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One of the biggest productivity drains in my life seems to be unreliable technology. I really do see the potential for technology to simplify and streamline my productivity, and am a keen user of all sorts of fantastic tools. But... I seem to spend far too much time dealing with stupid, niggling computer problems that get in the way of real work. I'm talking about silly but annoying things like dropped connections, hardware glitches, random slow-downs, corrupted data, reboots... As an IT guy, I am generally capable of dealing with the issues as they arise, but really do have better things to be doing outside of my job.

What are some good ways to avoid these problems? Are there any general approaches to minimise the amount of grief I get from poor technology?

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You are not talking about silly things like dropped connections, hardware problems, slow-downs, reboots? So what kind of IT problems are you talking about then? – Gruber Jun 20 '13 at 8:51
That should have read, "I AM talking about...". I've edited the question. – Kramii Jun 20 '13 at 9:03
Is see two ways out: 1) minimize the issues - can you have someone else handle them) 2) deal with the 'grief' i.e. see if you can diminish the impact it seems to have on you. – Jan Doggen Jun 20 '13 at 9:47
Is there such a thing as reliable technology? :) – Juha Untinen Dec 23 '13 at 13:35
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Answering this question from the perspective of productivity.

As you are an IT guy, you would be familiar with the technologies that you use and the ones that give you problems on a regular basis. Instead of complaining and letting problems slow you down, you should tackle them head on.

Even though problems may appear to be random, it has been observed that only 10% of the total maintenance activities required by computer systems are actually unpredictable and un-avoidable. So, even in your case, 90% of the time that you waste on working through these random issues can be mitigated by pre-planned regular maintenance activities on your system.

You should try to incorporate the basic maintenance activities into your weekly schedule and then follow the schedule rigorously. These can be through half-hour to one-hour sessions. Also, you could just run some of these scans during your normal workday when the workload is low, or during lunch sessions. The more preventive maintenance you perform, the lesser chances of random problems and downtime.

dropped connections, hardware glitches, random slow-downs, corrupted data, reboots

Some solutions :

  • Defragment every two weeks
  • Quick virus scans weekly and complete scans monthly
  • HDD health checks every two weeks, or a month depending on usage pattern
  • Monitor temperature and make sure it stays in the safe region
  • Try to find the source of connection drops. If it is at your end, then it's fixable.

This is just a nudge in the right direction. There are of course many other solutions to be tried out.

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+1 for preventative maintenance tips. – Kramii Jun 21 '13 at 8:20
Out of curiosity - what software should I use for HDD health checks? – JFW Jul 7 '13 at 9:14
@JFW I dont have any favorites. Just do a google search, you will get plenty of options. I personally dont do HDD health checks until they start giving me problems, which thankfully, hasn't happened in a while. – AsheeshR Jul 7 '13 at 10:22

How to fix computer problems is outside the scope of this site. There are more technical SE sites for that. Dealing with the outages is relevant though.

In my to do list, I have a "context" column. (Motivated by getting things done.) Some work is labeled "cube" or "phone" so I can jump to it when there is an unplanned reboot.

Also, do your coworkers have the same problems? If not, what is special about your computer/situation?

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I'm not asking how to fix computer problems - I'm really quite strong technically, and can typically solve them myself (+Google). What I'm interested in ways to avoid them in the first place. Many of the issues I face are with my personal equipment, rather than at work where there are large teams of people whose job it is "to keep the wheels turning". But yes, my colleges do experience similar frustrations. – Kramii Jun 21 '13 at 6:24
Avoiding them is a technical question - which is off topic here, as Jeanne pointed out. Minimising your pain and grief by maximising your productivity in the down time is on topic. – Rory Alsop Jun 21 '13 at 11:10
@RoryAlsop: I was looking for answers like "buy products with a reputation for reliability" and "undertake regular maintenance". I've added my own answer to this effect, but was hoping for more like this. (I do agree that making good use of down-time is important, however). – Kramii Jul 2 '13 at 10:51

Some of the steps I'm taking to minimise problems include:

  • Using products with a reputation for reliability, even if I have to pay a little extra (particularly important for components that store data, e.g. memory cards)
  • Using products that are supplied by a company that has a reputation for offering good support
  • Choosing tools that have an established, active community of users, so I can get help when I need it (e.g. most Microsoft products)
  • Paying a little more for guarantees and support contracts so that I can get things fixed when they need to be fixed
  • Undertaking regular maintenance activities
  • Making sure I have a backup of my data - in a common format
  • Avoiding relying on a single company for all my products
  • Avoid relying on single products.
  • Using the same products as my wife, so if one fails we can temporarily share tools
  • Using fewer products so I can get to know them well
  • Keeping things as simple as possible - complex solutions have more "moving parts" that can fail. e.g. (1) wired connections are often more reliable than wireless. (2) sometimes pen and paper beats digital.
  • Using solutions that have both a web-based version and a local version so that I can still get at my data if one or the other is becomes unavailable (e.g. Evernote)
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The question is very important. Electronic technology is much less reliable and predictable when compared to the "paper technologies". We lose time and focus, and gain stress and distractions.

I want to add three directions that I have followed and have lead to more stable and reliable e-life:

Hardware side: use single-purpose devices to do certain operations. Examples:

  • (Dedicated) voice recorder, designed and optimized in every way for one task, and it does it so reliably and in a fully predictable way. There are lots of good brands especially those that specialize in this domain e.g. Sony and Optimus. I haven't had any single error or need to reset since I started using them in 2010.
  • eReaders that uses eInk e.g. Kindle, Sony eReader, Kobo, PocketBook etc. They have much simpler and basic OS than tablets, and therefore more reliable and predictable. For more details you can read my answer for another question.
  • Media players

Software side: adopt the Unix philosophy "integrate lots of small programs that do their jobs well instead of using one big program to do all your job" (my paraphrase of the relevant part).

Always have at least two programs that does a similar task e.g. two editors, two web browsers etc. When one fails, more to the other. This requires that your data format is open and interoperable e.g. .txt, .xml, .doc instead of proprietary formats.

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What operating system are you running? Have you considered using a Mac instead of Linux or Windows? Some people say Mac users experience fewer problems of the kind you describe.

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+1 for suggesting choosing technologies with a reputation for reliability (whatever the merits of your specific example). – Kramii Jun 21 '13 at 8:20

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