Is your computer ready for 2024? Take these 18 essential steps to ensure you’re prepared for next year

Year-end provides a natural opportunity to catch up on neglected tasks. Offices tend to be quiet, and daily professional demands typically temporarily lessen, freeing time to address overdue chores. If, like many, your work computer hasn’t received attention even though the system powers important daily activities, use the occasion to show your business PC (or Mac) some love. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today,” so take these steps now to prepare for next year. 

Back Up Your Data

Begin by backing up your data. Computers and hard disks fail. We know that for sure. So back up all the important data on your computer to another source. 

Whether using an external hard drive, corporate network or cloud service, ensure essential documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos and other files are safely stored in a secure second location. If you’re unsure what to back up, make a copy of your entire system. Windows includes an integrated app you can use to back up important files to the cloud using OneDrive. 

So, too, can Mac users back up important files using Time Machine and iCloud, as well as OneDrive. Reasonably priced backup services are available to both Windows and Mac users, too. Such solutions include Box, Carbonite and CrashPlan. 

Perform a Hardware Health Check

Once you’ve confirmed your computer’s important files are safely backed up, which is always a priority whenever performing maintenance or repairs on a neglected system, check the computer’s physical health. Quickly reviewing a few key items can confirm you’re ready to proceed with other tasks or whether you must first potentially address a more urgent problem. 

Windows 10 and 11 users can employ Microsoft’s free PC Health Check app. The tool assists confirming a PC’s battery, disk, startup routine and update status and can even assist backing up important files to OneDrive and confirming Windows 10 PCs can accommodate a Windows 11 upgrade. 

Mac users can run Apple Diagnostics, formerly Apple Hardware Test, to check their system for hardware-based problems. Using an Apple silicon-powered Mac, you can press and hold the power button until the computer displays Startup Options, upon which you can press and hold the Command+D keys simultaneously to start the diagnostic routine. Those still operating Intel-powered Macs can start the diagnostics by immediately pressing and holding the D key (or Option+D keys, depending upon the specific model) while the Mac starts up. When finished, Apple Diagnostics will alert you to any existing hardware issues. 

Perform a Thorough Malware Scan

Whether you use a PC or Mac, don’t assume your computer is free of spyware and viruses. Run a complete scan to confirm malware isn’t lurking in the background. 

Windows users with even a Microsoft 365 Personal subscription can install and run Microsoft Defender. The artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cybersecurity solution’s Defender for Business version is also included within many Microsoft 365 business subscriptions or can be licensed separately for just $3 per user per month. 

Mac users can choose from several robust antimalware platforms. BitDefender Premium Security for Mac, Intego Mac Premium Bundle X9 and Norton 360 Deluxe are three such options commonly named as best for Macs. 

 After running a complete scan, be sure to follow the antimalware’s recommendations removing any problematic files. Should the antimalware platform find infections, it’s generally recommended you perform a second comprehensive scan to ensure the system ultimately returns clean results. 

Clear Browser Data

Web browser detritus—cached webpages, cookies and temporary files—often accumulates to consume surprisingly vast amounts of disk space. While clearing browser data may require logging back in to websites requiring authentication, clearing the corresponding cache remains the recommendation. 

While potentially an unpopular opinion, you probably shouldn’t be saving usernames and passwords (or credit card numbers) within web browsers, anyway. The habit could cause trouble. Should the system become compromised, including simply by visiting a malware-infected website, malicious users could obtain your web browser’s cached information and subsequently steal your identity. 

 If you’re like most Windows and Mac users, you likely use a variety of web browsers. That said, the steps for clearing cookies and cached information are typically straightforward. Just click on the browser’s settings, look for a Privacy or Security option and select the managed website data or clear browsing data option, as those are the steps when using Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, among others. 

Remove Unused Applications

A problem common for many, software programs are often downloaded and used once or twice then never again. Over the course of a year those applications can consume significant disk space. Worse, these unused applications sometimes load at startup and rob your computer of valuable processor and memory resources, thereby slowing the system’s performance. 

