At a Glance: Get creative with your passwords, back up your files and save work to Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive to safeguard your hard work.
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You locked yourself out of your University of Phoenix Mobile app the night before class started. You spilled hot coffee on your keyboard in the home stretch of a term paper. Your little one got a tad too excited about a cat video, and now your screen is splintered on the floor. There are many ways to destroy your laptop and all your work along with it — but here are five easy tips to help prevent the damage.

Remember your passwords

Make sure you have a memorable passphrase. Think beyond a single word or birthday to a one-liner that’s just weird enough to be yours alone. For example, “4dayswillquicklysteepthemselvesinnight!” is easier to remember — but harder to guess — than “passw0rd.” If you need a little extra help, a password manager like Dashlane or LastPass can help you save all your tricky phrases in one secure place.

Backup your files in a flash

A flash drive, that is. Just plug this little fob into your USB port, drag the files you want to save into the designated folder and eject carefully. Always choose a flash drive with more memory than you need. To calculate this, right-click > Get Info (for Mac) or right-click > Properties (for Windows) on the folders you want to save, and then add up the total number of megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB).

Save your work to the cloud

Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are all cloud-based web servers, meaning they allow you to save and access your work from any computer. Once you create an account, you can login anywhere and find all your files right where you left them. Each has a basic free version, as well as paid versions that offer more memory.

Preserve your whole hard drive

To back up your programs and applications as well as your work, look for an external hard drive that’s at least as big as your computer’s memory. How can you tell? In Windows, select the Start button in the lower left corner of the taskbar, then select Computer in the popup menu. In a Mac, open Finder and then select Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor > System Memory. For backup software that remembers to save for you, try a recovery service like Acronis or Genie9

Shield your hardware

A keyboard cover, a screen film and a laptop case are all affordable precautions. Consider them a first line of defense against spills and drops. And if you do manage to pour a protein shake (or other undesired liquid) directly into your unprotected keyboard, here’s what to do: Shut it down, disconnect all power sources, open the laptop and lay on its side to let liquid drain out before taking it to the pros for a prognosis. You won’t be the first.

These simple precautions and actions can make a big difference for your day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year life related to your laptop. Make smart choices today and avoid headaches in the future.