In my many years as a computer support person, one of the most often asked question is “why do I have to reboot?”  Many people hate to reboot because they are afraid to lose work, or they don’t want to have to re-open all the apps they need to get back to work.

Well, like it or not, often a reboot is necessary and the only way to fix the problem. Sometimes you may actually have to physically turn the machine off and back on.  But, there are ways to minimize the disruption.

Why does rebooting work?

Someone gives you the address of a restaurant to meet up later. To be safe, you write it down on a piece of paper. Now it’s time to meet the person and you can’t find the stupid restaurant! You finally look at your note and realize you got the address mixed up; you’re on the wrong street. With the note, you can now get where you need to be.

Computers work similarly. Think of RAM or Random Access Memory, or just memory as we call it as the computer’s mind. The hard drive, or whatever storage it uses is like the piece of paper. Information on the slip of paper is useless until to read into your mind. Data on a hard drive is equally as useless until it is loaded into the computer’s memory. Let’s say you read the note and tried to remember the address. When the time comes, you’ve have so many things on your mind that you can’t recall the address, or you remember it wrong. All you have to do is look at the paper again, forget the wrong information and remember the correct address.

When we say your computer had 4, 8 or 16 gigabytes of memory that means it can store that many billions of bits of information. As I am writing this, my computer is using 40 % of its memory, or 6 gigabytes. That’s 6 billion bits of information that the computer has to juggle and keep track of. 98% of the time it does this with no problem. But occasionally something in memory gets confused. Of the billions of bits, it can take only one that is in the wrong place, or that had been accidentally cleared to cause problems, from a simple error code, to a file that just won’t open or the whole computer crashing.

When this happens, the only way to fix it is to clear the memory completely and reload all of the information from storage. Or, reboot. Is there any other way to fix this problem? Usually, no. A reboot is the best and safest way to fix many computer issues.  This can apply to smartphones, tablets, game consoles and even smart TVs and streaming devices.

So how do you avoid having to reboot? Actually, you don’t. Sooner or later you will have to. If you’re like most people and you never turn your computer off, then you should reboot at least once a week. Just do it. At the end of the day on Friday or whatever time works for you. Think of is as preventative medicine. Rebooting regularly at a time you choose reduces the chance of having to reboot while you’re in the middle of something.

So, as a best practice, reboot regularly. Don’t wait for a problem to come along. When working on a spreadsheet, presentation or other document, hit the save button often, so if you should have to reboot, you can minimize your losses. And close any apps or windows that you are not using. This will help avoid problems that may require reboot.

So when your tech support person (whomever that may be) says that you have to reboot, don’t ask why. Just do it!