Fix Computer Problems with This Fast, Simple Trick

Don’t be a victim of your computer’s whimsical crashes. Using a maintenance log can keep you from repeating the same mistakes over and over.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #387

It’s a fine day at Bernice’s plant shop, Green Growing Things. The holiday season is upon us, and even the Audrey IIs seem to be in good cheer. Business is brisk, and customers are lined up waiting to buy foliage to sacrifice to their holidays, in a manner dependent upon their particular religion. And then … the cashier screams. “HELP! The ‘enter’ key isn’t working! I can’t ring up any sales!!!” The new computerized cash register has gone wild. Is this the end for Green Growing Things? Melvin, the IT super-genius, leaps into action from the back room, but is he fast enough … ?

We buy technology to make life simpler. And so it does. Until the moment it does something unexpected. We know that we only addressed the email to our best friend Randy, so why in the world did those “art pictures” end up going to everyone in the company directory? The technology companies assume it’s all “human error,” but that’s hardly true. Sometimes it’s human error, often it’s a bug, or it can be a configuration issue—you just don’t know.

Computers are so flexible and amazing that they can break in a thousand different ways, over and over. What started as the machine working for us quickly becomes us struggling with the machine. The biggest insult, however, is that the same problems happen over and over … just far enough apart in time that the second time they happen, we kind of remember having that problem before, but we’re not quite sure.

Keep a Computer Maintenance Log

But never fear! You can be rescued from your electronic bondage with something as simple as a notebook and pen. Start keeping a maintenance log, and track all the problems your computer encounters, everything you try to fix the problem, and which attempts succeeded and which failed.

Yes, computers are complicated … and that’s a good thing. If they weren’t so complex, we couldn’t make them sentient and have them secretly take over the world and make us into their unwitting meat slaves. Your maintenance log will be your defense.

Grab a Paper Notebook

Get yourself a dedicated paper notebook to use as your maintenance log. I use a Moleskine full size journal, with a delightful yellow cover. Don’t put it online or in a file, because, duh, when you’re having computer problems or network problems, your files and internet accounts aren’t necessarily accessible. I learned this the hard way. Your log goes on paper!

When something on your computer starts acting up, write down the date and the symptom in your maintenance log: “Netflix stops movie halfway through, with error code 5.”

Then with each thing you try to fix it, jot down what the thing was. If you first reboot the computer, write, “Rebooted computer.” Then write down what happened. “Netflix not fixed. Still shows error code 5.” I like to put a red X next to things that didn’t work, so when I refer back to the log at some future date, I know what not to try first.

For each thing you try, write it down and write down the result: “Reinstalled Microsoft Silverlight. Netflix working again.” Add a green checkmark.

If the idea for what you did came from a website you Googled, or a support forum, or a phone technician, note that too: “Dell telephone support person told me to hit disk drive with a hammer to knock out the bits that are clogging the drive. Disk drive exploded in shower of sparks.” That way, not only do you know which sources to trust in the future, but in the event you get really, really stupid advice, your log might become good evidence.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.