How To Use Time Machine To Backup Manually

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Mac OS  X comes with a built in tool called Time Machine which can be used to backup your System and also create restore point at various intervals. Once Time Machine is setup, it runs a automated incremental backup every hour. This sometimes can be a problem when you are tight on Backup Disk space or when you want to control when to backup your System. In this article we will show you how to overcome this problem by running manual backups using Time Machine instead of using the default automated backups.

Please note, using Time Machine to backup manually may limit your ability to restore to hourly (past 24 hours), daily (past month) and weekly (previous months) restore points. Instead, you will only be able to restore to a point when the manual backup was initiated. To run manual backups using Time Machine follow the below steps.

Open System Preferences > Time Machine, unlock to make changes, then click on “Select Backup Disk” button to specify a Backup Disk.

time machine bk1Select the Drive you would like to use as a Backup Disk from available list of Disks, check the “Encrypt backups” check box and click “Use Disk” Button. I would highly recommend using a external Drive as a safe guard against disk failures.

time machine bk2Next, when prompted enter a password which will be used to encrypt your Backup Drive, then click “Encrypt Disk”.

time machine bk3Once the above steps are completed, Time Machine is automatically turned on and a initial System backup is triggered. Allow the initial System backup to run and complete.

time machine bk4 time machine bk5Once the initial System backup is complete, Time Machine will then begin to encrypt the Backup Disk. Backup and encryption process usually takes a while (couple of hours depending on your data), so plan ahead.

time machine bk6After the initial backup and encryption is complete and if Time Machine is left on, Time Machine will run an incremental backup of your System every hour, which can cause you to run out of Backup Disk space pretty quickly, especially if you have a busy machine and a relatively small Backup Disk.

time machine bk7So, to run manual backups using Time Machine, simply move the switch to “OFF” position as shown in the screen shot below. This will turn off Time Machine automated backups.

time machine bk8To continue taking future backups manually simply click on the Time Machine icon in the task bar and select “Back Up Now” from the drop down list. This will take a incremental System backup from the point the last automatic or manual backup was run.

time machine bk9The above steps should help you to use your Backup Disk more efficiently. Do let us know your thought on Time Machine automated backup versus Time Machine manual backup, which do you prefer?


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About Vijay

Computer junky for 20 plus years and still obsessed with it. I enjoy exploring and tweaking popular operating systems and tinkering with computer hardware. Professionally, I work as a Storage Systems Administrator. When not on my computer, I love to travel, shop, read and hang out with my family and friends.


  1. Hi. I’m in the middle of my first backup with a new 2TB disk. Time Machine seems to have completed the first backup but is taking a super long time now to encrypt the disk (like, I think it’s gonna take another 12 hours or more even though it’s only 51% complete). I’m wondering if turning Time Machine to “OFF” (in order to have it not back up automatically every hour on top of trying to encrypt the disk) will interrupt the encryption. Can I safely turn Time Machine to OFF, and will this speed things up? Thanks!

    • Hi Kitty, I suggest letting Time Machine do it’s thing. Yes, it can take a while to encrypt first time around. But if you are in a real hurry, then alternatively you can uncheck the “Encrypt backups” check box, while selecting the backup drive. Note, security wise this is not recommended.

  2. With all due respect, your explanation doesn’t work on my iMac desktop. Time Machine (version 1.1) came pre-loaded on my iMac (Snow Leopard OS X 10.6.8). I can’t get your suggested steps to manually create a new full Time Machine backup by over-writing a previous automatic backup. Your images of the Time Machine windows are different from those shown on my iMac?? And my Time Machine does not include encryption/password options?? Is it possible that Apple has given me some sort of ‘lite’ version of Time Machine that excludes the capability to perform manual backups by over-writing previous automatic backups? What are my options?

    • Hi Phil, The example shown in this article uses Time Machine running on Mountain Lion, which is the latest available version of OS X. This article is also relevant to the previous version of OS X (Lion). Unfortunately, I do not have a machine running Snow Leopard to help you trouble shoot this issue. I would recommend trying the Apple Community Forum for answers.

