If you’re like me, Time Machine tends to run slowly most of the time, or maybe you are trying to do a large initial Time Machine backup and want to squeeze some more performance out of it. A simple tip: Quit the Finder.
I have watched Time Machine just sit there seemingly doing nothing then after quitting the Finder* I can see it really start moving within 30 seconds. The simplest way I know to properly tell Finder to Quit is with Activity Monitor. Open it, find and select Finder, then click the Quit (X) button at the top to choose Quit (not Force Quit, unless it is unresponsive, but it will restart).
It’s ok to go about your business working with other apps while the Finder is quit. Then later when you need to interact with files and folders in Finder windows just click on Finder in the Dock to start it back up.
But isn’t that a terrible idea, potentially damaging or otherwise breaking how my computer works? There is a lot of bad information out there about this, but cooler heads prevail and say “no” to that FUD. The Finder is just a pretty way to find your stuff. Here is Apple’s description from the link above:
The Finder is the first thing that you see when your Mac finishes starting up. It opens automatically and stays open as you use other apps. It includes the Finder menu bar at the top of the screen and the desktop below that. It uses windows and icons to show you the contents of your Mac, iCloud Drive, and other storage devices. It’s called the Finder because it helps you to find and organize your files.
The Finder is only used to display icons on the desktop** and allow you to navigate your file system through Finder windows. There doesn’t appear to be any underlying or fundamental functionality you are interfering with by it not running. I’ve been going about my business for days without the Finder and had no issues. Only blissful efficiency restored to my daily life. However, it seems to be prone to interfering with other things when it is running.
I wonder how far I can take this. Follow me as I fall down the rabbit hole…
How about adding a Quit menu option to the Finder either in the Dock or in its own menus? Maybe I’d like to just leave it quit unless I want to use it, and better to just choose Quit instead of needing to use Activity Monitor. I found you can easily add a typical Quit feature to Finder using Terminal (restart Finder to pick up the change):
# defaults write com.apple.finder QuitMenuItem -bool YES
My guess is this option is normally hidden because it would confuse most people if they inadvertently quit the Finder. You can also use an app like TinkerTool to adjust lots of settings including this one.
Have you ever had an app that seemed to be unstable or use too many resources when you’re not using it so you always quit it when you don’t need it? That’s how I’ve been approaching the Finder since starting this article. I needed to manually install an app update so I launched the Finder, ran the installer, then quit the Finder. Backups have been running dreamy and things just feel a bit more stable.
I noticed the Finder restarts periodically on its own. It appears to be from IDECacheDeleteAppExtension which does its thing for a few seconds then goes away. This looks to be part of Xcode. Maybe I should get a utility that quits the Finder periodically, or am I taking this a little too far? Maybe this would do the trick.
I should point out that I launch all of my apps from the Dock, mostly from Stacks I’ve built for Browsers, Web Apps, Apps, and Utilities. I keep my Dock very stock with the addition of these stacks. My Dock also has a folder for direct access to work-related files and the default Downloads stack.
Weren’t we talking about slow Time Machine backups? Maybe the moral of this story is that the Finder has issues and can get in the way of other things your computer is supposed to be doing and slowing you down or causing things to run too hot. In the end, this article became more than just about a specific Time Machine problem. Maybe your work day will change even slightly for the better like mine has.
*While “the Finder” easily rolls off the tongue, it doesn’t make sense to me when referring to it as an app like you would any other, like Mail. You could just as easily say “quit the Finder” or “quit Finder.” You wouldn’t say “quit the Mail” but you might say “quit the Mail app” but you wouldn’t normally say “quit the Finder app.” I decided to defer to Apple since they only say “the Finder” like in their link at the top. I’m guessing Apple’s technical writers had this discussion 30 years ago.
**I was surprised that I could not easily find a clear definition of a computer desktop to link in this article, especially referring to macOS. The information I found is incomplete, confusing, or adding other features such as the Dock which is separate.
Further reading: JP also has a nice tip for using Time Machine with an external hard drive.