Keeping regular backups of your Mac is one of the most important things that everyone should do. Imagine all your pictures, documents, movies and music, just gone. It’s enough to take your breath away. Trust me, I’ve had it happen to me, and you don’t want it to happen to you, especially when it’s so easy to backup your Mac with Time Machine.

Time Machine backs up everything on your hard drive, and comes pre-installed on your Mac. All you need is an external drive or Time Capsule. One of my favourite things about Time Machine is how you can set it, and forget it. It automatically backs up everything including system files, music, photos, movies, applications, preferences, accounts, email messages, and documents.

There are a few other backup applications out there, however what separates Time Machine from the others is its ability to remember how your system looked on any give day and restore it to that time frame. Also it looks really cool when restoring files… so that counts as another plus. It backs up every file, keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until your Time Machine drive is full. I wanted to do more that just tell you about Time Machine, so here is a short video of it in action.

When choosing an external hard drive to back up to, you want to get one that’s at lease twice as big as the hard drive that your backing up. So if you Mac has a 999GB (1 TB) hard drive in it, you want a 2TB or larger drive. I would also highly recommend that your external hard drive remains solely for backing up to Time Machine and nothing else. Because accidentally deleting your Time Machine backup would be almost as bad as not having a backup in the first place.

Once you have an external hard drive, you need to make sure it is properly formatted. Picking up an external hard drive from, say Walmart, is most likely not going to be formatted properly. Luckily, it’s a very simple process, you just need to be very careful when selecting which disk you want to format. Plug your external hard drive into your Mac and open Disk Utility (find it in your Applications/Utilities folder). Note: If you drive is already “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” then you don’t need to format.
Disk UtilityOpening Disk Utility will show you all the drives you have plugged in. As you can see, the drive that I selected is formatted as MS-DOS (FAT). FAT is a format that works on both PC and Mac, however it’s limited by not being able to store any file larger than 4GB, so we are going to change it into a format better suited for Time Machine.

It is VERY important to make sure you have selected the correct drive to format, because formatting will erase everything on the drive.

Now that your sure you’ve selected the correct drive you want to format, click the Erase tab. On that page you’ll see an options drop down menu for selecting which format to format your drive as. Select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” and then choose what you’d like to call the drive. Click the “Erase…” on the lower right side of Disk Utility, and your drive will start formatting. It should take less than a minute in most cases.

Time Machine Options

Time Machine Options

After your drive is finished formatting, Time Machine should automatically detect it and ask if you want to use it to make backups. If it doesn’t automatically pop up, there’s nothing to worry about. Go to you System Preferences -> Time Machine. Turn it on and select the drive you just formatted. Done.

That’s the beautiful thing about Time Machine, you set it, and forget it. It will take care of everything else in the background. As you can see from the picture on the right, it keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until your Time Machine drive is full.

Depending on the amount of files as well as the size of the backup, the first time backing up could take a few hours. However after the first backup, Time Machine will only update the new and changed files. If you keep your drive constantly plugged into your Mac the hourly backups will take just a few seconds. As your drive fills up, Time Machine will automatically delete the oldest backups, which is why it is recommended to backup to a drive that’s at least twice the size of the drive you are backing up to. By default you will be notified when Time Machine deletes the oldest backup, this can be disabled however in the options if you so choose.

There is also an option to select any drive or folder to exclude from the backups. In System Preferences -> Time Machine -> Options select any drive or folder you’d like to exclude. Also by default Time Machine puts an icon in the menu bar. When it’s doing a backup the icon in the menu bar will start running counterclockwise, simply letting you know it’s backing up. You can disable this if you like by going to System Preferences -> Time Machine -> and de-selecting the “Show Time Machine in the menu bar” check box. Remember to backup often.