Are You Really Backing Up?

by John Carroll on March 7, 2013

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Apple Mac Time Machine Error

It’s great to have a backup system in place, but it’s smart to check it every now and again to make sure it’s working.

I visited two clients recently who had decent backup drives, but one had accidentally been unplugged because the power cable snagged in someone’s shoe, and the other had been turned off by an electrician who forgot to turn it back on.

Whatever the reason.. the result was the same; if their main drives had malfunctioned, both clients would have had no fallback position.

In this post, we assume you backup your Mac using an external hard drive and Time Machine.

Why Would A Backup Drive Fail

  • The backup drive gets unplugged or accidentally turned off.
  • The backup drive experiences a mechanical failure.
  • Software changes cause the Mac to not recognize the backup drive.
  • If a backup drive is not ejected properly, the Mac may fail to mount it.
  • The backup drive is full and Time Machine fails to delete old backups.

The Time Machine Icon

On the top-right hand side of the menu bar you should see a Time Machine icon. It looks like a pair of clock hands inside a circular arrow.

Apple Mac Time Machine Icon

If you don’t see this icon:

  • Go to the black Apple in the top left-hand corner. Choose System Preferences.
  • Select Time Machine.

Apple Mac Time Machine - System Preferences

  • Check the box Show Time Machine In Menu Bar.
  • Close System Preferences.
  • The Time Machine Icon Should now appear on the menu bar.

If you find that the Time Machine icon has become an exclamation point or a hazard triangle inside a circular arrow you definitely have a backup problem and should follow the steps below.

How To Check Time Machine Status

Click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and a drop-down menu will provide one of the following 3 messages:

Latest Backup to “X Drive”: Today, X:XX am – This is normal. The time of the latest backup is shown and no problems are displayed.

If your backup drive is permanently plugged in, Time Machine should automatically back up every hour. If it looks like Time Machine has not backed up in a few hours, select the option to Back up Now.

Apple Mac Time Machine - Latest Backup

Backing Up: XXMB 0f XXMB – This is normal. A backup is in progress. Do not stop the backup or unplug the backup drive.

Apple Mac Time Machine - Backing Up

Backup Delayed… – This is not normal. The time of the latest backup is shown and a problem is displayed. It says “Backup Delayed…”

Apple Mac Time Machine - Backup Delayed

Select the Backup Delayed… menu option.  It will open Time Machine in System Preferences.

You may see a message and/or you may see the word Failed in red, next to an information button. Click the information button for a detailed description of the Time Machine problem.

Apple Mac Time Machine - Error

Apple Mac Time Machine - Failed

What You Should Do If You Have A Problem

If your backup has failed because your Mac cannot find your Backup Disc, then you may simply need to make sure the backup drive is plugged in and/or securely connected to your Mac.

If your backup has failed because of any other reason, it’s generally best to call for technical support and not press buttons unless you feel confident about what you’re doing.

If you have questions, please use the Comments section below.

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Are You Really Backing Up? was last modified: March 8th, 2013 by John Carroll
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stooge August 6, 2013 at 9:11 am

Hi, I can not enable the checkbox. The check disappears at the moment when I check it. Any ideas?


John Carroll 2 John Carroll August 6, 2013 at 11:14 am

Hi Stooge – What checkbox? Can you send a screenshot to Thanks – John


3 Suzanne March 14, 2013 at 6:40 am

My Time Machine Error states:
The backup disk is not available.
Latest successful backup: 2/20/13 at 7:31 AM
I’ve followed all of the above suggestions, to no avail. I’m Curious why it won’t back up because the disc is unavailable, but I can restore files from my previous backups. Any suggestions?


John Carroll 4 John Carroll March 14, 2013 at 9:42 am

Hey Suzanne – Can you check the drive size and amount of space used. Click on the drive icon and press Command I.


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