Organize Passwords – We Don’t Talk about Bruno

I know, I know, you don’t want to talk about organizing passwords. In the movie Encanto, no one wants to talk about Bruno, but he’s always there, living in the foundation of the house and making things a little weird. Like Bruno, passwords are always there in the background whether you like it or not. You can’t just ignore them. While I’m trying my best to inspire you to live a more organized life, organizing is about so much more than bins and sock drawers! We have got to talk about how to organize passwords.

Organize Passwords

Organize Passwords

TL;DR Think of organizing passwords like brushing and flossing your teeth. Do it daily. Don’t get frustrated. Do the best you can. Get help when you need it. 

The days of having one password for everything are over. Done. Finis!

You have three options for responsible password management now:

  1. Write them down in a password book or on a spreadsheet.
  2. Use a commercial password manager.
  3. Use your device/browser’s password keeper.

*Passwordless access is coming, but it’s not quite ready for prime time yet. Passwordless access looks a lot like real-time 2-factor authentication, explained below. Let’s stick with what we experience today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a 90-year-old grandpa, a stay-at-home mom, or a corporate exec, you are going to need to tame this password problem. Not a week goes by without my clients begging for help organizing passwords.

Option 1: Write Down Passwords

You’ve always been told to never, never, never write down your passwords, but guess what? It’s unreasonable not to! I track over 200 active passwords in my life, and you probably have at least a few dozen. You can’t keep them all in your head. If you live alone or with people you trust, don’t travel with your passwords, and work mostly from a computer, writing them down will actually work well for many people. You can buy a 2-pack of small password keepers here, and you can buy a larger notebook-style password keeper here (affiliate link). If you write them down, ALWAYS use pencil, because you WILL have to change your password. The tech version of writing things down is to use Excel or your computer’s spreadsheet program (Apple calls their Numbers). You can password-protect the document or encrypt it to make it even more secure.

If you do everything from your phone, don’t keep a list of passwords in you Notes app or in Contacts! Use a handwritten list or use a password manager, explained below.

Option 2: Use a Password Manager

Third-party online password managers like LastPass, Dashlane, and Keeper have been out there for years, and they do a reasonably good job of keeping you safe. If you are going to use one, let it pick secure passwords for you (longer and safer than any you can memorize). You might have read lately that LastPass has been compromised. This is actually a pretty big deal, and you should pay attention, but it was also kind of inevitable. It means you need to do a few things to batten down the hatches, like change important passwords and read emails from LastPass to find out if or how you were affected. LastPass might be bundled with other services you already use, like MalwareBytes and Carbonite, so it might be an easy choice for you to use that service.

I personally have found the password managers from Norton/McAfee very aggressive, expensive and confusing, but if they work for you or you are already paying for it, then go for it.

One really great feature of online password keepers is that they can work across devices, so whatever passwords you save on your PC automatically get transferred to your phone or tablet…if you enable the appropriate settings. One app works on all your devices.

Another great feature of most third-party password managers is that you can designate a security contact or emergency contact. If something happens to you, a spouse or someone you have previously chosen can access critical information.

These are just a few of the fab features that go beyond simple password management. If you are paying for a third party tool, check out what else it can do for you, and use it for all it’s worth.

Option 3: Use Your Device/Browser’s Password Manager

Google Chrome wants you to use their built-in password manager. If you turn it on, you can use it on your computer AND on your other devices, like your phone, your tablet, and maybe your work computer. But you are giving Google a LOT of info about you. Some folks are cool with that, and others are not. You can learn how to use Google Chrome Password Manager in about 90 seconds. If you don’t want it to save passwords for you, then change settings to turn it off.

Pro tip: If you have to log into your Gmail every time you open your browser, you can easily change settings and eliminate that frustration from your life! Follow these instructions to stay signed in to your Google account on any browser.

Google does have an interesting tool that is worth checking out, which helps you change unsafe passwords in Google that might have been compromised. Check it out.

Apple users have a nifty/annoying app called Apple Keychain that can sync your passwords through your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iCloud. It’s especially helpful if you are all-Apple. Here’s a short-ish video on using Apple Keychain. Remember, settings are important! If you are saving passwords on the Mac but don’t have Keychain access turned on via your iPhone (or the other way around), you are going to have trouble. Here’s how to find all the passwords saved on your Mac. 

If you sometimes use the Chrome browser (which is Google) and you sometimes use the Safari browser (which is Apple) and you sometimes use the Edge browser (which is Microsoft), well, you can see that all of those saved passwords might get jumbled between the different password managers.

Your PC can also remember your passwords for programs on the computer, but not for sites on the browsers.

Just remember, the Google password keeper, the Apple Keychain, your PC, and third party password apps DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER! Keep reading…

The Problem with Password Managers

Here’s the thing…most people I work with don’t realize that they are actually using two or three password managers at the same time! 

IMPORTANT! If you turn on Keychain on your Mac, and then ALSO use the Chrome browser, some passwords are getting stored in Google, and some are getting stored in Apple’s Keychain. Sometimes you store a password in one place, swear that it’s the right password, change it on one device, but still keep the old password stored in the other device. Oops! No wonder it doesn’t work.

