When you are settling into a new computer or smartphone, you will likely be prompted for every single Login ID and password you have ever created since the beginning of time. This is a slow torture that often lasts through a full cycle of seasons (taxes, gift purchases, subscription renewals, etc.) .

Keeping track of passwords is the single most common challenge I encounter when working with new clients. When someone can’t log in, then they can’t possibly enjoy “better living through technology.”

Like many topics (and ogres), this one has layers. If you’re ready to try a new method of keeping track of your logins, let’s talk about what might make the most sense for you based on your devices and preferences.

The challenge is to balance risk exposure against convenience. It might be really convenient to use the same password for everything, or to put a sticky note on your computer with your passwords (Please, DON’T!), but it’s really risky to do so.

Your Computer Tutor’s Practical Wisdom on Passwords:

  • ALL the obvious rules we know and hate, plus…
  • Know and accept that, when you are settling into a new computer or smartphone, you will likely be prompted for every single godforsaken set of logon credentials you have ever created since the beginning of time. This is a slow torture that often lasts a full year, through a full cycle of seasons (taxes, gift purchases, service subscriptions, etc.).
  • Choose ONE method of tracking your login credentials that will be available to you wherever you do your computing, whether that’s on your smartphone, or at your desk. Keep it with you if you use technology while on-the-go. More on these methods below.
  • Understand that authenticating to most online services involves not just a password, but a login ID. Login ID’s are often your email address, but not always. When you have multiple email addresses, it is important to keep track of which email address you used to create a particular account login. Record BOTH your login ID and your password in your records.
  • Don’t get attached to a particular password, and write in pencil! If you have to do a password reset, be ready to re-record the new password in your tracker, whatever you decide your tracker is.

Old-School Methods

These methods include keeping passwords in a book, Rolodex, or some written method. Digital variations on this theme include keeping them in a document/spreadsheet, or a note on your smartphone, but if that device is temporarily unavailable to you, you’d better have a printout with you somewhere! For the last couple of years, I’ve offered complimentary password keeper books to clients at onsite visits, and clients tell me they’ve helped. Keeping logon credentials written down in something that you can reach for no matter which device you’re using works best for many people, including Your Computer Tutor. Tip: Write ’em in pencil!

Automated Methods

These are typically browser extensions (software) whose names include LastPass, Dashlane, etc. Digital password managers can often be used across various devices and browsers. One master password unlocks the digital vault. Most can create complex passwords for you. These work well for many people, but I’ve seen password pandemonium occur when the master password is lost, or when someone has to use a different or new device where their password manager is not yet available.

I’ve resisted using a digital password manager myself until very recently, when Google’s Chrome browser introduced improvements in its password storing features. I use the Chrome browser almost exclusively, on my computers and smart devices, so if I need a password to a site while I’m browsing on my smartphone, no problem. There are risks to storing any information “in the cloud”, so to minimize my risk I refrain from storing any passwords associated with my email or financial-related accounts. I still keep an old-school written password record for each account, though — I’m old-school like that!