can bog down a computer over time.
- Malwarebytes: Citarella said the average detection rate on any standard antivirus program is 70% on average.
“You’d be surprised—a lot of people tend to have a little bit of malware on their computers,” he said.
Malwarebytes has become the industry standard malware-removal program, locating problems that other software may miss, Citarella said.
- Systems Task Manager (Windows): In Windows, there’s a built-in option called Task Manager that lets you see what applications, processes, and services are currently running, as well as start and stop programs and processes, which can help your computer run more efficiently, Citarella said.
“It gives you a list of startup impact—high, medium, and low,” he said. “That’s based on how long [an app is] going to delay Windows at startup. High impact means it’s kind of intensive.”
Consider disabling any programs you don’t use regularly, Citarella said, as having too many programs and applications running at startup can slow a computer down. For example, if you have GoToMeeting installed on your computer, but rarely use it, disable it so it no longer runs when your computer opens; you will need to manually open it when needed instead.
Another step to take when cleaning out your computer is deleting unnecessary emails from your inbox and folders, Thomsen said.
If an email seems so important that you don’t want to delete it, consider saving it as a PDF file, and filing it away on your computer or server, he said.
Thomsen recognizes getting rid of files, emails, and apps isn’t always easy for the business professional.
However, he noted that taking the proper steps to clean a computer will extend its life and allow CPAs to operate more efficiently.
“Computers are like cars—as long as you maintain them and clean them and give them their service, they should last quite a while,” Thomsen said.
Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this story, email associate editor Courtney Vien.
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