How many times have you felt that your computers, printers, or Internet connection are actually making you lose more time than they help you save? How often do you stare at your screen and wait for something to happen, or for a webpage to load? Small businesses just cannot afford losing time: time is everybody’s most valuable asset, but for small businesses it also is the most critical element of success.

What can you do to make your computing more efficient, reduce your idle time, and have more of it for what really matters?

Keep you computer up to date

Software programs keep becoming better, easier to use, and more capable, although they impose growing demands on your computer resources. If you use an older computer with newer software, the strain imposed may slow down your system significantly, making your software update not worth the investment. Specifically, modern operating systems and applications demand large amounts of RAM. Be generous with your RAM purchase: look for a minimum of 4GB, but preferably 6GB or more.

The unused space on your hard disk drive (HDD) is actually used by the operating system to write temporary information and it is paramount that you always keep at least 20 percent of the total HDD capacity available for that, or you’ll experience a reduction in performance. If you’re running out of disk space, buy a new, larger HDD and have your vendor transfer all your data from the older disk.

Additional factors such as HDD fragmentation and disk errors also can be substantial causes for slowdown. This article on Microsoft's website can help you address the issues.

If your computer is just getting too old to keep up, don’t waste time. Buy a new one – and you're better off making it a laptop. The newest generation of powerful, energy saving, and multimedia friendly laptops are a more practical choice for business than desktops because of their wonderful flexibility of use.

Speed up your Internet access

Most small businesses spend a great deal of time online. Waiting for pages to load is not the best way to spend it. The latest generation of online services and software come with quite heavy data traffic demands, taxing your Internet connection. Make sure your Internet service provider (ISP) is making available the best possible connection and that your service contract is up to date,  offering the most bandwidth (speed) you can afford.  If you have not reviewed the terms of your ISP contract in a while you may want to do it soon, since due to the competitive nature of the market, better deals keep becoming available with more performance at lower cost.

If you do not know how fast your internet connection is, here is a resource you can use to run a free speed test. Anything shy of 500 kilobits per second (Kbps) should be considered too slow. If you have more than three users concurrently sharing the connection, the minimum should be 1,000 Kbps.

Optimize your local area network

More and more small businesses utilize a local area network (LAN) within their office to share printers, scanners, data storage devices, back up resources, Internet access, and software applications.  If your LAN connection is slow, the data traffic within your company is impaired. The current mainstream standard for wired LAN connectivity is 100 megabits per second (Mbps). You should have all your computers and network devices -- such as routers, switches, and wireless access points -- compliant with that standard. The presence of older devices (e.g. 10 Mbps standard) can impair the performance of the entire network.

If you do not have a LAN and decide to deploy one,  look for 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) standard devices, capable of transferring data ten times faster than the  previous generation.

If you are using a wireless LAN and feel that the performance is not as great, make sure that both your access point and your computer wireless network cards are all at least compliant with the “g” standard offering 54 Mbps of bandwidth. Older “b” standard equipment should be replaced because of its low performance and security concerns.

If you’re deploying a new WLAN now, look for the "n” standard, backward compatible with all previous standards, but twice as fast as “g” and with increased range of coverage.

Finally, if you utilize servers, keep them on the network via a wired connection rather than wireless: more reliable and better performing.

Hibernate, plug in, and use shortcuts

Instead of turning your computer off when you do not need it, enable the “hibernate” mode and it will resume much faster when you will need it again.

Keep your laptop plugged into the wall outlet when possible. Many portable computers move into a slower performance mode when unplugged, to save battery charge.

Learn keyboard shortcuts for your most used applications, such as Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+V to paste and Ctrl+X to cut in any Microsoft Windows-based software. All software programs have keyboard shortcuts for the most common tasks, and they may save you a great deal of time.

Time is your most precious resource. Don’t trade the success of your business for the few dollars needed to take action on these recommendations.

Andrea Peiro is a recognized authority, author, analyst and speaker on high-tech marketing and use of information technology in small and mid-sized businesses. He has been frequently interviewed and featured in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. You can reach him at us.andreap@gmail.com.