August 7, 2010

Your Computer Can Make Your Life Easier

You have a computer and you may be a heavy user. Several hours a day are spent in front of the machine. You pay all your bills on-line, you depend on e-mail to stay in touch, and you like to discover new web sites. Or, maybe you use a computer just to simplify some parts of your life, like managing your to-do list and calendar or keeping a budget. You might be a computer user because you feel you have to. Sending some e-mail, typing some lists, and looking at photos of the family are the only tasks you ask the machine to do.

If you are in the heavy user category what follows is likely to be old news. But, for all others, this is a list of the things your computer should already have installed so you don't need to spend any money. It is very likely that learning how to use these tools would make make your computer experience more productive and more fun.

Use The Word Processor

This is so basic it is almost like saying you need a monitor. But, I have talked with folks who are so intimidated by all the things a word processor can do that they don't use it at all. My advice: use it for what you need and ignore everything else.

If you just need to write an occasional letter, put together a report for your church committee, or want to keep a list of all your DVDs, learn to accomplish those tasks. Forget about justifying text, creating columns, using templates and macros, or pasting something from your clipboard. While even the most basic word processing program can do all this, learn how only if and when you need them. Microsoft Works or Word probably came with the computer. Open Office is free and actually offers much more than just word processing.

Organize Your Photos

It is unusual for even a budget machine to not have some program designed to keep all your digital photos organized in some way. Why? Because virtually everyone uses a digital camera and needs to do something with all those pictures. The easiest-to-use software can't do any fancy editing or modifying of the photos. But, it can do what you want it to do: help you keep track of what you have taken so you can find the pictures of your trip to the Grand Canyon from three years ago. Or, look at your grandson's 3rd birthday party again.

Most newer cameras make uploading the photos almost automatic and come with software that will everything you need it to.  Kodak Easy Share software works with any brand of camera and is simple and free.

Keep a Budget

Maybe not the most popular subject, but this is something computer software is very good at handling. Especially as you move through your satisfying retirement, knowing where you money is going becomes quite important. A basic program helps you make a budget, enter your expenses, and track your status. These programs can be installed on the computer's hard drive or, like Mint, be web-based. You do everything on-line as it guides you step-by-step. Security systems are very good so there is no need for concern abut sharing some of your basic information. But, if you like to maintain complete privacy, use something like Quicken or ACE Money Lite.

Keep your Calendar or To-do list

I can define frustration as keeping a written calendar downstairs, a small planner in the car, and another list on post-it notes next to the bed. If this sounds like you take the plunge and let your computer keep everything in one place and neatly organized. Free programs abound. Desktop iCalendar Lite is excellent and simple to use as both a calendar and a daily to-do list. Google Calendar does it all on-line and allows you to share your information with family members so you are all on the same page (pun intended).

The computer wasn't originally invented to help you with these tasks, but that has become the end result. Take advantage of the technology that you are likely to already own, or can add for free. Use what makes your retirement life easier and ignore the rest.

I could list other ways for that box on your desk to smooth some of the bumps out of your life, but I'd prefer your comments about the uses you have discovered. What are you doing now on your computer that you once did another way? Is there software or an on-line program that you use and absolutely love?


  1. I have found that I use my computer as a "radio" where I am the dj. With all the options of satellite, Pandora, iTunes, etc. I think maybe you made the right decision to get out of your former profession.

  2. You are absolutely correct. The move of radio into a pure utility (delivering ads with a bit of music) made my choice easy. Radio announcers were unneeded and paid accordingly.

    Personally, I haven't listened to commercial radio for several years. Why bother when there is Pandora and about 15,000 Internet radio stations available?

  3. Hi Bob—
    First of all, thanks for your blog—a full 90% of the time, I’m totally enjoying what you talk about and find many applications to my retirement life. I’m always lookng for value-added content, and you are delivering in spades—please do keep it coming!
    Just a thought—you mentioned helping people with their computer difficulties—if you haven’t done so already, how about a post on simple things folks can do to clean/optimize their computers? I think that would be something that many of us might really appreciate, and bet you have some knowledge to share in that regard.
    Again—we’re loving what you keep putting out, os keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Jim, for the compliments. Yes, that would be a good post. I will put it in my idea stack and write something in the near future along these lines.