Mac Tutorials

How to Open and Use Activity Monitor (Mac Task Manager)

Every copy of macOS has the Activity Monitor app installed in it. Like the Task Manager in Windows, Activity Monitor lets you see everything that’s running on your Mac. This includes apps that you can open and quit as normal, but it also includes background processes, which you don’t normally see.  


Many of these processes will be part of macOS itself, but you’ll also find background processes for your other Mac apps, including for your web browser, your antivirus and things like VPN clients.  


In this guide, we’ll show you how to open Activity Monitor, before looking at some of the ways you can use it:

Before we start


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How to start Activity Monitor

As with most Mac apps, there are a couple of ways to open Activity Monitor. Choose whichever method you find most convenient.  


How to open Activity Monitor on your Mac:

  1. In Finder, navigate to Applications > Utilities. In that folder, you’ll find Activity Monitor. Double-click it to start it
  2. Alternatively, click the Spotlight in the top right of your Mac’s screen. It looks like a magnifying glass. Start typing ‘activity monitor’, and should come up. Press Enter to start Activity Monitor
  3. You can also bring up Spotlight by pressing Cmd + Spacebar. Then type in ‘activity monitor’ to load the app.

How to quit apps in Activity Monitor

The macOS Activity Monitor lets you quit out of apps running on your Mac, as well as background processes that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. This can be useful if your Mac is running slowly or an app is behaving oddly.  


You can quit apps in Activity Monitor in a few easy steps:

  1. Start Activity Monitor
  2. Look through the list of processes, and select what you want to quit
  3. Now click the X symbol
  4. Select Quit or Force Quit
  5. You can also quit an app by double-clicking it in the list, then clicking the Quit button.
Activity Monitor window opened to show the user a list of all actual processes on a Mac
Step 1. Activity Monitor > Pick a process to quit
After the user chose the particular process to stop, they need to click on the X button. You see the latter highlighted with the red box
Step 2. Click X
As the next step, the user needs to confirm the chosen process to be quitted by clicking the Quit button
Step 3. Confirm to Quit / Force Quit
Now you see the final stage of quitting the app in Activity Monitor identified by the Quit button clicked one more time
Step 4. Click Quit one more time

How to inspect processes in Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor gives you all kinds of information about what’s running on your Mac. And you can focus on each process to get a summary of what it is and what it’s doing. If you’re having issues with your Mac running slowly or unpredictably, this information might help you to find the app or background process that’s causing the slowdown.


Here’s how to inspect a process on Mac:

  1. In Activity Monitor, find a process in the list, and double-click it
  2. This will open a new window with a few tabs. In the Memory tab, you’ll be able to see how much RAM the process is using
  3. Click Statistics to see a range of technical information, including the number of threads a process is using
  4. The Open Files and Ports tab shows exactly what the name says. You can see exactly which files an is using at any given time
  5. If you click next to Parent Process, it will open up another window, with details about that process.
The purposes of using Activity Monitor can be different, and this time, you see its window showing the way to learn more about ongoing processes
Step 1. Activity Monitor > Choose a process > Double-click it
The statistics tab is chosen in the Activity Monitor to give you a more detailed overview of what’s going on on your Mac
Step 2. Memory > Statistics
Now click on the Open Files and Processes tab to see a report on all files and processes taking place on your Apple computer
Step 3. Open Files and Ports
Finish the inspection by selecting the Parent Process option, which will open a separate window devoted to the process details.
Step 4. Parent Process

How to run diagnostic reports in Activity Monitor

You can create a variety of diagnostic reports in Activity Monitor. You can sample a process for three seconds to see what it’s doing when it runs. You can also create a spindump, which looks at unresponsive apps that were force quit. You can create a System Diagnostics report. And you can create a Spotlight Diagnostic report, based on all the processes running on your Mac. All of these create technical reports, which you can send to Apple Support if you have a problem.  


Here’s how to run these reports in Activity Monitor:

  1. In Activity Monitor, click the icon with three dots
  2. Select Sample Process, Spindump, System Diagnostics, Spotlight Diagnostics
  3. With some of these, you may need to enter your Mac password. If so, enter it, and let the report build
  4. At the end, you’ll have a file you can send to Apple Support.
Another method of using Activity Monitor on your Apple laptop is to launch diagnostic reports, which require your click on the three dots icon
Step 1. Activity Monitor > three dots sign
In the newly opened menu, in the Activity Monitor window, go to Spotlight Diagnostics as the prep stage
Step 2. Spotlight Diagnostics
After all is set, you’ll see the confirmation message that Spotlight Diagnostics is in the process of its running, Wait a little while.
Step 3. Enter your password and wait
Finally, be ready to send the ready Spotlight Diagnostic report to Apple Support.
Step 4. Send the file to Apple Support

How to deal with malware using Activity Monitor

If you’re unfortunate enough to find your Mac infected with malware, you can often use Activity Monitor to find and stop it. It’s a good idea to do a web search for anything that you’re unsure about, so you don’t stop a process that your Mac actually needs to run.  


