It is never fun to sit and watch your computer perform maintenance tasks, like clearing deleted files from your hard drive or backing up data, while you're trying to get some work done. Windows includes a useful utility that can schedule these tasks to be performed during a time when the computer is normally sitting idle.
This utility is called the Task Scheduler, and you can set it to run any program or script at a predetermined date and time or whenever the computer is started.
Perhaps the ultimate way to use the Task Scheduler is to write custom batch files that include a specific set of commands and parameters to be executed. You can then set the saved batch file up as a scheduled task.
The Task Scheduler is accessed from the Start menu by clicking Start All Programs Accessories System Tools Scheduled Tasks. This command actually just opens a folder where the scheduled tasks are stored. Each task has a different icon and name and you can right-click each to access commands for the selected task.
You can also access the Scheduled Tasks folder from the Control Panel.
The first step in using the Task Scheduler is to create a task, which is accomplished with the Scheduled Task Wizard.
The Task Scheduler is general enough to be used for just about any type of task, but some of the more common tasks to consider scheduling are maintenance tasks that help to keep your computer running at its best speed. You may want to consider using the Task Scheduler to automate the following tasks:
Loading programs at startup: If you choose to turn off your computer every night, then scheduling Windows to automatically start specific applications that you'd load anyway adds some time to the boot-up cycle but gives you a jump on the day.
Backing up your data: One of the best uses of the Task Scheduler is to back up your critical data files daily.
Running Disk Check and Disk Cleanup: Setting the Disk Check and Disk Cleanup applications to run frequently helps check your hard drives for problems and clears out files that can bog down your system. However, this clears out your Recycle Bin, which permanently removes any files you accidentally deleted.
Defragmenting your hard drives: Scheduling to run the disk defragmenter once a month is a good idea for keeping your hard drive responding quickly. If you're not installing a lot of software, then this can be scaled back to every three months.
Updating and running virus checkers: If you have a virus checker installed, you can schedule it to update its virus data file and to scan your entire system for viruses once a week.
Properly shutting down your system: Using the Shutdown.exe program in the Windows/System 32 directory, you can create a task that automatically logs out the current user, or you could use the shutdown.exe -s command to shut down your computer at the end of the day.
You can learn more about the Disk Defragmenter, Disk Check, Disk Cleanup, and Back-up utilities in Chapter 49. Antivirus software is covered in Chapter 32.