Sometimes it feels that life is solving one problem after the other. Computers also are always fun. 

This article kicks off a series about troubleshooting your computer. You will get practical advice. The articles will be short, to the point, without advertisements. I'll try to be not as dry as the Sahara with my advice. 

Today we are going to look at general troubleshooting tactics: What makes sense and what doesn't. 

Rule Number 1: Don't panic

The easiest and the hardest not to do is having a panic attack. If you need to do something and you can't do it then you need to solve your problem first. Having a panic doesn't help. Yes, it sounds cheesy. 

Google your problem 

Whatever your problem is it's likely that other users have had the same problem. If it's "macos doesn't start" to esoteric crashes. Google knows almost everything. In a later article I'll show you what the relevant part of a crash log is. What I really hate are: 

  • questions without answers
  • questions from myself

Yeah, I have had the latter happening - must be amnesia. 

Make a plan 

Let's say you can't send mails. This could come from internet not available, router problems, account problems. Exclude the simple stuff first like checking cables and then work on the more complex things. Change your plan if you find out something new. 

Have multiple backups 

Yep, you need more than one backup. If your house/apartment burns down your wonderful second hard disk will burn with the house/apartment. The online backup doesn't help too much if you need to download everything in the next 4 weeks. You need both online and offline backups. We are going to look at options for both in another article. 

Putting some files on a thumb drive also isn't a good idea. You need at least 2 copies of everything. What happens if you lose the thumb drive?

Use Timeboxing 

Set yourself a time limit for solving problems. There is this thinking "the problem will be solved with the next try". Then it's the next one and the next one. Say "I'll solve the problem in 30 minutes or I will stop". Do something else You can't force ideas how to solve a problem. Take a walk, have a shower, try again the next day after sleeping. This solves the problem EVERY time for me. At least it gives me ideas what else I can try. 

Let someone else solve your problem

The Favourite Sister has it easy: "Trixi, I have a problem with my iPad/iPhone". And I have another opportunity to learn wonderful things about iOS. You can ask in a forum or a mailing list. But you need to able to describe your problem with as many details as possible. 

Simplify the problem

Can you break down your problem into smaller parts? Solving smaller problems is far easier than solving one big problem. 

Can you reproduce the problem?

Click on button a, click on button b: crash. Click again on button a, click again on button b: crash or no crash. Reproducing problems is the absolute joy of developing software and solving computer problems. If you get a crash then congratulations on having a reproducible crash. If there is no crash at the second time then solving the problem is much harder. Rapidweaver makes very nice websites. But publishing the website often stalls after the exporting step. Not reproducible at all. Those problems can be solved, too. But the real "work" for the developer usually lies in making the problem reproducible. What are the conditions? Did the user click somewhere else? Is the problem dependent on the data? 

Deferring the problem 

Do you absolutely have to solve the problem now? Can you live with a workaround for a time? On Catalina 1Password doesn't work anymore. Because 1Password is pushing for a subscription I'm not keen on updating. So I need a replacement. Which I'm going to do in the next day. Or so I think. 

When in doubt restart the computer

In Germany we have a saying "Reboot tut gut"/"Reboot does good". In former times that was valid for Windows. Nowadays, it applies to macOS, too.