Understanding the Windows Task Scheduler



While last week, most of the tips had to do with the web, this week we are going to talk of system maintenance tasks that one has to do to ensure his or her system health.

There are some tasks which we know have to be done regularly on our computers, such as cleaning up the disk, backing up files and even doing software updates. Yet we fail to do them because as humans, we forget. In today's tip, we are going to discuss how to set tasks using the built-in utility, the Windows Task Scheduler.

The Problem

System maintenance involves more than just doing virus cleaning or firewall configurations. It is an ongoing activity of backing up files, software installations and uninstallations and disk cleanups.

However, though we often hear the advice that "backup the files regularly", yet we forget. As humans, many things get in the way: we have got appointments to remember, deadlines to beat and so forth. We can't be expected to take care of our computers on a regular basis.

The Solution

Use the Windows Task Scheduler, a utility that is part of every operating system. On Linux and Mac OS X, they use the daemon service to schedule tasks.

The task scheduler takes care of your mundane tasks and carries them with the frequency that you indicate. This means if you want to weekly backup your files, you can set this up in the task scheduler.

What is a task?

A task is the thing you want your computer to do. A task is just a job. Backing up files is a job, cleaning them up is a job--everything is a job that you do by running a program.

To run a task scheduler, you must do it as an administrator, so make sure to check that you are one in the following steps.

You open the Task Scheduler by clicking the start menu. In the search box that comes up, type in "Task Scheduler".

When it comes up, just right-click it and choose "Run as administrator".

You can also open it from the command-line by just typing in "taskschd.msc", without quotes.

Whichever method you use to bring the scheduler up, you will see that it has a treeview display. If this is your first time, you can just hear it saying, "Task Scheduler (Local)" as a collapsed treeview item. This means the tasks you are seeing are run on your computer. If you were remotely connected to some computer, then it would have shown them here.

Creating a Task

In Task Scheduler, there are two ways you can create a task:

Using a Guided approach

When a computer uses a guide to help you, this is known as a wizard. Wizards are a common feature in software installation, maintenance tasks or setups.

So to bring up the task creation wizard,

  1. Go to the menubar, and choose the "Actions".
  2. Under Actions, choose "Create Basic Task".

This wizard will simply prompt you for responses. Anyway, for the avoidance of any confusion when answering the wizard's questions, the following are the steps you are taken through:

Giving your task a name and Description

This is the first step. There are two edit fields here:

  • First give your task a sensible name. This is what will be listed under a list of tasks. So you can give a name such as "Backing up my files".
  • You can optionally give a description if you like, but this one is optional. You can leave it out if you think the name of the task is enough.
When is this task to be run?
The second step is what is known as a trigger when you set a task in advanced mode. You can choose to have this task run once, daily, monthly, or even annually. You choose these triggers using the radiobuttons.
Recurrance
When is this task to recur: you can choose After every one or two days, weeks, months, years etc.

What is the task? You can choose to run a program, send email or just display a message. This last option may be practical when you need reminders. However, most of the tasks for system maintenance involve running programs. So you can choose to browse to the program you want to run as part of the job.

The program to be run
If you choose to run a program, in this step, you browse to a script or a program you wish to run. If it is a command-line program, you can just type in the provided box. and optionally type in the arguments you wish to pass to the program.
Summary
If everything goes well up to this point, the wizard will provide a screen that summarises your task from the first step this last stage. After the summary, just click "Finish" and the task will be created.

The advantage of working with a wizard is that since it asks you questions along the way, if you make a mistake or leave out a required field, you are given an opportunity to correct it. This is the recommended way for beginners.

Advanced mode

If you had been working with computers for some time, you can choose "Create Task" under the Actions menu.

This brings up a multipage dialog box with the following tabs:

General
This is where you set the name of the task, the description and security options for this task.
Triggers
This is where you set what triggers your task. You can set it to run daily, weekly or even one time. You can understand a trigger as a time that "fires up" your task to run. You can set up more than one trigger. So on this tab, just click on "New" to choose the type of trigger for this task.
Action
This is where you choose what job is to be done by this task: you can choose to run a program, send email or even a message.
Task Condition

This is when you set the condition for running the task:

  • Should this task be run when the computer is on?
  • Or when you are logged in? etc.
Task Settings
This is where you set other options for this task such as how the task should be run if you miss a schedule.

The advantage with using the advanced mode is that you can fine-tune your task in more ways than you would have done with a basic wizard. In fact, when you work in the task list, any time you want to edit a task, you will only do so in advanced mode. The wizard is only presented for a new task.

The Task List

After you create a task, it would be listed along with any other default system tasks in the list.

To access this list, just press the TAB key from the treeview item. This list is where you can manage your tasks.

You can see other programs that might have created their own tasks here: you can manage them as well.

To manage a task simply means to change some of its settings, triggers or even choose to run the task at that moment without waiting for a set time to strike.

You can delete a task if you no longer like it by just pressing the DELETE key.

Conclusion

Task scheduling is perhaps one important skill that one has to get as part of computer management. You stay in control of your computer and rarely encounters some problems your peers would suffer from such as crashes, lost files etc.

I hope if you've not yet done so, you would consider task management seriously to have your system healthy on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading this post. To show that you indeed are grateful for whatever problem you might have solved, thank me by starting to set up tasks today on your own computer. This week, I will mainly focus on system maintenance on Windows, so until next time, it is bye for now.