Walking you through Apple’s built-in backup software.

Everyone has important digital files these days. Maybe your family photo albums are stored on your computer, or you have important documents you need in order to keep track of your finances or run your business. Whatever the case may be, that data is important and it would be devastating to lose. Hard drives — even Solid State Drives — fail all the time, sometimes even out of the blue. A good backup routine is the most important thing you can do to keep those files safe. Luckily, all Apple computers come with Time Machine, a program that lets you automatically make backups every hour to your external drive.

Using Time Machine is super simple, all you need is an external hard drive, ideally with at least double your storage space. If you have a 500 GB drive in your computer, get an external drive with at least 1000 GB (1 TB) of space. You can check how big your hard drive is by clicking the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen, and selecting “About This Mac”.

System Preferences icon displayed in the Mac dock

Once you plug in your external hard drive, open System Preferences. Select the green Time Machine icon, and click the “Select Backup Disk” button in the Time Machine settings window.

Time Machine highlighted in System Preferences

Now you will see a list of drives connected to your computer; select the external drive you want. For added security, you can check the “encrypt backups” option on this screen as well. This setting will lock your backups with a password so nobody else can access them. If your backup drive is portable (connected to a laptop that moves around, for example) we recommend selecting this option. If it will stay on your desk a majority of the time that option is not as essential. Next, click the “Use Disk” button to go to the next screen.

Time Machine drive selection

If you opted to encrypt your backups, this is where you’ll enter a password for your backups. Keep this password safe, and write it down somewhere secure if you need to. If you forget your encryption password, neither you nor data recovery professionals will be able to recover data from your backups.

Time Machine window with the Back Up Automatically box enabled.

And that’s it! It’s really that simple. Double check to make sure the “Back Up Automatically” box is checked, which tells the machine to make hourly backups to your external drive. Your first backup will probably start in a couple minutes, but if you want to get it started immediately, just hold Control on your keyboard and click the external drive in that Time Machine window, and select “Back Up Now” to start the backup process. You can also do that any time you want to start a backup manually.

Time Machine in your top bar, with Back Up Now highlighted.

And don’t worry about the backups taking up too much space. Time Machine uses a technology called “deduplication”, meaning it only backs up the files that change each hour, not all of them every time. That way, your backups stay (relatively) small, but you still get to backup all your work.