Photo by secumem

PC World and put out an article today about bad technology habits and how to fix them fast. It was an interesting, entertaining read. For starters, the article isn’t talking about the sort of high-end mistakes that come up even among tech-savvy businesses; no, these are the kinds of mistakes that rank up there with using the CD-ROM tray as a cup holder, or writing one’s network password on a sticky note and then attaching it to the monitor in plain view of everyone. If this sounds a little bit like anyone you work with (or maybe even yourself), keep reading.

All businesses, large and small, have employees who are guilty of at least a few of the bad habits listed in the article. Most of us weren’t born with laptops in our bassinets, after all. The good news is that the article contains advice for breaking those damaging habits and preventing disaster. I pulled eight of what I considered to be the most common bad habits (in my experience, at least) from the article and paraphrased them here, so read on to find out how to change your ways and avoid major tech problems down the line.

1. Not backing up the data on your computer – Look at the computer to the left of you. Now look at the one to the right. Now look at your own computer. ALL of these computers will eventually crash, and the data on them will be lost. Yet many people choose not to back up their data on a separate drive. These people know full well that they should back up their files, but they just don’t. If you’re one of those people, BACK UP YOUR FILES. Storage space is cheap these days, and there’s no reason not to store your valuable photos, videos, documents, spreadsheets and other data in a secure location away from your main computer. Use a portable hard drive, or use an online backup service (there are several) to safely store your files.

While we’re on the subject, don’t store your backup drive near your regular computer or laptop. Keep it safely elsewhere so that, if a catastrophe strikes the main computer (leaky ceiling, computer thief, toddler with an ice cream cone, etc.), the backup will most likely avoid the same fate.

2. Giving spammers the validation they seek – Sick of spam email? Most of us are. But the spammers make money doing it, otherwise they wouldn’t bother. So how do they make their money? They cash in when people click the links in the spam emails, reply to the spammers directly, or even click the “remove me” links that claim to, well, remove the user from the mailing list. The “remove me” link might work if the email is from an above-board, recognized company with a trusted brand, but for the most part, those “remove me” links are just another way that spammers can verify that someone is getting the email. So how should you deal with spam? Check your email system to see what spam guards are in place, monitor the strength of your spam filters, and above all, ignore and delete any spam emails you get. Don’t open them, don’t reply to them, and don’t click on anything in them.

3. Insisting on putting that printer to use – I encountered this a lot when I worked at a large nonprofit organization. Some people insist on printing out everything: Word documents, emails, memos, Excel spreadsheets, etc. These people usually keep drawers full of file folders stuffed with hard copies of documents that can just as easily stay on the computer (and in back-up form) forever. Stop killing trees and using up the printer toner. Don’t print every last thing “for your records.” Make use of your digital records, organize your computer files, and save things in PDF format if you must. Use a digital signature for forms that require one, instead of printing them out and hand-signing them. It’s the paperless age, so go paperless and let the printer rest.

4. Never deleting or organizing a single email – I’ve been guilty of this one more than once. I hesitate to delete emails, thinking I’ll need the info in them later, and I keep putting off organizing them. So what I get is an inbox with several thousand emails, all in the order they were received, and if I need to find a particular message, I have to wade through the morass and hope the one I need turns up. If you’re like me, take advantage of the folders and subcategories that your email system provides for you. Organize emails into categories where they can be easily accessed when you need them. And of course, delete those you don’t need. How can you tell whether you need them? It might take some time, but go back through the many messages piling up and cut the ones that turned out to not be as important as you thought they were at the time. I guarantee that, more than once during the process, you’ll ask yourself, “Why did I keep this one again??”

Along these same lines is the need for a throwaway email address. Be sure that you have an email account at Yahoo, Gmail or one of the other free web mail providers so that you can use that address when signing up for newsletters, entering contests or contacting new people online (think dating sites or chat forums). Having a “disposable” email address means extra security and privacy for you (do you really want emails from “Prettyblonde52” going to your work account?), and you don’t have to bother checking it all that often.

5. Using the same (obvious) password for everything – It’s definitely easier to remember your password when you use the same one all the time, and when it’s related to something easy for you (like your pet’s name). The problem is, this is also far less secure than you should be. If your password gets out through a single leak at one of the many places you use it, criminals will have instant access to everything you do online. Instead, use a few different passwords and keep them fairly complex. Do NOT use words like “password,” “secret,” or any variation of those (I’m talking about you, person-who-thinks-the-word-“p@ssw0rd”-is-secure).

6. Forgetting to lock your smartphone – Many of us use smartphones these days (I don’t, but that’s only because I’ve been clinging to my old technology for far too long). The problem is, when you don’t lock your smartphone with a PIN, you leave it vulnerable in the event a thief were to find it or take it from you. Those who get their mitts on stolen phones tend to make lots of international and pay-by-the-minute calls, and then they take whatever data they find on the phone so they can spam the owner or steal his or her identity. Something as simple as requiring a PIN to get into the phone can make all the difference if it winds up stolen.

7. Using Wikipedia as a credible source – Wikipedia works by letting just about anyone edit the content. Most of the time, that means solid, supported articles laced with good citations, but some of the time, that means articles that are even less truthful than the Weekly World News. When you use Wikipedia as a source, you’re rolling the dice on the quality of the content. Instead of simply saying “I got my info from Wikipedia,” scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia article and look for the citations used by the people who wrote and edited the article in the first place. Click those links to find the original sources of the information, and once you’ve verified the facts you need, use THOSE sources as your own, not the Wikipedia article.

8. Abusing your laptop – Some people seem to think that having a portable computer means being able to drag it anywhere, at any time, without repercussions. Alas, not so much. Laptops can overheat, crash and die from misuse, or get stolen by opportunistic thieves. Some examples of abuse include taking a running laptop on a subway, train or long walk (the laptop is far more likely to crash if it’s spinning on the go); leaving a running laptop on a bed or couch (the soft surfaces can block the ventilation ports on the bottom of the laptop, causing overheating); shoving a running laptop into a messenger bag or briefcase (again, the overheating issue); or leaving a laptop in the car (thieves are often on the lookout for laptops in the front seats or trunks of cars). Simply put, don’t do any of these things if you want your laptop to last.