What Is The Spinning Beach Ball

To most of us it’s known as the ‘spinning beach ball’, ‘rainbow pinwheel’, or ‘ferris wheel of death’. Apple simply call it the ‘spinning wait cursor‘, a name that’s accurate, but lacks the impending sense of doom that little ball creates.

It occurs when your Mac attempts to complete a task, but has to wait for the hardware resources needed to finish it.

It can be caused by other things, but the end result is the same. Your Mac becomes unresponsive . . . and you start screaming.

So . . . is there anything we can do about this?

1. Be Patient.

When you hit the spinning beach ball, give your Mac a few minutes to finish what it is doing. With a little time, your computer may fully recover and you can continue working.

The spinning beach ball is not always a terminal event.

2. Force Quit The App That Has Frozen

If only one App is having a problem, go to the Apple Menu in the top left-hand corner and choose Force Quit… Select the App that’s causing problems and click ‘Force Quit’.

The good news is that you can now safely save any work you have open.

If you reopen the App and it continues to freeze, you will have to do a restart. 

3. Eject External Drives

When they’re not in use, external drives tend to go to sleep.

Actions like opening and saving files can cause the Mac to wait for those external drives to wake up. They may never wake up or take so long you’ll be tearing your hair out.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to access those drives, the Mac doesn’t know that and it’s just trying to be thorough.

Go into the Finder and eject these drives. The beach ball will immediately disappear.

4. Fix Storage Problems

The Mac uses free hard drive space to store information as it processes tasks. If the free space on your computer falls below roughly 15- 25 GB, you’ll encounter the spinning beach ball.

Before reaching this point you wou will get warnings on your Mac that ‘Your startup disk is almost full‘. 

Do not ignore these warnings. You can find instructions on how to manage storage in the link to the blog post above.

5. Force Shutdown

If none of the options above work, you will have to Force Shutdown your Mac.

  • Hold the power button down for 6-8 seconds until the screen goes black.
  • Let go of the power button, then click it once to turn the Mac back on.

You may lose work that you have not saved. To minimise this possibility, use the Autosave function in any Apps that offer it and try to get into the habit of saving regularly.

Microsoft Office provides excellent Autosave capabilities…  and remember to always use Time Machine.


I hope these tips are useful.

If your Mac is slow and you repeatedly get the spinning beach ball, there may be other factors causing the problem.

We provide thorough diagnostics and make recommendations on how to resolve the problem.

An analysis of this kind can be completed in under an hour. If you need help please call (310) 621-5679 or complete the Contact Form below.

Have a great week.

Find more great info at our main Mac Support page.

Get Help Now

2 + 13 =

John Carroll - No Problem Mac

Get More Answers!

Super easy tutorials for the Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

It's literally a no-brainer!

You have Successfully Subscribed!