A common cause of the dreaded “spinning beach ball of death” is a Mac not having enough resources to continue doing what it’s being asked to. If you tend to open three dozen programs at once and you’ve only got 1GB of RAM, you’re not going to be very happy with your system’s performance.
To speed things up again, you can try quitting any unused programs in a ton of different ways—by going through and closing each one individually, for instance, or by logging out (assuming your Mac isn’t set to reopen everything when you log back in). In the interest of saving a bit of time, though, we’re gonna create our own little application to quit all of the apps we’ve got running at once. So let’s go check it out!
First, open Automator, which is in your Applications folder. Now, I'm no icon connoisseur, but I think this is just swell:
When Automator launches, you’ll see a window asking you what type of file you’d like to create. A few of those would work just fine, but I’m going to pick “Application” here so that I can put my creation in the Dock and access it quickly.
After you’ve chosen your file type, you’ll see the main Automator window. The action we’re looking for is under the “Utilities” section on the left, and it’s labeled “Quit All Applications.”
So drag that over and drop it onto the rightmost pane…
…and you’ll be able to choose what options you want for your new application.
Obviously, you’ll probably wanna toggle on the “Ask to save changes” checkbox; seems like not losing your work would be a good idea, right? Also, you can add in any programs that you don’t ever want to quit, or you can click on the “Add current applications” button to automatically exclude anything that you’ve got running.
When you’ve configured things just so, name and save your handy little application somewhere by choosing File> Save. Afterward, you can drag its icon to your Dock for quick access.
One final note: If you do put your “Quit All” program in the Dock, make sure that you click on your Desktop (or somewhere else in Finder) before you invoke it. It won't quit whatever app is active when it launches from the Dock, so if you're working in Contacts, say, and you click on the "Quit All" Dock icon, Contacts will stay open when everything else quits. If you don't like that behavior, save your Automator application to the Desktop (or wherever) and use it from there instead.
Of course, you could see this as a feature instead of as a problem—if there's an app that you don't want to quit, click on its Dock icon to bring it to the front, and then click on your "Quit All" Dock icon. Hey, that's a great way to spin it! It's like I should work for Apple or something!