Uninstall unneeded programs to free space. Removing unnecessary apps also helps speed up your computer. 

Windows 11 users can review and uninstall apps by clicking Start, choosing Settings, clicking Apps and then selecting Apps & Features from the left-side menu. Just click a respective app’s Uninstall button to remove it. 

One way Mac users can uninstall programs is by opening Finder, selecting the Applications folder and right clicking the app to be removed and selecting Move To Trash. Many third-party utilities, such as Pocket Bits’ App Uninstaller, present another method that also helps ensure all an apps’ corresponding files and libraries are removed when uninstalling a program, a step that might not occur when simply deleting a program directly from within the Applications folder. 

Clean the hard disk

Your computer’s hard disk accumulates clutter throughout a typical year. This clutter is in addition to unnecessary programs and web browser junk. File fragments, other cached data, system and application updates, temporary files, software installation programs and other unneeded junk should be regularly cleared to free space. 

The problem is so widespread Microsoft includes the Disk Cleanup app in Windows to assist. Run the program by entering disk cleanup within the taskbar’s search box and selecting Disk Cleanup from the results. Highlight the respective drive and click OK. Specify the files to be deleted, then click OK again. Windows users can also clean system files. The Disk Cleanup app helps with that task, too. With Disk Cleaner open, click Clean Up System Files, specify the files to eliminate and then click OK. 

Possibly because macOS tends to perform more efficient file and system operations, Apple includes no directly equivalent Disk Cleanup app within macOS. That said, Macs include several built-in options to assist managing storage, applications, documents and other common elements. To access these options, open System Settings, select General and click the Storage entry. Alternatively, Mac users can run a third-party to assist cleanup operations, such as MacPaw’s CleanMyMac or Piriform’s CCleaner for Mac. 

Suspend Items that load unnecessarily at startup

Many users install a software program they believe they will be using regularly only to find they rarely, if ever, require the application. Yet, many programs load automatically at startup, thereby robbing a system of resources just as unnecessary applications do. If you’re not sure you can safely remove such programs, at least block them from loading automatically whenever you start your computer. 

Windows users can disable apps from automatically starting by going to Settings, selecting Apps and clicking Startup to view programs that start whenever the computer is turned on or restarted. Just click an app’s respective radio button to change its status from On to Off for those you wish to disable. 

Mac users should perform the same task. Disable macOS apps from automatically loading at startup by opening System Settings, selecting General and clicking Login Items. Simply clicking the provided radio buttons, as with Windows, enables disabling the respective app from automatically loading when the Mac starts. 

Organize files and folders

Chances are, as you became busy during different professional seasons throughout the year, you stored documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, images and maybe even apps and videos in a hurry and they ended up in different locations. Part of ensuring your important files are properly accessible (and backed up) is ensuring they are stored in the appropriate location, whether the destination should be a local directory, network share, cloud-based folder or external drive. With the increasing popularity of Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive and third-party cloud storage services and the fact many of these solutions are often used simultaneously on the same device that also stores files locally, it’s possible over the course of the year that files are misplaced in multiple locations. 

Year-end provides a good occasion to review all your folders and directories and confirm files are stored in their proper locations. The occasion is also an ideal time to restructure folders and directories as your tasks, functions and focus may have changed in the past 12 months. 

While organizing folders and directories might at first strike you as ineffectively simple, taking time to properly consider top-line categories and subsequent subfolders can help you become more efficient and productive. Microsoft and The New York Times provide good advice, should you be open to guidance. 

Confirm sufficient free storage space

One issue that cannot be ignored is your computer’s remaining disk space. Even if you’re not planning on downloading or saving many more files or large programs, your computer still requires free disk space to operate. System and application updates, paging processes, temporary and swap files and other operations require disk space remain available. 

