Thwarting the Rolling Beach Ball of Death

We’ve all seen it. Spinning relentlessly on our Macs while we wait for an action to take place–a website to open, a file to save, a game to start, and so on. Technically it’s called the Spinning Wait Cursor, but many of us call it the Spinning Beach Ball of Death because it often means our current computer task is not going to be completed in a timely fashion.

It appears when an application can not kick in within two to four seconds. In simplest terms, the spinning colorful ball indicates that our Macs have too much going on to address a new task.  To read about the technical aspects of this occurrence, read this article in Macworld.

There is good and bad news about how to address the spinning beach ball. First the good–there are a variety of steps the typical Mac user can take to stop the spinning.  The bad–you may need to upgrade your Mac because it’s just too old to deal with newer applications and up-to-date websites.

Let’s address the bad first–older Macs.  If you have had your Mac for eight-ten years and it can no longer update the operating system, it just may not be able to handle new applications or fancy websites.  Remember, the digital world is highly competitive, and thus each company is constantly trying to be fancier and faster than the competition. Older hardware becomes incompatible with newer software. Frustrating! Here’s an example.  I can no longer use Word for Mac that I purchased years ago because Microsoft no longer supports it and has a new version they wish I would purchase. I’ve switched to using Pages because Apple updates it, and it came as part of the package when I purchased my Mac.  It exports to Word and can open a Word document so I see no need to send Microsoft any more money.

The latest OS update is Big Sur Version 11.4.  You can find out what OS you are operating by going to About this Mac which you will find in the drop-down menu under the apple in the upper left-hand corner of your screen.

If you cannot update to Big Sur, then you will probably be seeing the spinning ball more and more. If you just use your Mac for email and word processing, then you probably be OK for a while.  Some applications and websites may become problematic.

But STOP! Don’t despair!  There is good news. Let’s look at a few options before you start researching newer Macs:

Change internet browsers: Some websites/applications work better with a specific browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) For example, if I am using Google Drive, I always use Chrome because they are both Google products.  Another option might be to try an anonymous browser like DuckDuckGo that doesn’t track your clicks through the internet. Be sure to close the browser you are not using.

Force Quit: Go to the drop-down menu under the apple and click on Force Quit. You will see another menu–click on the application that is causing the rolling beach ball.

Now close any additional applications you are not using and try reopening the troublesome application (spinning ball). Often, if you close out extra applications, things will proceed smoothly. Just look at the image above and notice how many applications I have open.  An older Mac might not be able to juggle all of those open tabs or windows!

Restart: Sometimes just restarting your Mac will solve the problem.  Once again, go to the drop-down menu under the apple and click on restart. Your open application will close and your computer will reboot.  Think of it as your Mac taking a walk in the fresh air to clear its memory, just like we do when we need a break.

Check your start-up disk storage. If your startup disk storage is approaching capacity, then your Mac probably will be sluggish and not work as efficiently as you would like.  You can check it by going to the apple drop-down menu and then clicking on About this Mac. Next click on Storage.

You will see a colorful bar graph.  If it is nearly full, it’s time to do some house cleaning.


  • Old files you no longer need
  • Applications that are obsolete or not used anymore
  • Images, music, and videos you no longer want.

Applications, music, and videos take up a lot of storage space.  You will find applications in the Application folder in the Finder window.

Click on the Applications folder and drag any useless application to the Trash. Don’t forget to empty the Trash.

There is no question, the newer your Mac the fewer times you will be stymied by the Rolling Beach Ball of Death.  If you decide to upgrade, do your research and think about your budget.  You want to buy the most RAM (random-access memory) and memory you can afford.

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