How to solve your own technical problems

You don’t need to be a technical genius to solve technical problems. You just have to know how to go about it.

This article is especially for anyone who feels intimidated by technology, and who often has to turn to someone else to solve the problem.

That’s not a good solution because 1) you are unable to keep working until the other person solves the problem; 2) it could involve an expense you could avoid; and 3) the person you turn to may have a hidden agenda, personal preferences that conflict with yours, or may mislead you just because they don’t know any better.

Truth #1: ALL technology is learnable. ALL technology problems are solvable, even if it means just replacing the darn thing.

Babies aren’t born knowing technical stuff. Sure, there are some people who actually enjoy fixing technical things, but even they started out knowing nothing, and the only reason they know so much is they have focused on learning it.

Most of us don’t want to spend our days fixing technology. We just want to use technology successfully, so we can do the stuff that we want to do.

But the idea that there are, literally, technical geniuses who are somehow superior to us is a total myth. A myth that keeps everyone else trapped in a situation where they assume that they are incapable of solving technical problems.

Truth #2: The answer to just about every technical problem is probably on the web somewhere.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about rocket science. I’m talking about your new computer not connecting to your printer. Or your email not working. Or your messages program not showing all your contacts after you just upgraded your computer’s operating system. Or moving your bookmarks from one browser to another.

In other words, I’m talking about the things you run into while you are trying to get your normal computer setup to work.

In almost all situations – and really, i mean like 95% – you can find the answer on the web, if you know how to look.

The first thing to do is to type the problem into Google in plain English. You will quickly see that others have had the same problem. And, others have tried to help.

Truth #3: You have to be careful which advice you take.

Not all advice is created equal. There are very technical folks who like to impress with their knowledge, suggesting that you go deep into the bowels of your computer’s operating system and copy in some strange code.

If you’ve done that before, and you’re really comfortable with it, fine. If not, avoid that suggestion and keep looking until you find one that is straightforward. Make sure others have tried that suggestion and it worked.

Once you have tried the solution and it works, copy the instructions into a file somewhere where you keep track of common computer problems and their solutions, so you can refer to it again.

Truth #4: You need to know your limits, and then where to go for help.

If you have tried everything that was reasonable, and you find yourself thinking about doing things that seem really risky, it’s time to get outside help.

Start first with the help line or online chat for the application that is causing problems. Best to do that than to depend on a technical generalist, who, most likely, will do exactly what I’m suggesting – try the web first, then get online with the appropriate tech support person.

Useful Tip #1: You need to at least understand the basics of computing.

Most computers have an operating system (Windows, Mac OS, etc.) and applications (Word, Excel, etc.) and browsers (Chrome, Safari, Explorer, etc.) that give you access to the Internet and many of the “cloud-based” applications there. The “cloud” is really just a bunch of interconnected, powerful computers called servers, on which applications and data are “hosted.”

Back to your computer. Quite often the problem relates to some hardware, such as your printer or a mouse, or connecting to the network. When you’re trying to figure out where the problem is, think about what is and isn’t working. Perhaps the computer lists the printer in its list of active printers, but when you try to print, nothing happens.

Always start with rebooting. Not relaunch – that’s a “soft” reboot – but to really, truly, turn off the computer and start over. This re-establishes connections between your computer and hardware attached to it, and often solves a problem.

This is just one of the reasons it is best to ALWAYS turn your computer all the way off every night when you go to bed. Starting fresh solves a lot of problems. 

The other reason you need to turn off your computer every night is your computer can run out of internal memory during the day, slowing things down. Every time you use an application, you use a bit of the internal RAM (“random access memory” – memory stored on a chip in your computer). Windows is notorious for not “returning” that memory to the chip when you stop using an application; pretty soon, you have very little memory and your computer will slow to a crawl.

When you’re trying to think like your computer, remember there is always a hierarchy and a logic to how computers work.

First, is it connected or downloaded?

Second, is one side (say, the computer) recognizing the other (say, the printer)?

Third, is the method by which those things connect (e.g., “driver” software for a printer) uploaded and working? If that might be the problem (say, the driver got corrupted or out of date), can you delete that software safely and download a new one?

Useful Tip #2: Backup, backup, backup.

There is nothing worse than a computer crashing in a way where you lose all your work. Yes, most of us are working out in the cloud now, using Google Docs and other online applications and files. But even there it is wise to have backup. A program like Backupify can help with that.

On your own computer, you can buy fairly inexpensive applications that will help you automate the backing up of your work.

One of my desktop computers crashed a few weeks ago. I backup my work folder every hour onto a memory card, and every evening onto three separate hard drives. When my computer crashed – to the point where it wouldn’t even boot up – I just turned 90 degrees to my laptop and went right back to work.

Yes, I still had to buy a new computer and get it up and running, but it didn’t take long and wasn’t disruptive. And I lost no work.

I also backup my applications. Even if I still have to download them all again, at least I have a list in a file on that backup drive of everything I have.

A computer that is not backed up is a time bomb.

Make sure you check your backup periodically so you are not fooling yourself into thinking that all is well when all is not.

Useful Tip #3: Document solutions.

As I mentioned, when you find the solution to a technical problem, document it somewhere convenient (wherever you put it, make sure that is backed up as well!). Chances are you will run into that problem again.

Useful Tip #4: Don’t use your desktop to store work files, and organize things very carefully.

Your computer is your life’s filing cabinet. Be organized. The fact that I have all my work either on my backed-up Google Drive and in one file my own computer, fully and ridiculously backed up, has saved me from a lot of grief. And organizing things into folders, even though it requires a bit more clicking to get to a file, will ensure that you never waste any time looking for things.

Your desktop is not where you should be storing a bunch of files; I think I read somewhere that it doesn’t even behave as a real file folder and storing files there can use up a lot of memory. Create a work file with all your work folders on it and organize them in a way that makes sense to you. 


There’s more, but that’s enough to help you avoid bad advice and even some disasters. Again, remember: Anyone can learn this stuff.

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