Just how much free space you should reserve remains subject to opinion. Regardless, most experts agree it’s best to save about 15 percent of your computer’s hard drive to help your system operate properly. So, if your computer uses a 128GB SSD, you should maintain approximately 19GB to 20GB of free space. The amount increases to about 40GB when using a 256GB drive and 150GB with a 1TB disk. 

Checking free space is easy whether using Windows or a Mac. Windows users can open File Explorer then select This PC. Available space is listed under Devices and Drives. macOS Sonoma users can open the Apple menu, select About This Mac and click the More Info button. Free disk space is listed within the Storage section. 

If your computer possesses less free space than it should, pay special attention to uninstalling unnecessary applications, clearing Web browser detritus and performing a disk cleanup. If those steps still don’t free sufficient storage, consider archiving (to an external hard drive or cloud storage account) files you don’t regularly require. Archiving photos and videos, in particular, typically offers immediate results due to the fact these files typically prove larger than most. 

Update the operating system

Perhaps the best step for securing your system and encouraging its continued efficient operation is updating the operating system. Downloading and installing these updates is a chore many users postpone due to the corresponding inconvenience. But the delay is short-lived and the performance and security benefits, while not always obvious, are significant. This is especially true considering cybercriminals persistently attack known vulnerabilities, potent threats that are often eliminated when the OS is updated. 

Windows users can download and install OS updates by clicking Start, Settings Windows Update and then clicking Check For Updates. Mac users can complete the task by opening System Settings, selecting General and choosing Software Update. 

Update Applications

Just as it’s important to update the operating system, updating applications is another essential responsibility. Without performance patches and security updates, your computer’s programs may run less efficiently and present needless vulnerabilities. Downloading and installing application updates is another task that should be performed regularly and especially at year end if the step has been overlooked. 

Because apps come from different vendors and sources, including the Apple and Microsoft app stores and directly from software providers, the process for updating applications proves different for each. Either update apps you use most frequently directly from within those apps (you can often select Check for Updates or a similar entry from within the app’s menu items) or by opening the Apple or Microsoft store app and installing available updates. 

Defragment the disk (when using old computers)

Experts rightfully discourage manually defragmenting Windows and Mac drives. This is due both to the way newer operating systems operate and the fact many PCs and Macs increasingly ship with SSD drives. These disks don’t require defragmenting and the operation, in fact, only unnecessarily increases write cycles, essentially resulting in unneeded wear and tear on the drive. 

But if you still use an older PC or Mac, the task remains a viable candidate for year-end maintenance. Completing the step helps confirm aging systems’ disks are properly configured. 

Windows 11 users—namely those using a PC without an SSD—can enter Defragment within the Windows search box, select Defragment and Optimize Drives, specify the drive (typically C), then click Analyze. If Windows indicates the drive needs defragmenting, click the Optimize button. 

 macOS users are less likely to find their hard drive requires defragmentation. For those using Mac OS X 10.2 or later, which will likely prove the case as the OS was released in 2002, defragmentation shouldn’t be an issue. If you use a Mac, particularly an older system, and you’re worried about managing disk storage and performance, third-party utilities including CleanMyMac, Daisy Disk and Onyx are three options that can help. 

Review security settings

Regularly reviewing your computer’s security settings is a simple step that can pay significant rewards, especially if you find an important setting has been overlooked or an antimalware app is no longer working properly. Whether using a PC or Mac, consider encrypting your hard disk (if you haven’t already using Windows’ native BitLocker or the Mac’s FileVault technology). Open your computer’s antimalware program and test its operation by downloading the latest updates and running a scan. Confirm, too, the computer’s firewall is enabled. 

You can also review basic security recommendations Microsoft and Apple provide for those using its operating system software. Both vendors provide resources to assist users seeking to best protect their computers. 

