Computing habits often have an effect on how well your computer runs. If you’re aware of what can hurt your computer’s performance, you can save yourself some aggravation by cutting down the time you have to wait for software to load or for Windows to boot. Here are ten ways to get your computer to run slower than molasses on a cold day in September.

1) Install Every Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus Application You Can Find

If one is good, several have to be better, right? Some people think so. If you’re one of those people, this could be a very good reason why it takes forever to start the computer, open up your browser, or open up a Word document.

So, trim the fat. All you really need is one firewall, one anti-virus package, and a couple anti-spyware applications (the kind that don’t hog resources, such as adaware, spybot, and hijackthis).

2) Install Every Widget You Can Find

Widgets are cool. They can tell you the weather, they can tell you CPU utilization, they can display pictures of your family and friends, or they can even show you a map. But after a while, they tend to add up if you start to have a fair number of them all running at the same time (and especially if you have so many installed that you don’t really know what they’re for anymore), it’s time to get rid of a few.

3) Have All Your Programs Run at Startup

It’s convenient to have everything load up when Windows starts. After all, you use Real Player, QuickTime, MSN, Y!, AIM, Steam, Office, and many more programs all the time. Unfortunately, you have to make 3 trips for coffee by the time you can actually see and use your desktop.

All the little icons you see in the system tray in the lower right near the clock load at startup. You can either go to Start > Run > and type “msconfig” (without quotes) and go to the “Startup” tab. Once there, stretch out the file patch. That should give a good hint as to what each program is. If you’re still stumped, do a Google search for the filename.

If a program still boots with Windows after taking it out of msconfig, hunt around in each program’s settings or preferences to turn off the option “automatically start when Windows starts” (or words to that effect).

4) Visit Every Known Warez and Pornography Site on the Internet (Especially Without Protection)

Nothing wrong with downloading some *cough* free stuff, right?

Chances are good that these sites are infested with viruses, trojans, spyware, malware, and whatever else these guys can dream up. Your weakness for sites with these free goodies is your loss and their gain. Especially if you have no firewall, AV software, or spyware utilities installed (although, note Step #1 about overdoing it). It’s even more embarrassing when the neighborhood teenage techie tells you what caused the problems. Moral of the story? Be careful about wandering around in the Internet’s red light and underground districts.

Editor’s Note: If you do choose to lead this lifestyle, don’t use Internet Explorer. Porn sites are known to have secret ActiveX downloads that sneak onto your computer. Let’s call it a STD on the internet. The easy way to avoid the ActiveX problems is to use a browser that does not support ActiveX (Opera, Firefox). Earlier this week, I cleaned a machine with over 100 viruses on it. Let’s just say my customer had been doing some naughty things and his computer was watching.

5) Install Every Piece of Shareware and Freeware You Can Find

Lots of people have software on their PCs to do all sorts of things. Some have many pieces of software that do the same thing. All these pieces of software confuse and confound your poor PC.

When you’re no longer using a piece of software; uninstall it – especially if you have other applications that do the same thing. Most programs come with an uninstaller that appears in the Start > Programs menu next to the program’s shortcut. If not, you can always go into the Control Panel and go to Add/Remove Programs (or Programs and Features in Windows Vista). Having too many odd-ball programs installed tends to clog up the works (and even some choice well-known ones do as well).

6) Instead of Using Bookmarks/Favorites, Leave 90 Tabs Open

I was actually guilty of this one. Any page I wanted to reference that I recently visited, I left open in a browser tab to go back to later. As a result, my browser took about 2 trips of coffee to open.

Organize your favorites using folders and sub-folders, name the bookmarks according to what makes sense to you, and not what the title of the webpage says, and close tabs when you’re done with them. Your browser will then happily load up within a few seconds, which will be especially beneficial on slower Internet connections.

7) Put as Many Files and Folders on the Desktop as You Can

Some people store their pictures of their pets, their MP3s, or even their downloads right on their desktop. Pretty soon that adds up to be quite a lot of data (several gigs worth in many cases).

The first thing your PC tries to do when it finally boots up is load the desktop, and that means everything on it. As you can imagine, going through a large number of files (especially if they’re large) will increase the amount of time it takes for everything to fully load.

So, make use of the Windows file system, shortcuts, and possibly folders to group some of those shortcuts together (Audio, Video, Graphics, Games, Chat, etc.). Remember, you can also create shortcuts of almost anything by right clicking on the file or folder > “Send To” menu > “Desktop”. That will create a shortcut icon on the desktop.

8) Never Empty Your Recycle Bin

Out of sight, out of mind right? Once you delete a file, it just disappears into some black hole never to be seen again. Not quite. When deleted, most files end up in the Recycle Bin, and while there are files there, they still take up disk space. So it’s good to empty it every once in a while by right clicking on the Recycle Bin icon > Empty Trash.

9) Never Delete Your Temporary Files

Temporary files are just that–temporary. These are files that are created through the course of normal operations on your PC, but most of the time, just get left behind after a program is done using them. So, it’s good to clean them out every so often since the accumulation of them tends to clog up the works a bit.

To get rid of them, go into “My Computer” and right click on your C drive and click “Properties”. Click “Disk Cleanup”. This can take anywhere between 10 seconds and 30 minutes to load, depending on how many of these files are kicking around and if you addressed some of the previous steps for clogging up your computer.

Once loaded, you can check anything with the word “temporary” in it, as well as “Office Setup Files”, and “Recycle Bin” (yes, you can empty the recycle bin more than one way). It’s best to leave the other items unchecked unless you know what they are. A quick Google search will most likely reveal what they are.

10) Never Defrag Your Hard Drive

Over time when more and more files get saved to a drive, they get split up into different pieces, so instead of a nice mosaic floor, you end up with a bunch of jumbled puzzle pieces that your computer needs to figure out how to put back together for the files you want.

This is where defragging comes in. It reorganizes all those loose pieces and puts them all back together in sequential order, helping to speed up access time, thus making your computer run a bit better.

You can run the Windows Defrag utility about once a month (or more frequently if you have a lot of disk activity) in Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. There are many other ways and pieces of software to defrag a drive, so this is by no means the best or fastest method–just the most easily accessible.

The Thrilling Conclusion

By avoiding these situations and doing a little preventative maintenance, your PC will be feel much better and will seem much more responsive. All of these steps are relatively simple, and if they don’t seem so, just try going through the motions at least once–I’m sure it will “click”. Unclogging your PC can be as much fun as clogging it, especially when you get that feeling when you start the machine and do not wait 10 minutes for it to load!