A desktop computer monitor and keyboard on a wooden desk in a home office.
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re under self-quarantine or government-mandated isolation, it’s a great time to catch up on any goals you haven’t had time to pursue. Or, you could just take care of your PC.

Organize Your Files

The "Quick Access" window in File Explorer on Windows 10.

Getting all your files organized is a great project to take care of when you have extra time. After years of using a PC, most people end up with documents, photos, and video files on multiple storage devices. They might be scattered across old laptops, desktops, and a slew of external hard drives.

Now’s a good time to centralize everything on a desktop PC, a heavy-duty external hard drive with lots of capacity, or even a network-attached storage (NAS) box.

To get started, you’ll have to get all those files off your external hard drives or old devices, and onto a central repository (PC, NAS, or high-capacity external HD). If Windows warns you that you already have a certain file on the computer, just throw it on there anyway as a duplicate. It might be an older (or newer) version with information you want to keep.

Sure, you might end up with a mess of duplicate files, like MyBookReport, MyBookReport(2), and so on, but that’s fine for now. The point is to get everything in one place—you can organize it later.

Once all of your files are in once place, consider how you want to organize them. After that’s done, it’s time to find and remove duplicate files.

After you remove all duplicates and have stored those you want to keep, it’s time to erase all those hard drives. This might be a bridge too far for some, but it’s less likely to cause confusion in the future. You should consider backing up your data first, however.

You might want to organize your messy Windows desktop while you’re at it!

RELATED: How To Organize Your Messy Windows Desktop (And Keep It That Way)

Implement a Backup Strategy

Windows 10 "Backup" menu.

After you spend all that time organizing your files, it’d be horrible to lose all your hard work! That’s why it’s a good idea to have a solid backup plan. An ideal backup plan stores copies of your data in three locations: your PC, a local device, and offsite.

This might seem like overkill, but (well organized) redundancy is the whole point. A NAS or external hard drive is the easiest way to create local backups because you can use Windows 10’s File History feature. To create an offsite backup, you can use a cloud backup service, like Backblaze or Carbonite.

If a cloud service isn’t for you, you can use another external hard drive and keep it elsewhere, such as in a desk drawer at work, or at a relative’s house. The problem with this approach is you have to continually bring in the offsite backup to save any new files to both external drives. An online service makes this task much easier—plus, you can encrypt online backups to further protect your files.

If you encrypt, though, you’re responsible for remembering the encryption password. If you lose it, you also lose access to your files.

RELATED: What's the Best Way to Back Up My Computer?

Set Up a Password Manager

Handwritten passwords on a sheet of paper.
designer491/Shutterstock

Passwords are a pain, which is why so many people use the same two or three for all their accounts. Unfortunately, that’s a terrible approach. If a hacker ever figures out one of those passwords, the rest of your accounts are sitting ducks for infiltration.

However, creating unique passwords for every site and keeping them straight requires either crazy dedication or a password manager. And we’re not talking about the one in your web browser.

A password manager is a multidevice-dedicated program that saves your passwords, logs you in (or fills in your account details) automatically, and generates new passwords when necessary. You can also use a password manager to store secure notes, Wi-Fi passwords, banking details, and more.

For additional security, you might want to consider a hardware authentication device, like a YubiKey. Because these require two-factor authentication, they’re an excellent option to protect online accounts.

RELATED: The 4 Best Password Managers of 2020

Dust and Clean Inside Your PC

A hand holding a can of air over an open desktop computer tower.
Patrick Bisch

PCs can “choke” if they accumulate too much dust inside. Desk- and laptop computers rely on free-flowing air to bring cool air inside and expel the hot stuff. When too much dust sticks to the fan blades, cables, case innards, or components, the air can’t move. When left like this, a PC can’t cool properly. This can degrade your computer’s performance or—in extreme cases—damage its components.

How often you should clean your PC depends on how dusty it gets in your neck of the woods. If you live in a hot, dusty climate, you’ll need to clean your PC more often than someone who lives in a location where it rains half the year.

To properly clean your PC, you’ll need a few supplies, including a can of compressed air, a screwdriver to open the case, and a microfiber cloth. This is also an excellent opportunity to improve the cable situation. Grab some zip or twist ties and rearrange those cables so they’re out of the way.

You can follow our step-by-step instructions to thoroughly clean your desktop. If you have a MacBook or another laptop, you can use compressed air to get the dust out of those, too.

RELATED: How To Thoroughly Clean Your Dirty Desktop Computer

Clean Your Keyboard and Mouse

Health officials keep telling us to wash our hands regularly and keep surfaces clean to avoid the coronavirus. Besides your phone, there’s no better place for germs to fester in your home than on a keyboard and mouse.

You can simply wipe a mouse with a disinfecting wipe to clean it. We don’t recommend you use bleach, as that could damage it. Basically, anything you can use to disinfect your smartphone shouldn’t damage your mouse or keyboard.

You can follow our directions to thoroughly clean your keyboard. If you have a mechanical one, it’s easy enough to remove the keys for a thorough cleaning. It’s a pain to remove and replace membrane keys, though. It’s probably better to just shake loose everything you can (or replace it with a mechanical model).

RELATED: How to Thoroughly Clean Your Keyboard (Without Breaking Anything)

More Ideas

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you get things more organized (or cleaner) as you while away the hours at home.

Here are some other things you can do:

The suggestions we covered above can improve your work-from-home computing experience. Plus, when things return to normal, you’ll have a much better PC setup, a well-organized file structure, better security, and clean hardware.

Ian Paul Ian Paul
Ian Paul is a freelance writer with over a decade of experiencing writing about tech. In addition to writing for How-To Geek, he regularly contributes to PCWorld as a critic, feature writer, reporter, deal hunter, and columnist. His work has also appeared online at The Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Reuters, Macworld, Yahoo Tech, Tech.co, TechHive, The Huffington Post, and Lifewire. His articles are regularly syndicated across numerous IDG sites including CIO, Computerworld, GameStar, Macworld UK, Tech Advisor, and TechConnect.
Read Full Bio »