This is how you can use Activity Monitor to find and shut down malware:

  1. Open Activity Monitor. In the CPU tab, click the % CPU column to sort processes by how much of your Mac’s processor they’re using
  2. Get the most demanding processes at the top, and look for anything you don’t recognize
  3. Select anything suspicious, and click the X icon at the top of Activity Monitor
  4. Click Quit or Force Quit.
You might find it surprising, but Activity Monitor also allows you to handle malware issues. Open the CPU tab and quit the suspicious processes.

Relevant reading: How to Check for Malware on Mac

How to save MacBook battery power with Activity Monitor

When apps and other processes use a lot of processing power, they don’t only slow your Mac down; they use more energy too. If you’re using a Macbook on its battery, that could limit how long you’re able to work away from an electricity outlet. Thankfully, you can use Activity Monitor to save some energy on your Mac.  


Use these steps to check for energy use in Activity Monitor:

  1. Open Activity Monitor, and go into the Energy tab
  2. Look at the Energy Impact tab to see how much power each app is using
  3. Use the 12 hr Power tab to see how much energy processes have used in the past 12 hours
  4. Quit apps that are using a lot of energy.
Your Mac’s battery power can be also observed and managed with the help of Activity Monitor. Open it and move to the Energy tab
Step 1. Activity Monitor > Energy
Now you see the Energy Impact tab opened in Activity Monitor, showing your apps list and the energy spendings on each of them
Step 2. Energy Impact
Ultimately, you can go to see the 12 hours Power tab to realize how the lastly used apps affect your Mac’s performance.
Step 3. 12 hr Power > Quit the most energy-exhausting apps

How to use Activity Monitor to limit internet use

Although most modern internet connections don’t limit how much you can download in a month, there are still good reasons to limit network activity on your Mac. If something keeps downloading files in the background, it could slow down your connection when browsing the web. And if you’re on the move and tethering to your phone, you probably do still have a download limit.  


You can easily use Activity Monitor to check what’s being downloaded and uploaded by your Mac:

  1. Open Activity Monitor, and select the Network tab
  2. Click the top of the Sent Bytes column to sort highest to lowest. Note any large and unexpected figure
  3. Do the same with the Rcvd Bytes column
  4. Quit any apps that are using a lot of bandwidth
  5. If you don’t recognize anything, search for its name on the web to find out if it’s malware. Also, run an antivirus scan.
Another way to use Activity Monitor for Mac’s optimized performance is to limit internet use with its help. In the opened app, go to the Network tab
Step 1. Activity Monitor > Network
Sent Bytes column opened, highlighted in Activity Monitor, as the next step in the user path to control the internet use
Step 2. Sent Bytes
Rcvd Bytes column, opened, highlighted in Activity Monitor, as the final step to quit the energy-consuming processes from the list.
Step 3. Rcvd Bytes > Quit the most energy-consuming apps

Are there any other use cases for Activity Monitor that might be interesting for a wide audience? If so, link out to guides here (no need to explain them here).

Other handy ways to use Activity Monitor

These are the main ways to use Activity Monitor on your Mac, but there are other things you can do with it. You can use it to see real-time CPU, network and disk information in your Dock, for example. And if you think might need more RAM, you can track memory usage too, particularly with the help of the memory pressure chart. (Note, you can’t change the RAM in all Macs.)

A word of caution from our team

Most of the time, if you want to quit or force quit an app, press Cmd + Opt + Esc to open the Force Quit Applications tool. This doesn’t include background processes, so there’s no chance of you stopping something your Mac relies on. If you do need to use Activity Monitor, be careful about quitting things you don’t recognise. Our experts suggest you check the processes you wanna quit online first, because a lot of the processes you see in Activity Monitor are part of macOS.   


With a bit of care, though, Activity Monitor is a great way to take control of what’s running on your Mac. Just follow the tips in our guide, and you should be okay.


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