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Is Windows Update annoying you? Take back control in 3 easy steps

Want to eliminate unpleasant update surprises? You can force Windows to follow your update schedule. Here's how.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
Dog looking at laptop
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

One complaint about Windows is near the top of everyone's list: updates. There are too many updates. They take too long to install. They sometimes fail in ways that cause additional problems. And they always pop up at the most inopportune time.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. You can override Microsoft's schedule for pushing updates to your device by doing three things.

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I'll explain those three things shortly. First, though, a little background on the problem.

In all currently supported versions of Windows, Microsoft releases security fixes as part of its monthly quality updates, on the second Tuesday of each month (popularly known as Patch Tuesday). In recent years, the company has expanded the scope of those updates to include new features as well.

Monthly updates are cumulative; even on a machine that's been out of service for months, you usually need to install only one update to make the Windows installation. Using the default Windows settings, these updates are typically downloaded and installed within 24 hours of their release on Patch Tuesday.

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In most cases, these updates require the computer to be restarted -- and that happens automatically, unless the user intervenes.

And there's the problem. As Murphy's Law dictates, the automatic restart always comes at an inopportune time. You might lose unsaved work, or you might find yourself doing a slow burn as you wait for the update to finish and give you back your PC, so you can join an early-morning Zoom meeting that you're already late for.

Even after the installation, there's a small but non-zero risk that the update will trigger problems that cause your PC to crash or interfere with the normal operation of a critical app.

So, what to do?

For starters, you can adjust a few settings to ensure that you get fair warning before an update is scheduled to restart, as shown in the illustration below. You can also define your Active Hours, a daily window of up to 18 hours during which Windows will not restart to install updates.


Turn on this option to get a warning when updates require a reboot.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

But those are, at best, tiny speed bumps that don't resolve the underlying issue of a potentially unreliable update being installed automatically. To lessen the risk, I recommend that you set your own update schedule and tell Microsoft to back off until your preferred day. To get started, first make sure you've installed all available updates (and restarted, if necessary). Then, do the following steps.

How to set up a fast fix for your Windows Update

1. Put Windows Update on pause for five weeks

Go to Settings > Windows Update and choose Pause for 5 weeks from the Pause Updates menu. This built-in option is available in all Windows editions. 

Don't worry, you're not really going to pause for that long. But this setting ensures that Windows doesn't try to download and install any updates until you ask it to.

(If you wait longer than five weeks, Windows Update says "Time's up!" and installs all available updates in the interest of keeping you safe.)


Choosing the option to pause for five weeks lets you handle update tasks on your own monthly schedule.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

2. Choose the day each month when you want to install updates

Let's say you want to wait at least two weeks after Patch Tuesday, so that other people can run into problems with an update instead of experiencing those glitches for yourself. Smart! You're going to do all your update activity on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

3. Create a repeating calendar reminder to do update tasks

In the calendar app you use, set up a recurring monthly event for the fourth Tuesday of each month. The illustration (below) shows what this event looks like in Google Calendar.

Save that reminder and get back to work, comfortable that you're not going to be bothered until the fourth Tuesday of the month. When that day comes around and you see the reminder, you're going to quickly check for any known issues with the latest updates. Then wait for a convenient time that day, or at most a day or two later, and perform that month's maintenance tasks. Go to Settings > Windows Update, click Resume updates, and install all available updates. Restart, check again to ensure that there aren't any stray updates waiting to be installed, and then hit the Pause updates for 5 weeks button to start the countdown clock again.

Your only responsibility each month is to pay attention when that reminder fires and promptly take care of pending updates.

If you're working with a device running Windows Pro edition and you're comfortable messing with Group Policy settings, you can set things up so those monthly quality updates are automatically deferred. But that's not necessary and the monthly calendar reminder is all you really need.


Use your preferred calendar service to create a repeating reminder to do update tasks.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET
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