Optimize Your Online Time

There are numerous guides to organizing and systematizing your social media activity online. “How to Maintain a Killer Social Plan in Only Five Minutes a Day” might be a typical title. While I would not immediately swear to the validity of some of the claims these articles make – I think that it takes a wee bit more of an investment to carry out a legitimate strategy – I certainly agree that having a planned, structured way of going about your online business will save you time and insure a more comprehensive approach becomes routine.

What is not often mentioned in these tutorials, however, is the importance of maintaining your interface in a way that supports efficiency and allows you to make the best use of your time. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at the keyboard to get some serious work done and finding that your computer is working sluggishly, web connections are sluggish, and you are constantly waiting for something to load so that you can move on to the next step.

Here are a few tips which, if followed consistently, should help you make the most of the time you spend in front of your monitor. I’ll warn my Apple using friends that I am a complete MS/Android user, so you may need to adapt some of this advice to your system.

Check Your Connection

The speed of your internet connection may not always be what your service provider advertises it to be. A lot of factors can go into this, including cable integrity, hardware connections, use of home wi-fi networks, and so forth. However sometimes there may be problems at the provider end, and you won’t be getting the signal you expect. These problems can be resolved with a phone call (my provider will reset your connection from their office if you call and ask) of if extreme, a service call. One way to find out what your actual connection speed is at any time is to use Speedtest, a quick online program that will show you your “Ping” rate (basically, how quickly you are connecting to the Internet backbone), download and upload speeds. If you connection speeds are quite a bit different than what you expect them to be, call your provider for assistance.

Close Programs You Aren’t Using

It sounds simple and logical, but how often are you switching tasks between your web browser, email tool, word processor, and favorite online game? When you click out of one window into another, the programs you left behind don’t just stop running, they continue to operate in the background even though you have moved on. An easy way to check what’s running on your computer at any time is to open Windows Task Manager, which you can do with the CTL-ALT-DEL key shortcut combination or via you Control Panel. When you see how many programs are running (and using the tabs on Task Manager, you will also see the CPU and RAM usage) you may decide to start closing those programs instead of just minimizing the windows. It can work wonders for your machine’s performance!

Clear Browsing Data

Whenever you use a browser – Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer – it stores information for later access. Cookies, visiting history, and a variety of other information may be going into your browser’s memory cache, and the more information that accumulates, the slower your browser may respond. It is good to clear unnecessary information regularly, I recommend that it be the first thing you do each time you start your browser, particularly if you have been on some extended Web sessions. For a list of links to browser cleaning instruction sets, see this helpful collection from Indiana University.

Re-evaluate plug-ins and extensions

The availability of a wide variety of plugins and extensions for your web browser can truly optimize your online experience. I wouldn’t want to live without my Pocket and Evernote buttons (for short and long term savings of valuable web sites), and I have a few friends who would wear the “P” off of their Pinterest icon if it were physical and not virtual! However helpful they are, every extension or plug-in that you add to your web browser extracts a price in terms of performance. So, use plugins and add valuable extensions, but periodically (monthly at least) review what you have added on. If you aren’t using a feature any more – or rarely – uninstall it and reap the benefit of better performance.

Install updates

I know, Installing Windows Updates and Security Patches can be a real pain – it always takes longer than we think it should. There are some very good reasons why you should regularly update your system though, including protections against malicious people whose main function in life seems to be to find and exploit weaknesses in the operating system code. The frequent patches that are delivered to us are often a response to such attacks. Updates also address general fixes and bugs in the Windows OS, and deliver new features that are being developed all of the time.

If you do not often take your computer with you when you leave the house, you are probably safe to allow automatic updating, which will result in updates being downloaded and installed as they are made available. If you need to restart your computer to activate a change, you will be given the option to do so. You can also turn off automatic updating, which gives you more control but also creates a responsibility on your part to check for updates from time to time (weekly is good!) and install those  you want to activate. For more instructions, see the Windows help site.

Use Disk Cleanup

The Cleanup tool is already installed on your computer if you are using a Microsoft OS, now you just have to use it from time to time. It will find temporary files and others that are no longer in use, empty your recycle bin, and perform other services designed to reduce the clutter on your computer. Follow these simple instructions to use the Disk Cleanup utility, and perform this task once per week or more frequently.

Use an optimization program

In my experience, there is no better thing to do for your computer than to run an optimization program every week or so. I don’t like spending that much time “under the hood” so the convenience of a one stop solution is very appealing to me. The program I use, AdvancedSystemCare, even provides a little desktop icon that uses “smiley faces” to tip me off when it’s time to start a session. ASC – the free version – will give you basic protection from security threats, support system optimization, maximize your hard drive performance, and block most malware. The professional version, which costs (but not much) adds features like registry cleaning, privacy sweep, and even recommendation and completion of disk defragmentation if needed. ASC is not the only tool out there, but it’s a good one. Other choices include Norton Security, CCleaner, and System Mechanic.

These practical solutions to optimizing your computer’s performance, when combined with strategy, scheduling, and efficient Social Media practices, should insure that you make the most of your time online, and reap the greatest rewards!