How to upgrade anything, part 3 of 6: Preparation

Chances are, there’s something you’re settling for right now. Something that annoys you periodically but you haven’t gotten around to dealing with it yet. We’ll tackle that problem in bite-sized steps in this 6-part series on upgrading:

So when I say “upgrading,” you can think of software, hardware, services, or pretty much anything. I’ll be using my experience updgrading this very blog as an example, but you can substitute your specific technological annoyance.

I’ve already talked about getting psychologically ready to upgrade (part 1), and the very important step of creating a backup (part 2). We have one more pre-upgrade step before we can actually get started:

Getting technologically ready to upgrade

Think of your upgrade process as cooking. You’ve got some ingredients (new software or hardware or whatever), you’ve got a recipe (the upgrade instructions), and you’ve got the dream of the delectable finished dish (your post-upgrade success).

Have you ever started a new recipe and then discovered, halfway through, that you needed to run to the store for a missing ingredient? Or, even worse, discovered that you were out of a crucial ingredient at a time-sensitive stage in the recipe (you need to add the garlic in exactly three minutes, and you look in the fridge and you’re out of garlic!)?

Ouch! Recipe ruined.

Use the cooking metaphor as your guide, and read the recipe first, from beginning to end. Make sure you understand the steps, the terms, and what you should expect at each stage.

If anything is unclear, now is the time to ask for help, not when you’re halfway through an upgrade and you’re suddenly not sure if clicking “OK” will save your bacon or erase your hard drive. You can Google your questions, look on the company’s website for a FAQ or a forum, or contact them directly for tech support (I’ll bet that they would much rather answer a simple question from you now than try to talk you through an upgrade when you’re tense and upset).

Next, assemble your tools and ingredients. If you need a cable, make sure you have the right cable. Check the operating system requirements and make sure your computer can handle the upgrade. If you need to unplug and plug in peripherals, pull your power strip away from the wall so you don’t have to crawl under the desk four times in a row (I’ve done this. It’s a complete pain.).

Tip: Print the instructions (if you don’t have a paper manual or instructions to begin with). You definitely want to do this if you’ll be restarting your computer during the upgrade, but even if you’re not restarting, switching back and forth from the upgrade screen to the instruction document may be a little nerve-wracking. It can help to have ready visual access to your instructions.

Take as much time as you need for this preparation process.

Those chefs on the Food Network make everything look easy, because they have all these little bowls of pre-minced garlic, pre-sliced chicken, and pre-measured spices lined up next to a clean pan with exactly the right amount of olive oil waiting to be added. But even home cooks, without the benefit of sous-chefs or the magic of TV editing, know that assembling their ingredients beforehand makes the final steps go easier. The French gave us a term for the tray of pre-assembled ready-to-cook ingredients: Mise-en-place. It means “(everything is) put in its place.”

When you’re working on a technology recipe, give yourself the boost (and, to be honest, the oh-so-French flair) of preparing a mise-en-place with your instructions, equipment, and everything you need to not only start but complete the whole process.

Now, block out some time (more than you think you’ll need), and get ready to begin. Next week we’ll plunge into the upgrade process itself, and talk about what you need to do during this process to help ensure success at the end (and good tech support if you should need it).

Previously in this series: Part 2: Laying the foundation

Next in this series: Part 4: Documenting