The other problem is that your devices don’t talk to each other. So if you are using Apple Keychain on your phone, your PC doesn’t know anything about those passwords! Similarly, if you log into a website on your PC, your phone (Apple or Android) doesn’t necessarily have the same info.

Frustratingly, some apps don’t use the same password for their website and their app! My bank, for example, has different logins for online access (via the computer) and mobile access (via the phone app). Grrrr.

When your computer seems wonky, it’s often because software is old and needs to be updated. Just yesterday I noticed a client Mac was still running on the Catalina operating system, which is now nearly four years old in 2023. That alone can cause weird things to happen on the Mac. You might think it’s user error, but old software can cause problems. It takes just a few minutes to backup your computer and update the software. You must keep computer and phone software updated regularly to prevent security problems and to keep things running smoothly, just like you keep your car turned up every year to keep oil circulating and tires wearing evenly.

Easy Ways to Make Your Password Safer

If you decide to use a password manager on either your PC or your Mac, then commit to it, and let it organize passwords for you! One of my clients asks me every time if she should let her computer remember passwords for her. My advice: if it makes it easier for you, and you save some passwords, then save all. There’s no point in trying to remember only some passwords…because you stink at remembering passwords! We all do.

Check your free credit report once a year. What does your credit report have to do with passwords? It’s one way to find out if you’ve been hacked. Find out more at the linked article.

Whenever you change a password, stop what you are doing for a moment and IMMEDIATELY record what you changed it to! Write it down somewhere, ideally on a password keeper mentioned above.

The longer, the better when it comes to passwords. Don’t use a simple word+number combo. Everyone can guess your pet’s name. If you are using something you remember, make it a very long phrase, like SafetyIsImportantToMyFamily!, which is 28 characters long. This article and cool graphic explains better than I can why longer passwords are harder for hackers to hack. A phrase that is 15 characters long and includes a mix of numbers, caps, and special characters, starts to be very secure.

Assume that your passwords are already “out there” in the wild, on the dark web. Change them more often than you want to. I know it’s a pain. How much more painful is losing access to a social media account or cleaning up a financial hacking mess?

If you get ANY weird emails, especially about your bank, your social media accounts, or your email, change your password IMMEDIATELY. If someone tells you they got a weird email from you, change your password IMMEDIATELY! It’s the first step to securing your accounts that might have been compromised.

DO NOT click on weird emails, like those that have an “invoice” or a “voicemail” attached. Especially don’t click to change your passwords. You could be typing your passwords out for a hacker! Instead, go directly to the site for your bank’s website, your social media accounts, and other important accounts, log in there by typing their web address into a browser, then go to settings and change your account information.

Turn on 2 factor authentication when it is offered. 2FA is that annoying process where you attempt to log in, get an email or text with a special code that you have to enter before you can continue. Your code will be sent to either your email or your phone, so pay attention and be ready to check for it. Annoying? Yes. Safer? Also yes. Usually once your device authenticates, the authentication will last for weeks or months on that device.

And that brings me to my last and most important tech tip…SLOW DOWN!

When technology gets frustrating, we get all flustered and confused, our body narrows our vision (peripheral vision can get lost entirely), stress level rises, and we make mistakes. Instead of letting tech get the best of you, literally look away for a second, physically take a deep breath or three, come back to the screen, read it FROM THE TOP to understand what the next step is, and follow on-screen instructions step by step.

Password management can be super frustrating, but it is for everyone. It’s not just you! So slow down, expect to walk through a couple of steps, and reset your password if you need to.

I know this is a long article. If you read all the way through, please leave a comment if you learned a tip that will help you, or definitely leave a comment if you still have password problems that I didn’t address.

I truly hope this helps you organize passwords better and eliminate frustration today.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Diane N Quintana

    This is fabulous advice, Darla. I use Google Password Manager and I (almost always) write down the password. I also write down the date next to the new password because I never have a pencil handy. So, it’s easier for me to put down the date. Then I know for sure that’s the newest version. Also, even though it is a pain, I love 2 factor authentication. I feel much more secure and have enabled it whenever a vendor or website has requested I do so.

  2. Monica Moriak

    Very helpful. I plan to set aside time this summer to update, consolidate and organize my passwords as well as delete accounts I am no longer using.

    I am curious on your thoughts about using Apple, Google or Facebook for logins. I know I have done it occasionally for a quick order. It does make it hard if I want to go back and can’t remember who I used.

    A tip I learned from my son, you can lock a note in the notes app for Apple products. Our family has always used secure notes in Apple to keep track of account info including security questions and passwords. That doesn’t transfer across devices. My son was frustrated because he isn’t always in his computer. He uses a locked note in the Notes app.

    1. Darla

      I think your question is about whether you should let a third party, usually a store, like or another online seller, use your established gmail ID and password as the store login. As with most things, it depends. IT Experts recommend against it, for the same reason you don’t want to use one password for all sites. You should have a unique login for each and every site. However, if it makes life easier for you, you might be OK with the security risk, such as it is. Life is hard enough, and letting the computer do a little work for you is not a bad idea, don’t you think? Thanks for asking the question.

      Thanks for the tip about a locked note. Good to know.

Comments are closed.