Every time I come home for the holidays, my folks ask me to fix something technology-related in their home. They're very intelligent people and generally good with Macs, but somehow I always end up having to troubleshoot something (last year: resetting their Ecobee3 thermostat to work with HomeKit).

Whether your family members are tech-savvy or not, everyone appreciates a little holiday help now and then. In that spirit, here are ten of my favorite no-brainer tips to pass along this season. (I recommend printing, framing, or otherwise stickying the first five.)

1. Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Program slow? App freeze? iPad misbehaving? When in doubt, quitting and restarting is your friend. Most of the time, a simple File > Quit on the Mac or closing the app on iOS will do the trick, but here are a few other ways to shut down apps if you're running into issues:

  • Force Quit on the Mac: Command-Option-Escape. This forcefully shuts down the app in question — even if that app doesn't necessarily want to quit.
  • Force Quit on iOS: Open the multitasking bar by double-pressing the Home button, then swipe up on the app window in question.

  • Force Restart your Mac: Command-Control-Power button. Same idea as a force-quit for an app, only system-wide.
  • Force Restart your iOS device: Hold down the On/Off Switch and the Home button until you see the Apple logo.

2. Check your free space

If your iOS device or Mac is acting particularly sluggish, check and see how much free space you have left on your hard drive. On the Mac, go to the Apple menu > About this Mac > Storage; on iOS, go to Settings > General > Storage and iCloud Usage.

If you have 5GB or fewer remaining, you might want to consider freeing up some disk space. If you aren't sure what to get rid of, here are two guides on freeing up space on the Mac and on iOS, respectively.

3. Update your software

Do your parents and family members a solid this holiday and make sure their iOS devices and Macs are up to date. By doing so, you're not only keeping their devices secure, but also saving yourself a phone call when they can't use Continuity, or their app won't download.

You can also encourage them to keep their own Macs up to date by turning on automatic system updates for your Mac (System Preferences > App Store) and letting them know how to check for system updates on their iOS devices (Settings > General > Software Update).

4. Five Command shortcuts to get you whizzing around like a pro

Despite the fact that they save time, it's easy to be wary of shortcuts. I heard "I don't want to press the wrong thing!" many a time when I was still working for Apple's retail stores, and I understand that fear. But even if your family member isn't ready to jump on board with TextExpander, there are a few excellent shortcuts that are dead-simple to learn and remember.

  • Command-Tab: Switch between open applications on your Mac.
  • Command-C: Copy text.
  • Command-V: Paste text.
  • Command-S: Save your current document.
  • Command-Q: Quit the currently open program.

If your family members are more tech savvy, be sure to wow them with these awesome keyboard shortcuts.

5. Get a password manager

I may not insist my family members pick up TextExpander, but this Christmas I did make my dad get 1Password. With all the hullaballoo about hackers, weak passwords, and the like in the news, it's silly at this point not to have a password manager and use strong passwords. Two-factor authentication might be too much this Christmas, but you can get your family boarded on the password safety train with apps like 1Password or LastPass or another manager of your choice.

6. Back up, back up, back up

Along those lines, if your family currently isn't backing up their data, they need to start. There are few things worse than a complete post-Christmas hard drive meltdown because Aunt Amy had a little too much bourbon in her glass and her MacBook got soaked; as embarrassing as those digital holiday photos probably were, everyone will be sad if there aren't more copies floating around the cloud.

Different people have different needs when it comes to backing up their data, so be sure to check out which plan is right for your family. Of course, the easiest method is with Apple's built-in backup service, Time Machine.

7. Mac 101: Is Safari hogging up too much memory?

Many a time when I've run into a slow machine, it's because Safari has been chugging along in the background, slowly grinding the rest of the system to a halt. Quitting Safari can dump the terrible drain on system resources known as Safari Web Content in your Activity Monitor and free up memory to use on other, more important tasks.

8. iOS 101: Use Siri Spotlight!

If you're looking for a single great tip to impart to your iOS-wielding family this holiday, I recommend Siri Spotlight. It recommends apps based on previous activities, and you can search for any app (or web content) you want. You can also use Siri on the Mac to search your hard drive for documents and folders (and those great puppy pics).

9. Manuals and how-to sites are your friends.

If you want to avoid panicked January tech support calls, I suggest a few well-placed bookmarks in Safari to Apple's support site, iMore.com, and any other tech help and how-to websites of choice. Of course, the iMore forums are filled with supportive community members that are patient and understanding.

(For the more tech-savvy family: Show them how to use "site:imore.com" in Google.)

10. When in doubt, visit the Apple Store

If they've run into a strange hardware or software problem they can't diagnose and you want to avoid trying to do it over the phone, the Apple Store is just a car ride away for many folks across the U.S. and elsewhere. Their staff can suggest answers for simpler problems or get you hooked up with a Genius Bar appointment for more serious tech support.

Originally published December 2015. Updated December 2016.

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