As a freelancer, your entire livelihood is dependent on your computer so keeping your computer in good working order is what you should put an emphasis on. Regular computer maintenance is similar to car maintenance, really.
If you do it on schedule, you are less likely to experience a breakdown that will stop you in your tracks.
Also like your car, the more you use it, the more often you need to perform maintenance.
The more heavily you rely on your computer, the more frequently it needs basic maintenance tasks performed.
What Type of Maintenance You Should Do
As a freelancer, you don’t have an IT staff whose job it is to do routine maintenance, nor can most freelancers just make a phone call when your computer goes down to have it replaced by the company.
As a result, it is vitally important to care for and maintain your own computer as a freelancer.
This means taking care of performance issues, security issues, and some good old component maintenance and cleaning.
Here are five tips to help you maintain your computer as a freelancer.
1. Protect It From Environmental Factors (and Yourself)
Chances are good you spend a good deal of time doing something at or near your computer we all know we shouldn’t but most of us do anyway: eating and drinking. And we can generally agree that work without coffee or tea is rather impossible.
But having a coffee cup near your workstation comes with an inherent risk.
Keyboards, in particular, are especially susceptible to liquids and small crumbs working their way under the keys. If you spill water or other beverages, the best-case scenario is that you need to dry your keyboard. Worst case – you’ll need a new one.
In case you work on a laptop, however, spilling anything near it can mean you’ll be needing a new machine. On a laptop, the keyboard sits on top of the delicate internal workings of your computer.
While most new laptops have a protective layer between them, it’s not impenetrable.
Smaller particles can still work their way down under the keyboard and wreak havoc with your entire system.
The solution to this?
Get a silicone cover.
Speaking of laptop protection, you may also want to invest in a good, sturdy laptop case.
Depending on just how active your lifestyle is or just how much movement you subject your laptop, you may even consider a rugged case with shock absorption or even a full pelican case.
If you use your laptop outdoors at all, they are susceptible to being infiltrated with dust, sand or any manner of debris even the slightest breeze can kick up.
A screen protector can also help keep your screen from being scratched, cracked or in other ways damaged.
The best maintenance is preventative maintenance, so protecting your computer from anything that can eventually cause problems is the best first line of defence.
2. Clean It Regularly
Clean your computer hardware with a small brush and a can of compressed air. Blow out any particles or debris before they can make their way under the keys or into the ports of your computer.
Some people tend to use vacuums too, but the opinions on that are rather divided. While some say they do it all the time, there’s a risk the vacuum will cause a static charge that can fry your components.
A can of compressed air is a safer option. In addition to just brushing or blowing away debris, you will also want to occasionally do a more thorough cleaning of your components.
Cleaning out the ports and any openings on your computer is very important because any opening creates an opportunity for dust and debris to work their way into the sensitive inner components of your computer.
For more thorough cleaning on a laptop, you can use a cotton swab dipped in a bit of rubbing alcohol.
You should never use water or other liquids to clean any type of electronic component, but rubbing alcohol evaporates almost immediately, which makes it perfect for cleaning electronics.
3. Software Maintenance Is Just as Important as Hardware Maintenance
Hardware performance issues are not the only thing that can cause system crashes. To prevent them, it is important to perform regular maintenance on both your hardware and your software.
Modern Windows systems are actually capable of performing some of their own basic maintenance functions, but some errors you will have to learn to fix on your own.
To begin with, you want to do regular updates of any software programs you use or set them to auto-update as well as clearing your browser caches regularly.
If you keep a lot of large files on your computer, you might consider investing in a small external storage drive to speed up performance and keep your system running smoothly, or you can even opt for keeping such files in cloud storage too.
In addition, every program that you have running will eat into your system’s performance capabilities, so take some time to regularly shut down all the programs you aren’t currently using.
If there are programs you don’t use at all, you should completely uninstall them to free up drive space and increase performance.
Last but not least, it is important to shut your computer down every night. Every time you restart your computer, it runs vital diagnostics that help keep it running its best.
4. Don’t Skip on Cybersecurity
From viruses to worms to other types of malware, including ransomware, your entire system could be at risk without regular security maintenance.
Another reason it is important to update your software regularly is that those updates often contain security patches for any vulnerabilities that may have been discovered since the last update.
Every time a software company releases an update, it creates the potential for security breaches thanks to new vulnerabilities.
When these vulnerabilities are discovered, the software company will immediately start working on a patch, which is why new updates are often released just days or hours after the last update was.
It may sometimes feel like you do nothing but update software but it is vital to the security of your computer.
You also want to invest in good anti-virus and anti-malware software and make sure you have a good firewall. (Read more on what is a firewall here).
Just having the software, however, doesn’t do you much good unless you allow it to run scans regularly.
This is another reason it is a good idea to shut your computer down every night. You can set your virus and malware scanning software to run a scan first every time you shut your computer down.
That way, you know it is happening every day but it won’t try to run a scan right when you are in the middle of an important video conference.
While it can be tempting to use public WiFi when you are out and about, it isn’t generally a good idea. If you do need to use public WiFi, you might consider investing in a good VPN service.
There will always come a time when a newer and better computer comes out of the market. And as a freelancer, you will want to stay up-to-date and have the latest gadgets to help you be more productive and produce better outputs for work. But what happens to your previous device when that time comes? You’ll have to retire it, but that’s only if you want to.
If you’ve decided to retire and dispose of your device, you may want to think twice before tossing it in the garbage or selling it to anyone. Cybersecurity and keeping your information protected doesn’t end when you stop using your device or when you’re about to dispose of it. To guarantee that your device lands in the hands of people who will not extract and exploit any information you might have left, take your device to legitimate IT professionals for refurbishing.
5. Try Refreshing Your System
Every time you update a software program some trace of the old program is still stored somewhere on your computer. Not only does this eat up valuable storage space, but it can cause serious performance issues over time.
Even when you do a complete uninstall of certain programs, they will still often leave certain files behind – these are usually registry entries.
Doing a complete factory reset of your computer is not as complex as it was before.
Windows 10, for instance, now has the option to do a complete reset but keeps your data intact. This is called a system refresh, and it works like a charm, really.
Why is a refresh needed?
Over time, files, caches, and histories slowly build up and in some cases even start to work at cross- purposes to each other.
Your computer may seem old and sluggish and may make you feel it is time for an upgrade.
Instead, it may just need a complete and thorough cleaning.
If you feel it might be time for an upgrade, instead of shelling out several hundred to a few thousand dollars for a new system, try doing a refresh instead. You might be surprised at just how well your entire system suddenly performs.
Computer care and maintenance are important for everyone but crucial for freelancers and anyone working from home. Thankfully, computer care and maintenance don’t have to take a great deal of time, it just has to be done regularly.
In many cases, it can be as simple as shutting down your computer each night or taking a few minutes to close a few unused programs.
Every few months, you might want to invest a few hours in checking up on all installed programs and removing the ones you’re not using anymore.
Preventative care may save you hundreds of dollars in repairs or dozens of hours of lost time or work product.