Time Machine makes regular backups of your important items that are stored on your Mac, which can then be used to restore those important items should something happen to them in the future. If you are using an external drive for the first time, I’ll show you at the end of this article how to format it so you can use it for the backup.
Click the Time Machine icon in the dock. You may be asked if you want to select a location for Time Machine backups. Click “Set Up Time Machine.” If the icon isn’t located in your dock, you should see it in the menu bar at the top-right if you are running OS X Mavericks. The icon is an arrow in the shape of a circle with a clock in the middle indicating 4 O’clock.
After Time Machine opens, plug in your external drive. Your selected drive will appear in the box and it will also indicate the size of your drive, how much room is left on that drive, the date of the oldest backup, the date of the last backup and when the next backup will occur.
If you see a prompt to select your external drive, go ahead and click it. If not, click “Select Disk” and then choose your disk. If you need a higher level of security for your backup, checkmark the box “Encrypt backups.” Make your selections and click “Use Disk.”
Time Machine will automatically switch on and begin counting down until the backup begins, usually within about 105 seconds. Switch Time Machine off now for the time being.
Next, click the “Options” button. Here, you can choose specific items to exclude from the backup. Click the “+” symbol on the left side and a box will open where you can search through your system. Select the item and then click “Save.” You must follow this process for each item you want to add to this list.
If you need to remove an item from the list so it will be included in the back up, highlight the item and then click the “-” symbol and it will be removed from the list.
When your drive is full, Time Machine begins to delete the oldest backup to make room for new ones. I recommend you leave the checkmark in the box: “Notify after old backups are deleted,” so you know when your drive is full. Click “Save” to finish.
Turn on Time Machine by moving the slider to “On.” You will most likely see a timer counting down until the next backup, or you may see an exact time when it will begin. In either case, you are done with the settings at this point. Once the backup completes, close the window and properly eject your drive.
Allow ample time to perform the backup. It can take more than 10 hours, so don’t start this when a power failure may occur.
To format a new portable hard disk for Mac use, be sure to backup any data you need from the drive and then plug it into your computer. Open “Finder.” Click “Go,” “Utilities,” and then when the window opens, launch “Disk Utilities.” Click the icon for your external drive to the left in the sidebar. At the top of the window, click the “Erase” tab. From the Volume Format menu, select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled).” In the Name Field, enter a name for your external drive, and then click “Erase.” Once it completes, close open windows and be sure to restart your computer. It is now ready to use with Time Machine.
For 14 years, Scott Lindsay has helped tens of thousands of people better their skills, publishing more than 250 articles about the computer and the Internet. You can reach Scott for comments or questions at Scott@HollywoodScott.com.