What to do When You Get Mac’s Spinning Rainbow Wheel
Editors note: this post was originally published in April 2016 and was updated in 2017 to reflect new reviews and experiences.
I often have 10+ tabs open on my browser and three to four programs that I am actively navigating between. That doesn’t even consider the number of programs I have running in the background, such as Dropbox. On a daily basis I’m asking my MacBook Air to do a lot of processing … and fast.
If even one program is malfunctioning, I can get the spinning rainbow wheel. I don’t know what it is about that darn rainbow wheel, but even if I get it for only a few seconds I’m frustrated.
First, let’s get rid of Mac’s spinning rainbow wheel.
Force quit the offending program. Whichever program you know or suspect to be malfunctioning (often the one you were most recently working in) needs to be closed. To force quit a program you can either,
- go to the Apple menu in your menu bar and select “Force Quit” from about halfway down the menu,
- right click (or Control + Click) on the program and select “Force Quit,” or
- press Command + Option + Esc.
If that doesn’t work …
Reboot your computer. You can do this by holding down the power key on your keyboard.
If you get the wheel again very shortly afterwards …
Reboot your computer in safe mode. Once you hear your computer start with the “dawning of the morning” sound, press + hold Shift. Let go when you see the Apple logo. In safe mode your Mac will look for system issues. If nothing happens after a bit of use then you’re good to go. Shut down your computer and restart as normal. If Mac goes haywire in safe mode then get your computer to Apple Support stat.
If you’ve done all that, but you still get the rainbow wheel frequently …
Re-install your operating system. You may need a fresh start and to make sure things are installed properly before going to Apple Support. MacPaw has an excellent tutorial on how to prepare your MacBook Air for High Sierra.
Help Prevent Mac’s Spinning Rainbow Wheel
All of the above is great to know about, but a lot of time and energy that I would rather avoid. How do you avoid Mac’s spinning rainbow wheel?
First, you want to ensure your Mac has enough memory and enough free space. You might be surprised by how much memory is taken up by files you don’t need or operations you don’t run. Clean up your computer regularly with a program such as Clean My Mac 3. It’s similar to a maid who cleans the back of your closet — that place you stuffed items and forgot about. It also ensures that files and folders you do want to keep are properly set up.
Move major files or folders you don’t use every day to an external hard drive. I store all of my RAW photo files on a Western Digital external hard drive. I need them for the foreseeable future, but I only access them once or twice a week and I can easily grab my hard drive for this work.
Restart or shutdown your computer regularly. These machines are designed to run 24/7, but they still like a refresh every now and then. Turn off your computer completely before going to bed once a week.