Raise your hand if you hate the spinning beach ball! Yep, I’m talking about all those times when your computer mouse turns into a spinning blue disc (on a Windows PC) or a multicolored beach ball (on a Mac), just as the program on your desktop comes to a screeching halt.

That usually means something (hopefully minor) is amiss on your system. Maybe your computer is running low on memory because it’s doing a few too many things at once; or, perhaps, the program you’re using has wandered into a corner that it can’t get itself out of.

Now, the best way to deal with either the spinning Windows disc or the Mac’s beach ball is, typically, to do nothing. With any luck, your system or application will settle down after a few seconds or so.

But if several minutes have passed and you’re still staring at a frozen program, it might be time to take matters into your own hands and force the stalled program to quit.

Doing so may, of course, lead to losing any unsaved data; then again, you may not have much choice.
Ready to unstick a stuck program? Here’s how.

Windows Task Manager

Stuck with a frozen Windows program? Open the Task Manager, select the app that’s causing you trouble, then click the End Task button.

For Windows:

  • If you’re still seeing the spinny circle after waiting a few minutes, it’s probably time to call up the Task Manager, a tool that details all the programs and other system “processes” that are currently running on your PC. To do so, press and hold the CONTROL, ALT, and DELETE keys all at the same time, then click the Task Manager option.
  • Once Task Manager is running (if you’re using a Windows 7 PC, make sure the Applications tab is selected), check out the list of running programs; you should see the misbehaving program flagged with a status of “Not Responding.” Click the program, then click the “End Task” button at the bottom of the Task Manager window.
  • Next, you’ll be prompted to either a) wait a little longer for the program to right itself, or b) go ahead and quit the program. Waited long enough? Then click “quit.”
Mac force quit window

You can force a frozen Mac program to quit in just a few clicks.

For Mac:

  • Open the Apple menu (just click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen) and select “Force Quit”—or, if you like, press the COMMAND, OPTION, and ESCAPE buttons all at the same time.
  • You should now see a list of all the running programs on your Mac, including the application that’s frozen (probably labeled “Not Responding”). Click the name of the program, then click the “Force Quit” keys in the bottom corner of the Force Quit menu.
  • A prompt will appear warning that you may lose any unsaved changes if you force the program to quit. Ready to put your program out of its misery? Click the Force Quit button once more, or Cancel if you’re rather wait it out.

Click here for more Windows tips, or here for help with your Mac.