Mac Maintenance

It’s the start of a new month, and around here that means it’s time to take care of a bunch of little tasks I schedule to keep my Mac in good shape. I appreciate this may not be of interest to many people, but I thought I’d share my process in case someone’s looking for tips.

1. Uninstall unwanted apps.

This is a monthly prompt to go through my Applications folder and check there’s nothing there that I no longer use. For the actual uninstalling I use an app called CleanMyMac X, which has an ‘Uninstaller’ function that makes sure to strip out all the support files and system-level junk that would otherwise be left behind if I just dragged an app icon to the Recycle Bin.

2. De-duplicate.

For this I use an app called Gemini 2. The process couldn’t be simpler: open the app, select a drive (I just go for my Mac’s hard disk), and hit ‘Scan for Duplicates’. This just makes sure I’m not using up disk space with multiple copies of the same file, and also prompts me if I’ve somehow ended up duplicating an entire folder whilst working on it.

3. Audit 1Password.

If you don’t currently use a password manager, it’s easily the single-most impactful step you can take to protect your accounts. There are plenty out there these days; I’ve been a 1Password user for many years, and I can’t fault it. The process here is simply to run down the ‘All items’ list, and make sure they all pertain to accounts I still use. Where I find something I don’t use anymore this is a good prompt to go and close the account and delete the saved credentials. 1Password will also notify me if a website I have an account with has been the subject of a data breach, or if a site offers two-factor authentication but I don’t have it set up. All useful stuff to make sure you’re as safe as possible.

4. Backup iOS devices.

Whilst iOS – properly configured – is creating nightly backups to iCloud, there are some things those don’t contain. As a precautionary measure, I make a monthly snapshot of both my iPhone and my iPad by creating backups via Mac’s Finder utility. The upside here is that by adding a password you can choose to encrypt the local backup, allowing it to include sensitive material like health data and saved passwords – these things are not included in standard over-the-air backups to iCloud. (Bonus: there’s something nostalgia-inducing about connecting my iPhone to my Mac with an honest-to-goodness cable.)

5. Run maintenance scripts.

Back to CleanMyMac X, this time to run the ‘Smart Scan’ function. This takes a system-wide look at my Mac, and makes recommendations about what could be done to improve the state of it: purging old system files, freeing up RAM, optimising the storage of Mail attachments etc… you don’t need to be technically proficient at any of it, the app will handle it all for you.

6. Backup photos.

This is the first thing most people think of when they worry about losing data to a fault with their computer. I use iCloud Photo Library, so there’s already a bit of redundancy built in since I have local copies of my photos and copies stored on iCloud. (In step 7 below you’ll see there’s actually a further two copies being made.) But, better safe than sorry, so I also keep an archive of photos on an external hard drive. This gets plugged in once a month and I simply copy the month’s photos across to save them in a simple year / month folder hierarchy.

7. Create bootable clone.

This is the one you hope you’ll never need to use. Backups of iOS devices and photos are great, but if your whole computer implodes they’re not going to be much use. Creating backups of your whole system can be done fairly easily via macOS’s built-in Time Machine utility, or for extra peace of mind you could opt for off-site backup just in case your computer and external hard drives get stolen or destroyed at the same time. I go this second route, and use a service called Backblaze, which copies any updated files on my computer on a continuous basis and keeps them in encrypted storage somewhere beneath the Nevada desert, or on the moon. However (unless something has changed that I haven’t caught) backups to Time Machine and / or Backblaze are not bootable. They’re great if you have a working computer and you want to roll back some changes, or find a lost file. But if everything fails and you need to start fresh, you’re going to need a bootable clone of your whole system. Enter Carbon Copy Cloner 5. Again, this is an app that just does the whole thing for you: link up an external hard drive, and set it to work.

8. Physically clean Mac.

I use a product called Whoosh, but there are plenty of alternatives out there. (Actually, during the pandemic era Apple has updated its guidance on cleaning iOS devices to allow for the use of certain household disinfectants.)

And that’s it. Done for another month. Alongside this I have a weekly regimen for keeping my iPhone in good shape, so if you’re really lucky I might share that here too at some point!

Adam Wood @adam