  3. Fernando Gomes says:

    Dear Vijay,
    In Yr expertise. I have installed a SSD in my iMac but still keeping my HDD.
    Now the system (Mountain Lion) is in my SSD and i want to transfer all my data in to the HDD. The problem is that last backup from the Time Machine was done when the HDD was the only harddrive installed in my iMac. Is it possible to install from the time machine all my data in to the HDD and keep in the SSD my system? Someone told me that all the libraries (imovie, iphoto, itunes) must be installed manually into the HDD to keep the SDD the main disk. Can U pse help me?
    Thks. Fernando from Portugal

    • Hi Fernando,

      I am a little confused with what your end goal is, are you trying to make your HDD exactly similar to (clone of) your SSD or are you just trying to copy your data on the SSD to the HDD?

      Anyways, in case you are want your HDD to be a clone of your SSD, then you have two options – 1. Take a new and complete Time Machine Backup of your entire SSD and restore it to your HDD. 2. Clone the SSD as source to HDD as target, see my article on cloning for additional details. Note: In both cases, all data on HDD will be lost and replaced with data on SSD.

      On the other hand, if you just want the same data on your SSD available on your HDD, you can simply copy the data over from the SSD to HDD. Hope this helps.

  4. Hi Vijay,

    I started the initial backup on an empty new external drive on the go (no charger) after having grossly underestimated the time required for the first backup. So about 1/3 through the backup, my battery drained and my macbook had to shut down. What do i do the next time i start my computer? Does the back up resume from where it left off?


    • Hi Rina,

      Good question, to be honest have not come across such a scenario. But I guess, it should recover from it as long as your external backup drive is still connected. If it doesn’t resume you could always re-initiate a full backup again.

  5. Tito Henriquez says:

    Hello Vijay,
    My MacBook Pro runs in Mac OS X version 10.6.8
    I just installed a new AirPort Time Capsule. While trying to configure it with my MacBook, I got a message saying that my airport utility is not up to date and using my machine to configure the Time Capsule was NOT recommended. I tried to download upgrades or newest versions of the utility but found none.
    Since then, every time I use my Mac at my home where the Time Capsule is, the computer freezes. But when I use it anywhere else there is no problem. So there is obviously an issue between the Time Capsule and my Mac. Meanwhile, there are other computers and devices working fine at my home and getting the internet signal through the Time Capsule.
    – I’m thinking that the easiest way to stop this conflict would be to turn off the time machine on my Mac, as you explain here. Should that work?
    – Do you think it would be worth a try to download and upgrade my Mac to OX X Mavericks? Would I be able to connect my Mac to the Time Capsule then?
    Thanks a lot. I’ve looked at a lot of sites to solve this and found that your clear and direct language makes it easier for not-so-techies like myself.

    • Hi Tito,

      Must say good process of elimination :). It definitely appears that something doesn’t gel well here. I checked the Apple site and it say the latest Airport Time Capsule is compatible from Leopard and later, so have you tried reaching out to Apple support. In any case you could try a few thing like you yourself have suggested.

      1. Turn off Time Machine temporarily like you suggested from “System Preferences > Time Machine”, see if this resolves the connectivity issue. Note, you can turn it back on after you are done trouble shooting.
      2. If step 1 doesn’t help then, turn off Time Machine temporarily like in step 1 and also disable the wireless adapter (by clicking on the wireless indicator in Menu Bar and selecting the “Turn Wi-Fi off” option). Once done connected your MBP to Airport Time Capsule using a Ethernet cable and see if this works.
      3. Lastly, you can always install Mavericks on a external drive or a free partition on the internal drive and boot from it by keeping the “Options” key pressed down during boot up. This will help you test if Mavericks helps your situation without actually blowing away your existing OS X version. Note: Make sure to backup your data before you begin. Also note, that the external drives / partitions data will be lost during the install, so make sure to backup the external drive / partition as well. You could also try this on a virtual machine if you have Fusion or Parallel. These articles might help you with this step “Dual Boot Mountain Lion And Lion On Your Mac” (use same procedure for Mavericks and for external drive if you don’t want to go through the hassle of partitioning) and “Installing Mountain Lion On VMware Fusion” (same applies for Mavericks install on VM).

      Hope this help. Let me know how it goes and if you have additional questions.