This step sounds simple enough, but it couldn’t be more important. When a computer beginner is struggling, often it’s because he doesn’t have a clear picture of just what he wants to do.

What can you do?

How do you make clear what you want to do if you’re still new to the whole computer thing? A good start might be to consider the kinds of things you can do using a home computer and its software. Which turns out to be a heck of a lot. Here’s a tiny, tiny starter list:

Without a connection to the Internet:

  • Write and edit text – documents, novels, letters, anything
  • Design and lay out documents with text and pictures – brochures, newsletters, posters, business cards, you name it
  • Edit photos or other images – change colors, add text or borders, remove blemishes (a mole, a scar, an in-law), and much more
  • Create artwork or other images from scratch
  • Edit your home videos – pare down hours of shaky footage to just the good stuff, add titles, set it all to music, etc.
  • Troubleshoot computer problems
  • Perform some easy computer maintenance to avoid trouble in the first place
  • Enjoy media of all kinds: photos, music, video, audio books, electronic books, other text, more
  • Compose your own original theme song
  • Organize calendars, schedules, to-do lists, address books, etc.

With a connection to the Internet:

  • Send and receive email
  • Chat via text, voice, or video with people around the world
  • Research any topic
  • Access videos, sound, text, and more on web sites, for fun, education, you name it
  • Play games with people anywhere – poker, shoot-’em-ups, backgammon, word games, whatever
  • Do any of the earlier non-Internet activities, only better!

Anything else?

Believe me, those lists barely scratch the skin of the surface of the outer shell. They – and thousands others we could list – are all somewhat focused activities, but you could also approach “What can I do on a computer?” from a bigger-picture view. Lump a number of those activities together, and you and that machine can tackle goals like these:

  • Become a writer! Research topics, churn out articles, and submit them to publishers.
  • Indulge in a hobby! Learn from and share with fellow enthusiasts around the world.
  • Organize your life! Create and use calendars, schedules, contacts, records, everything.
  • Start a business! Market a product or service, manage customers, and make sales.

People do those things everywhere, with more ease than ever, thanks to home or small-office computers – and, more and more, with tablet computers and phones. You can, too.

Break things down

Whatever your goal, can you break it down into specific tasks? A single written goal of “start a business” gets you nowhere, with or without a computer involved. You’ve got to break things down into more focused projects and, most importantly, specific actions.

If you’re stuck on accomplishing something there at the keyboard, make a simple list of steps to get you to the goal. No, not a list of every button or menu item to click, just a simple outline of the broad steps. Doing so will point out the gaps where you need to learn something in order to cross from one step to another, or even make clear to you when a final goal itself is missing.

It’ll also help you keep track of where you are in the process of getting things done. Although most of the things you’ll do on the computer are really very easy, it’s not hard to hit a “What was I doing, again?” moment when you’re jumping around among applications and files. And if, in the end, you do end up stuck, your explanation of the specific steps you outlined will be a huge help to anyone you turn to for advice.

How can one machine do so many things?

Go back to that earlier representative list of things you can do with a computer. Really, the items we could add to that are unlimited. How in the world can one machine do so many things? What makes this possible is that none of this is about “the computer”; it’s all about the software. The applications, which are countless in number. And the flood of brilliant software keeps coming, making your computer more versatile each day.

Which brings us to the next page. Go!

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