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Last weekend, I forgot four sets of passwords and usernames over a 48-hour period. Collectively, I wasted a miserable — and deeply frustrating — hour failing to figure them out, getting locked out, and eventually resetting them. And the sad thing is they are all a variation of the same thing — a security no-no — meant to make recall especially easy. My usual practice of jotting down my account credentials on a random piece of paper or in tiny notebooks that I idiotically think I’ll magically rediscover when my memory fails me is no longer working. I decided it was time for an intervention and discovered two foolproof methods to help me — and you! — stop squandering time, energy, and productivity on forgotten passwords.

Take a high-tech approach

The easiest — and best option as far as security goes —  is to use an app like Keeper or Dashlane, which allow you to securely store super complex passwords all in one place across all your devices. The latter service is free for up to 50 passwords, but given that the average user in the United States has 130 accounts, according to research conducted by Dashlane — and will have to reset a forgotten password at least 37 times each year — the $4.99 option that provides space for unlimited passwords might be the better option.

Go old-school

While using the latest tech to improve our lives is a sensible move, there’s a good case to be made for taking an old-fashioned approach to better remember and organize our credentials on our own. Research going as far back as the ’60s shows that organization is crucial to recall and recent studies even suggest that our use of digital technology interferes with our capacity to form memories, so designing your own plan of recall is a good opportunity. Try this.

Pick three unrelated words that matter to you

While most of us are inclined to use passwords tethered to our lives and histories, it’s critical they’re not obvious and that each one is distinct. “I’m a big fan of using three unrelated words, such as apple-staircase-mutton,” Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Maryland and co-author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. “The three words, ideally, would be meaningful to the individual to make them super easy to recall.”

Jot them down in code

Whether it’s a spreadsheet or a notebook you keep under your mattress, be sure you’ve not written the actual password down. Write clues that will activate your memory. For example, if my password is “downey-shirley-converse,” I’d write in my log book, “hometown, best friend, favorite sneakers.” An unusual but highly effective way to remember your password is to make a picture of it, according to Tracy Alloway, Ph.D., author of the The Working Memory Advantage. “A recent study came out that when you draw, you’re more likely to remember it because it engages multiple sources,” she says, emphasizing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a good artist or not. Setting your password to the music of a favorite song is another handy way of reinforcing your memory, Alloway says. “Don’t pick an esoteric song. Choose one of your favorites,” she cautions.

“It’s not that any of us have a bad memory,” Alloway adds, “It’s all about putting the information in properly by using a deeper encoding process” to help you remember.

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  • Stephanie Fairyington

    Contributing Writer at Thrive

    Stephanie Fairyington is a contributing writer at Thrive. A New York-based journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic (online), The New Republic (online), The Boston Globe, and several other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her spouse Sabrina and daughter Marty.