Put Your Computer to Work While You're Away

Just because you’re not working, doesn’t mean your computer gets a break. Tech Talker explains the 5 things your computer can do while you’re away. 

Eric Escobar,
September 27, 2012
Episode #047

Put Your Computer to Work While You're Away

A Tech Talker fan recently posted this question on the Tech Talker Facebook page:

“Is there a way I can set my computer to do things when I’m not in front of it?”

The answer is most definitely yes! 

In fact, I have my computer set up to complete a number of tasks at night when there’s no chance I’ll be using it. This is a great way to utilize your computer because it can take care of many things that would normally slow it down if you were using it at the same time. But since you’re away, you can start a ton of different functions and, in the words of that famous late night infomercial, “Just set it and forget it!” 

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What Can Your Computer Do When You’re Away?

#1: Backups - The first and most important thing you can set your computer to do while you’re away is backups. I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but backing up your computer is extremely important and if you’ve ever lost any data due a crash, you know exactly what I’m talking about! By setting up scheduled backups at night or when you’re away, you ensure that you won’t be using a file that needs to be backed up, or dealing with a sluggish machine.

Windows 7 has scheduled backups built into the system, as does Apple’s OSX. Many backup programs will have what’s called incremental backup built into them. This basically means it will do one large back up initially and then only back up the files that were changed. If this is the case, I suggest setting up your large initial back up to take place when you know you’ll be away from your computer so you don’t have to deal with less than optimal performance.

#2: Antivirus scans – The next thing you should have scheduled to run in your computer while you’re away is antivirus updates and scans. As I mentioned in my previous podcast called How to Delete Computer Viruses, having up-to-date virus protection is an important step to keeping your computer malware free. But oftentimes a full virus scan can drain your computer’s resources and slow it down, which is why it is the perfect candidate for the “set it and forget it” method. Simply set it up to run a virus scan while you’re away. If you’re using Windows, then your go-to program is Microsoft Security Essentials, which has scheduling built in! If you’re running an Apple OS, I would recommend Sophos which also has a built in scheduling functionality. 

Both of these tasks are easy to implement, and once they’re set up, you’ll probably never have to touch them again.

Here are some other tasks you may want to consider running while you’re gone:

#3: Video publishing – If you’re big into videos, I don’t have to tell you that publishing a video can take hours upon hours. So if at all possible, have your videos set to convert or publish overnight. Some video editing software has video publishing purposefully scaled down so that it doesn’t impede your computer’s other systems while it processes. But if this is something you do regularly, you can greatly cut the time it takes to publish video by digging into the settings of your specific software and changing the timing. Just remember to change it back when you’re done so that all of your computer’s processing power isn’t completely used up.

#4: Content downloads – If you download a ton of online content, I would suggest having your computer set to download everything at night. This way, your downloads can work while you sleep and won’t kill your internet speeds during the day. This is helpful if you have a slow internet connection and you find yourself constantly waiting for a movie to load or buffer. Just download it at night and have the file ready to go the next day. This can easily be done on most torrenting clients such as uTorrent or Transmission.  And if you aren’t familiar with torrenting, it’s basically a way to share large files over the internet. Tune in next week when I’ll cover this topic in more detail. 

Many times when I’m been stuck on a slow connection, I set the Netflix streaming movie or YouTube video to play, and then immediately hit pause. This will download the video so you can watch it without hiccups and freezes later on. This may not be something you do regularly, but for a full length movie on a slow connection, it can save you a ton of aggravation. Just click pause, go make yourself some popcorn and a drink, and come back to a fully loaded flick.

#5: Help research – Last but not least, you can make the world a better place by donating your computer’s down time to research. I leave my computer on when I’m away in case I need a file, a secure VPN, and because it’s also a server. However, for a large portion of the day, it just sits there idle, not doing anything at all. If this is the case for you, then I suggest checking out www.worldcommunitygrid.org. They have a number of ongoing research projects that require a large deal of computer power, and when I say large, I mean on the supercomputer scale. But supercomputers cost a lot of money, and so does even renting time on one.

When you sign up, World Community Grid installs a small program that runs in the background on your computer. It detects when your computer is idle and then downloads a small chunk of data and processes it. When it’s done, it sends the data back to the central server and combines it with all the other little bits. So instead of these projects spending a ton of money on computers, they utilize their vast user base to donate their computers when they aren’t being used. Current research projects include “Computing for Sustainable Water,” “Go Fight Against Malaria,” and “Help Fight Childhood Cancer.” This is an amazing organization and I highly recommend you check it out!

So here are your 5 Quick and Dirty Tips for putting your computer to work when you’re not there:

  1. Set an automated backup to take place at least once a week.

  2. Set your antivirus to run at lunch or at the end of the day.

  3. Time your downloads to take place when you asleep or at work.

  4. Set your videos to publish overnight.  

  5. Donate your computer’s free time to projects that can make the world a better place.

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Well, that’s it for today. Be sure to check out all my posts at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page. 

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple! 

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