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Make your idle computer work for you

Make your idle computer work for you

    Since you’re not sitting at your home computer all day, (you have a job right?) your computer is probably available to become your personal productivity/fun slave. The following are five ways to make use of your idle computer when you are away.

    Legally download (good) music for free
    If the whole copyright issue surrounding free music irks you, and if P2P clients aren’t your bag (Limewire, BearShare, etc.), don’t worry because there is still a way to download mainstream MP3s, legally, for free. A lot of bands have jumped on the free music band wagon recently, but these tend to be smaller, “underground” bands. I’ve reached the point in my life where this no longer excites me. I don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to listen to a bunch of crappy bands just to hear one or two good songs. I just want the mainstream stuff that I know I will like.

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    That’s where StationRipper comes into play. StationRipper is a free Windows program that allows you to set your computer to download streaming radio over the Internet. Remember the good old days when your favorite song came on the radio and you quickly put a tape in your boom box to record the song? This is the exact same concept except StationRipper grabs every single song, and rather than creating one long MP3 file, it parses the file according to the meta data. StationRipper comes fully loaded with tons of Internet radio stations. The total setup time is less than 5 minutes. After an hour or so, you will have around 15-25 MP3s perfectly named, tagged, and ready to be enjoyed by you. Let StationRipper go all day and you’re talking about 200 – 500 songs.

    Linux users can grab the sister program Streamripper which is widely available in the repositories.

    Setup your own personal DVR

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    If you’ve got a TV card for your PC, you are just one step away from having your own personal “Freevo” (Free TiVO). In the matter of minutes you can have your PC setup to record all of your favorite shows. Many people are familiar with the extremely robust Linux DVR software known as MythTV. Unfortunately for some, MythTV can be a bear to set up. Windows has a fantastic alternative called SageTV (it has a one-time cost of about $80). SageTV is perfect if you are not extremely technically inclined. What I like most about SageTV is that their API is available and many addons are available. One addon that you will not want to miss is the SageTV web server. You can use SageTV and the SageTV web server to setup your recordings and stream live TV over the Internet. The setup is extremely easy even for the non-technically inclined.

    SageTV has versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux — pick your poison!

    Hate paying for software? There are several free DVR software packages that may catch your fancy. Give MediaPortal and Yahoo! Go a try.

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    Automate your downloads
    I am a digital media and graphic art pack rat. I often scour the web downloading interesting media and graphic art. A great tool known as Wget does this for me. Lifehacker has an excellent introduction to Wget. If you want the short story, you can setup Wget to grab updated content from around anywhere around the web. For example, if you have an MP3 website that gives you a free download everyday, but you can’t remember to go to the site, you can setup a simple Wget script and download the daily song without ever thinking twice about it. Or if you wanted to backup your website everyday, you could do it with Wget. If you’re wondering how I like to use Wget, I download the daily Dilbert comic over night and I have a script setup to turn the image into my desktop background. Every morning when I wake up I get my dose of Dilbert. You can setup Wget for your favorite comics, also.

    Donate to charity
    You can use your computer’s processor to contribute to medical and scientific advancement through distributed computing. Distributed computing allows millions of people to install a program that runs when your computer is idle that will solve many small problems. This program communicates with a supercomputer and uses the small problems your computer solved to solve very large problems. Standford University has an impressive and important project known as Folding@Home that is working to cure cancer and Alzheimer’s. I have been happily running it for several months. This is a great way to donate to charity without your wallet taking a hit.

    Folding@Home is a distributed computing project — people from through out the world download and run software to band together to make one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Every computer makes the project closer to our goals.

    Folding@Home uses novel computational methods coupled to distributed computing, to simulate problems thousands to millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.

    Turn it off!
    No surprises here, but if you want to save a few bucks when it comes to the electric bill, just turn the thing off! I’ve heard people say in the past that it is bad to turn your computer on and off all day, so you might want to avoid this if you’ve got a really nice computer (due to the wear and tear on the hardware). But if you’ve got an el-junko, go ahead and pull the plug and save a buck or two per month.

    How do you put your idle computer to use? Do you have the ultimate automated setup? We want to hear about it in the comments!

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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