Microsoft presents recommendations for home users, as well as more comprehensive guidance for professional users. Tips for home users include using the Windows Security center to view and adjust safety status for the integrated firewall, app and browser controls and device security features integrated within Windows 10 and 11. While your company’s IT representatives are typically responsible for configuring and administering your business PC’s security configuration, interested users can review common Windows security best practices and alert their IT department whenever believing a potentially important feature or protection is being overlooked. 

Apple recommends taking several privacy and security steps to protect a Mac within its online macOS User Guide. Those security recommendations include using Safari privacy features, minimizing the personal information you share, requiring users to login and setting Macs to log out after periods of inactivity. 

Update Passwords

If you haven’t changed passwords recently, including the password you use to log in to your PC or Mac, now’s the time. Don’t wait until a later date to repeat the process, either. As part of your year-end routine, set a quarterly reminder to ensure you begin changing important passwords more often. 

When you do update your computer, email and application passwords, be sure to also select complex passwords that cannot easily by guessed by malicious users employing powerful programs designed to hack passcodes quickly. Both Apple and Microsoft provide password security guidance you should follow to ensure the passwords you select prove effective safeguards. 

Enable Automatic Backups

Other steps mentioned previously involved downloading and installing operating system and application updates. These security fixes and performance patches play a crucial role in helping your computer and its programs run efficiently and securely. These updates also address known vulnerabilities that hackers especially target. 

Fortunately, you can configure Windows PCs and Macs to automatically install updates. You just need to enable the feature. 

Windows 10 and 11 users can enable automatic operating system updates by opening Windows Update (such as by entering Windows Update within the search bar), clicking Advanced Options and selecting Automatic (Recommended) from within the Choose How Updates Are Installed drop-down menu. For application updates, those using Windows 11 can select Start, Microsoft Store, Account, App Settings and ensure App Updates is enabled. Windows 10 users need to click the Start, Microsoft Store, Settings and, beneath App Updates, confirm Update Apps Automatically is enabled. 

Mac users can enable automatic updates by opening System Settings, clicking General, selecting Software Update and then clicking the information icon. Options include checking for updates, downloading new updates when they become available, installing macOS updates, installing application updates from the App Store and installing security responses and system files. Once you’ve enabled the automatic updates you wish to implement, click Done. 

Confirm software licenses and subscriptions

When so many services—including Apple iCloud and Microsoft 365 accounts, antimalware applications, backup solutions and VPN utilities—require a subscription, it’s easy to overlook an app or service you created a year ago but no longer need. At year-end, review the many different software licenses and subscriptions you have in place. Cancel (and as recommended earlier, uninstall) those you no longer need. 

Consider, too, creating and maintaining a basic subscription list using Microsoft OneNote or Apple Notes. Within that list, track each subscription and billing renewal date as you create a new account or renew existing accounts. 

Maybe you licensed Adobe Creative Cloud in January but no longer use those corresponding applications, as your job function changed in the summer. Or maybe you no longer require other various online tools or apps you once relied upon. The end of the year is a good time to take stock and purge accounts and plans you no longer need. 

Clean the physical computer

The last step in ensuring your computer is ready for 2024 might sound like a simple filler item: clean your physical computer. But if, as sometimes happens, your desktop or even laptop suffers from dust buildup around its fans and vents, the step can easily extend your computer’s life. 

Clearing debris from cooling fans and vents needed to provide proper airflow for system cooling can help a computer perform better, too. Canned air can help. Plus, it’s a good idea to clean the keyboard and displays, using proper cleaners, of course. Don’t use harsh chemicals, soaps or solvents intended for other uses. Instead, employ sprays and wipes especially intended for computers and displays, such as Whoosh and OXO products. 

Ensure your PC or Mac is ready for 2024

Sure, the several steps described here take time to complete. Just as neglecting home or automobile maintenance causes more extensive and expensive repairs later, not to mention needless downtime, so does ignoring computer upkeep become similarly problematic. Take advantage of typical holiday slowdowns to help keep your computer—the one upon which so much of your professional life likely dependsrunning smoothly. Consider the task a holiday gift to yourself.