If your computer is not backing up properly there are a few things you can check yourself. If you are getting an error message often times there will be a “Details” button you can click that might shed some light on the problem. But the first thing to try is to restart your computer (Apple menu > Restart). That seems to solve the problem at least half of the time.

If you are backing up wirelessly

  • Make sure you are on the correct network. If you are accidentally connecting to the xfinitywifi network or a guest network you won’t be able to back up wirelessly. Sometimes if you have an extension with a different name from your main WiFi network you have to be on the same network your backup device is on.
  • Restart the device that is hosting your backup.
    • Time Capsule: just unplug the power for a few seconds and plug it back in (you might lose WiFi for up to five minutes).
    • Synology DiskStation: hold the power button on the front until it starts flashing. Once the flashing stops and the lights are off, press the power button again to turn it back on.
    • Another Mac: restart the Mac using the Apple menu, and make sure that this Mac is also on the correct network.
  • If you are using a Time Capsule look for an amber light on the front of it. That may indicate a problem such as a failing drive or a misconfiguration. You can use AirPort Utility to see what it is trying to tell you.
  • Make sure you are using your computer while plugged into power at least some of the time. With the default settings, your computer will not back up while running on battery power because it will drain your battery very fast. And some models of Mac will not back up with the lid closed.

If you are backing up with a USB drive

  • If using a MacBook, leave the lid open with the drive and charger both connected for several hours, preferably overnight. If it’s been a long time since the backup has completed there may be a lot to catch up on.
  • Make sure your backup drive is showing some life – vibration, flashing lights, etc. If the drive is not behaving normally it might be a sign that the drive is failing or the cable is not connected securely to your computer or to the drive.
  • If you have a permanent workstation make a habit of leaving your computer plugged into power and connected to the hard drive while you work. It will simply run in the background without interrupting your work, ensuring that you always have a current backup.

You can’t back up too often

Your work will not be interrupted while your computer is backing up, so if at all possible I recommend leaving your backup drive connected any chance you get. You can even leave it connected permanently if that’s a convenient setup for you. If you only back up once a month and something happens to your computer, you could potentially lose up to a month of work.

Checking your backup status

You can check the current status of your backup drive by clicking the Time Machine icon in the menu bar up near your WiFi and clock. The first line should show you the status. If it’s not currently backing up you’ll see when the last backup was. Unfortunately, if it’s in the middle of a backup it won’t tell you when the last backup was.

If you click “Open Time Machine Preferences” from that dropdown menu you’ll see more specific data such as the oldest backup, the most recent backup, and your next scheduled backup.

If you don’t see the Time Machine icon go to the Apple menu > System Preferences > Time Machine. Check the box that says “Show Time Machine in the menu bar”.

If your hard drive is missing

I’ve you’ve lost your hard drive you can get a replacement. My recommendation is the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD for drives of 1TB or less. If you need more storage the cost of the SSDs goes up fast so you may want to consider the less expensive (but slower and unfortunately less reliable) WD My Passport Ultra. Both are very small drives with connectors for both the old USB-A and the new USB-C. Make sure you choose an appropriate capacity. I recommend a drive that’s at least twice as spacious as the drive in your Mac. You can see the size of your drive in the Apple menu > About This Mac > Storage. Once you’ve obtained the hard drive you’ll need to reconfigure your computer to use it, which is something we can do with a short phone call appointment.

This computer has 1 TB of storage so I would recommend a 2 TB (terabyte) backup drive. Sometimes you’ll see your drive measured in GB (gigabytes). 1,000 GB is 1 TB, so a 500 GB drive is half a TB.

If you can’t resolve the issue

If you can’t resolve the issue and if you are one of my clients I recommend you book an appointment with me. Normally we can fix or at least diagnose the problem with a short 15-minute Quick-Fix phone call appointment.