Ah yes, the spinning beach ball that refuses to go away. Sometimes it's a small, application-specific problem that's easy to solve, but other times it's part of a much bigger mess. If your Mac is tossing up the spinning beach ball consistently, it's time to figure out the exact cause.
Step One: Check Activity Monitor
Your Mac will usually get a spinning beach ball when it's somehow overloaded. More often than not, this just lasts a few seconds and goes away, in which case you can ignore it. If it doesn't, the best way to figure out what's going on is to launch Activity Monitor and pinpoint which program is causing the problem.
- If you need to, force quit any programs that are potentially causing the beach ball (Command+Option+Esc).
- Launch Activity Monitor (Applications > Utilities).
- Now go about your daily usage. If the beach ball comes up, switch over to Activity Monitor and see which app is taking up the biggest CPU load (oftentimes this will spike at 100%).
If it's a powerful piece of software like Photoshop that's causing problems, then it's a good chance you need more RAM in your computer. RAM can help with multi-tasking issues, and if the beach ball comes up when you're running a few programs at once additional RAM will help. If not, and it's something lightweight like a file syncing service like Dropbox or an instant messenger client like Adium, then it's probably a problem with the software itself. Try quitting the app and seeing if the problem persists. If the beach ball doesn't return, then you have your problem. Check the developer's web site to see if they've issued an update, run Software Update (Apple Logo > Software Update), or get in touch with the developer if no update is available.
Another possible problem is that your hard disk is getting close to full.
Step Two: Reclaim Hard Drive Space
When your hard disk is full it can cause spinning beach ball problems. For a lot of us, this just means cleaning up two folders: your trash and your downloads folder:
- Right-click the trash can icon and select "Empty Trash." If you have a lot of stuff in there or you haven't done this recently you might get enough space to save your file.
- Now head to your downloads folder (Users > Your Name > Downloads). Go through and delete any files you no longer need.
In a lot of cases, doing the above two steps can free up enough space to continue working. That said, you might still need to free up even more space. To make this process easy, we like Disk Inventory X. With Disk Inventory X, you can look at your hard drive and find the biggest space hogs quickly so you can delete them and move on. It takes a little time, but if you follow our guide you'll have your hard drive cleared out in no time. Of course, it might also be time to just upgrade the size of your hard drive.