What’s the best, fastest, and safest way to back up my MacBook?

Each staff computer came with a very compact 1 terabyte external hard drive, called a Passport.  While you can use this drive to save file and back up manually, the easier and frankly better way to back up is to use Time Machine on your MacBook.  Once you do the initial setup, Time Machine is a really easy way to ensure your data is backed up.

Here’s how it works.  Once you turn on Time Machine and set it to use the external Passport drive, it will take a snap shot of your computer.  This initial snap shot might take 30 or 40 minutes to complete.  So, you’ll need to budget enough time for it to do this.  You can still work on your computer while it is doing this, but the Passport must be connected the whole time.  After this initial snap shot is done, each time you connect the Passport to your computer, Time Machine will automatically search for and back up any changes you’ve made since the last back up.  So, after this first time, it takes very little time to complete it.  It usually lasts about 2 or three minutes.

Because Time Machine’s back up process is incremental – only backing up changes – there are at least two folders we’ll need to you exclude for this work really smoolthly.  Outlook keeps a copy of your mailbox in a folder on your computer.  So does Apple’s Mail App.  Because most of us (me included) have rather large mailboxes and we back up all mailboxes on the server, it’s not necessary for Time Machine to back them up.  If you don’t exclude these two folders, it will take Time Machine A LOT longer to run.  The reason for this is that, again, most mailboxes are large and we all get a lot of mail each day, so Time Machine will back up this entire folder with every change.  So, this is really inefficient.

Here are the setups for setting up Time Machine on your MacBook:

  1. Plug in your Passport drive to your computer.  You should see it appear on the desktop.
  2. Open System Preferences – this can be done from the Dock or by going to the Apple Menu.
  3. Click the Time Machine button in System Preferences.   It’s under the System category.
  4. Use the toggle to turn Time Machine “On.”

    Here’s what Time Machine System Preferences look like when they are all setup.

  5. Click the “Select Disk” button.  Choose the Passport drive from the list.  There should only be two items showing.
  6. Be sure the “Show Time Machine status in menu bar” checkbox is selected.
  7. Click the “Options” button.  This is the step where we will exclude the Outlook and Mail App folders.
  8. A new window will appear.  Just under the “Exclude these items from backup:” list in the lower left corner are two buttons: a plus sign (+) and a minus sign (-).
  9. Click the plus sign.

10. In the new window that appears be sure to click the “Show Invisible Item” check box .

11. In the same window click on your “home” icon  in the menu of items on the left to start.  The “Home” icon has a picture of a house and your computer username next to it. 

12. Then use the cascading menus in the window to the right of that to select the “Documents” folder.  Then select the “Microsoft User Data” folder.

13. With the “Microsoft User Data” folder selected, click the “Exclude” button in the lower right corner of this window.

14. Click the “Save” button.

If you use the Mail App to read email, we we’ll need to follow the same steps to exclude it’s database folder.  If you don’t use Mail App, you can skip these steps.

  • Get to the point where you can add exclusion folders. And, click on your Home icon.
  • Navigate to the “Library” folder and select the “Mail” folder that’s inside.

Once these exclusions are in place, go ahead and close System Preferences.  You are ready to use Time Machine.  Remember, the first back up will take some time.  But subsequent days or backs will take much less time.  I back up once a day.  I plug in my Passport drive when I arrive.  The Time Machine icon in the menu bar spins like a clock while it’s active.

Time Machine Menu Bar Icon

When that stops, I know Time Machine is done and it’s safe for me to drag the Passport drive to the trash to eject it.  Please note, that is this safe way to unplug the Passport.  Please do not just unplug it.  This may cause file system damage and corrupt data if you don’t.  Finally, there’s nothing wrong with running Time Machine multiple times a day if you wish.  It won’t fill up your drive much faster.  So, us it as often as you like.

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