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How many things that you do are actually things you do repeatedly? I’m willing to guess there are quite a few.
Much of my daily activity is comprised of repeating tasks. Whether they are household, computer, or work related, the majority of my tasks on any given day are the little things that make life run smoother. If I forget, there might not be major consequences…or not.
One of the things I like to do is to automate things in my life. The less I have to think about things, the less likely it is that I will forget to do it.
Yesterday I talked about Automating My Task List. Today I will talk about using computers to automate things.
Part II: Computer Tasks
Using a computer has a price. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to stay on top of routine maintenance on the machine or risk losing a lot of information. But the upside to this is often I can make the computer do the work completely without my interference.
One of the design principles I live by is that if you can’t get the information out of a system, it does no good. Same with a personal computer, except that when you can’t get the information out, it generally means the information has vanished. So I back up. Frequently.
I use Toucan to pull things onto my USB drive. This drive goes with me just about everywhere and contains files I access daily as well as really important tools.
I learned the hard way about having my work files automatically sync with my USB: when I was laid off in 2008, I was told 15 minutes before my quitting time. In my haste to get out, I didn’t copy the folder with all my time sheets, and I needed those time sheets to make a case for unemployment. Luckily my client was willing to send that information to me, but it could have been really bad. Now I use a Windows Batch file to backup my critical work information at 2:00 every afternoon.
SyncBack is what I use to pull critical information from my computer and my husband’s computer onto one external hard drive. This is how I backup our photos and our MP3s. By having it on an external hard drive, we can get the files back in case of a hard drive failure on either of the PCs.
Mozy has been a lifesaver for me. It runs on my computer and pushes files from my computer (and external hard drive) up to secure storage. It monitors the files for changes and keeps things updated for me, without any effort on my part.
One Saturday morning last November (toward the end of NaNoWriMo), I went to my computer and realized the novel I was working on was gone. It had been deleted by accident when I cleaned out what I thought were the archives. Mozy had the copy from the day before, and I was back to writing after 15 minutes.
Many people I know are either intimidated or turn their noses up at Windows Batch files. But here’s a little known fact: just about anything you can do with a mouse and keyboard can be done using a batch file. And Batch files can be scheduled to run using Windows scheduler.
I use batch files to schedule Toucan jobs (see above), change the power settings on my computer for tasks that require “on”, and for starting and stopping services that don’t need to be sucking up resources on my computer all the time. I even have a batch file at work that will shut my computer down.
A Word About Windows Scheduler: One of the disadvantages of Windows Scheduler in XP is that it doesn’t run tasks on startup if the computer was off when the task was supposed to go. Because of that, I use Cron for Windows as my secondary scheduler for those tasks that must run.
Scheduling Within Software
Some software packages also contain built-in scheduling for tasks. Anti-virus and malware scanners are prime examples of this. I take advantage of these to remove me from the equation to have these tasks done.
But also there are other pieces of software that do this as well. Someone once questioned why I moved the blog from Blogger to WordPress. The answer to the question? WordPress allows me to schedule my posts ahead of time. (Sorry to disillusion all you out there who thought I got up at 5:00 every morning to post).
Within WordPress, I also use scheduling features to do cleanup tasks. Tweets about my posts go out automatically, spam comments are deleted automatically every day, and the database gets backed up and emailed to me daily. Without this automation, I would end up spending at least an hour a day just on blog maintenance.
How have you automated tasks on your computer? Share below.
Photo by Wanderlinse