The fewer menial tasks you do, the more time you'll have to do real work. Even with a computer at your disposal, it's amazing how much of your time can be eaten up with repetitive, time-wasting tasks that are better left to the computer itself.
In this article, I outline five common categories of tasks that are best left to an automated process that doesn't take very long to set up. With a little work now, you can save yourself a lot more work later on.
1. Software upgrades. I am not just referring to software upgrades for Windows itself, but for all the third-party programs you have in your system. Aside from setting up Windows to keep itself upgraded -- and there are a number of things there that aren't that straightforward -- you can also find ways to keep other commonly used applications up to date. If you're responsible for more than one desktop, a Software Update Services setup might come in handy.
2. Garbage collection. There are dozens of places on a computer where garbage accumulates in temporary file directories, object caches and unused event logs. Rather than mop it all up by hand, leave it to an application designed to do that and nothing else -- and to do it intelligently, so the important things aren't accidentally taken out with the trash.
3. Remote folder synchronization. Usually this task involves keeping synchronicity between a folder hierarchy on your computer and something uploaded to a remote server somewhere. Many tools exist to do this, with widely varying capacities for specific purposes, whether on local drives or network-shared folders.
4. Archiving and backup. The sheer size of most hard drives may seem to make archiving pointless, but it hasn't obviated backing up. And the sheer size of most hard drives means that the best process is to back up to another hard drive of the same size or greater. If that's the case, why not arrange things so that backups are created automatically and silently, without user intervention?
5. Anything that involves an automator or a macro solution. Since this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the possible tasks, the last item listed here involves learning how to create automated solutions for just about anything else you can think of. There's a surprisingly large number of task-automation tools available for Windows -- from Windows' own Windows Scripting Host to third-party event-driven script solutions like Wilson WindowWare Inc.'s WinBatch.
Serdar Yegulalp wrote for Windows Magazine from 1994 through 2001, covering a wide range of technology topics. He now plies his expertise in Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP as publisher of The Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter and writes technology columns for TechTarget.