Your Mac hijacking your cursor and asking you to wait is never welcome. People call it different things, including the spinning wheel, the beach ball, or the death pin.
The good news is that a spinning wheel means macOS hasn’t completely crashed. You may be able to regain control.
What is the Spinning Wheel of Death on a Mac?
This rainbow spinning wheel (whatever you call it) is a common macOS wait cursor. It fires when an app is unresponsive for a few seconds and indicates that you should wait before giving any further instructions to the app.
How to fix the spinning wheel of death
A spinning wheel (or beach ball) is a sign from the operating system that an application is not behaving as it should. This is one of the best issues to run into because it means your system is probably working fine. This is probably only one app that is causing the problem. If you find the app and fix it, you should be golden.
With that in mind, let’s see how to find the app in question and how to get rid of the spinning wheel.
Find the app that’s causing the problem
A spinning wheel usually means that macOS has detected a problem in a specific application. The good news is that it also means that your entire system (including the operating system) didn’t crash. In fact, a spinning wheel does not necessarily mean that something has crashed (yet).
If it’s not already obvious, you can find the app that’s causing the problem by browsing through the active ones. To do this, press Command + Tab or just click on the screen (your mouse should still work even if the cursor has changed).
If you don’t know which app is causing the problem, Activity monitor might be able to help you. You can launch it by going to Applications> Utilities or search it in spotlight. Under the CPU tab, click on the “% CPU” column to organize the list according to current system usage.
This puts the thirstiest apps at the top of the list. See if any are using more than their fair share of CPU resources. You may also see “(Not responding)” added after the app name in the list. Resist quitting the app just yet and go to the next step.
Wait a minute
Many times the spinning wheel of death appears when an app tries to do something. For example, it might appear when you try to render a video in an editing program or perform batch edits in a photo editing application. It can even appear when you connect to a server in an online game.
In these cases, waiting is the best option. If you’ve ever asked an app to do something, you might as well give it time to complete the task. Sometimes it’s not something you explicitly asked for. For example, the macOS Photos app can perform image analysis on a set of photos that you recently imported.
Other apps should work normally during this time, assuming you don’t put a huge load on the system (like rendering videos or 3D models, for example). Get away from your computer for a few minutes and let your Mac fix the problem.
Force quit the application Problem
If you wait for a task to complete for a while, but your computer is still not responding, it might be a good idea to force quit and restart the application. If you have any unsaved data or work you might lose it when you do this, so make sure you’ve given the app enough time to recover it.
You can first try to exit the application normally. To do this, right-click (or click with two fingers or press Ctrl + click) its icon in the Dock, then choose Exit. The application may take a second to respond. However, by closing it normally, you can avoid losing any unsaved work.
Unfortunately, this does not always work. You can also force quit an application by right-clicking its icon in the Dock, holding down the Option key on your keyboard, and then selecting “Force Quit.”
Alternatively, you can run Activity monitor, find the app, and then exit the process from there.
When the problematic application is closed, the spinning wheel of death should disappear. You should now be able to reopen the app and try again.
Do you have a persistent reel? Restart your Mac
If the reel refuses to go away or keeps reappearing, restarting your machine is a good idea. Just click on the Apple logo, select “Restart,” then wait. Once your machine reboots, it should be fast and responsive, with no wait sliders in sight.
Sometimes your Mac may crash to the point that it is not possible to restart it through the Apple logo. If this happens (and you feel like you’ve waited long enough for it to respond), press and hold your Mac’s power button (or the Touch ID button on some MacBooks) until ‘it goes out.
This is the last resort for major system crashes and you will lose any unsaved work in applications that are still running. If possible, save and close any applications that are still responding before attempting this step.
A wheel that spins frequently indicates other problems
It’s reasonable to expect to see the spinning wheel every now and then, especially when it comes to resource-intensive applications. However, if you start to see it often and in a variety of applications, it may indicate a bigger problem.
In this case, the state of your system may contribute to software instability. A common cause is the lack of available storage. Your Mac needs free space to run. The operating system and third-party applications inflate and reduce their storage usage over time
So, first, make sure your Mac has enough free space. Apple does not say what the “right” amount of free space is. However, we recommend that you leave around 10% of your primary disk space (around 20GB on a 256GB MacBook). That should be enough to turn the cogs.
A lack of RAM can also cause the spinning reel to appear regularly in memory-intensive applications. There’s not much you can do about it unless you’re using an iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro that lets you upgrade memory.
Are you using Yosemite or earlier? Repair permissions
If you’re stuck on an older version of macOS, like 10.10 (OS X Yosemite) or earlier, you might want to try repairing disk permissions if you often see the spinning wheel spinning.
If you are working with version 10.10 or earlier, launch Disk Utility by going to the Applications> Utilities folder or just search for it in Spotlight. Select the primary boot drive (usually called “Macintosh HD”) from the sidebar, then click “First Aid”. Let your Mac scan and fix any errors it finds.
This is not necessary for version 10.11 (El Capitan) or later, as Apple has made changes to how the authorization system works.
Beachball Be Gone!
Hope these tips give you a good idea of how to fix any future issues with the spinning wheel (or beach ball) of death.
Keep in mind, however, that the only advantage of seeing the spinning wheel is that the problem is probably an app. If you are experiencing system-wide instability, you may want to learn how to fix a frozen Mac next.
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