Digital Journaling 101

Person writing a digital journal

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”
Jen Williamson

Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin took some time from their precious lives to write. They didn’t share their writings with anyone. Still, they knew about the benefits and witnessed the life-changing experiences they went through because of journaling. I gave such examples because I have heard people saying they don’t have enough time to write. If they can, you should. You have to look back and cherish the moments in your life. Those who journal live their life twice. Make sure it’s worth it.

However, they maintained an actual diary or a book to do that. So we have an added advantage of using digital media to do so. Not only does it have more features, but it is also effortless to write your thoughts anytime and anywhere. Plus, they also have cross-platform support sometimes. Most apps and software that I have mentioned will support cross-platform usage.

Why journaling is good for you

Apart from reducing stress, it also helps clear the various thoughts in your mind. It is excellent for boosting your memory and even registers the brilliant ideas that may help you. For example, journaling helped me improve my sleep as I wrote my thoughts into it, and it helped me stop overthinking at night. Studies also show it leads to increased productivity and creativity and boosts self-confidence. I have used it extensively to set and achieve goals. It becomes a habit and, in the long run, helps form other habits.

Types

It depends upon what you write in a journal and sometimes on the situation and your needs. You don’t have to follow any rules or stick to a particular type while writing. However, this will help organise your thoughts and your diary in the long term. Following are a few types of journals you can start with and gradually try other styles as well:

  • Self-Reflective Journal: Thinking about your feelings and behaviour and the reasons that may lie behind them.
  • Travel Journal: Document the adventures and discoveries you made along the way.
  • Food Journal: Keep a log of all your daily meals.
  • Gratitude Journal: Write a list of good things in life and why be grateful about it
  • Dream Journal: Record your dreams first thing in the morning to keep track of one’s dream pattern.
  • Bullet Journal: Perfect for someone who writes a lot of lists. You can write about anything you think is important to you in your life.
  • Workout Journal: Track the amount of progress you’re making in your fitness journey.
  • Idea Journal: Provides an opportunity for you to have a brain dump. First, write your ideas and thoughts. Then, execute them at the right time.

The list is not exhaustive and only shown for reference. You can create your type and start right away. In this article, I will talk about self-reflective and gratitude journaling as it is easy to begin with, and can teach you a lot about journaling.

Traditional vs Digital Journaling

Research done on kids found that kids who write more than typing can express their thoughts, emotions and feelings appropriately that, relaxes their mind and heart because of the movements of fingers and the exercise of hand while the children who do not write and prefer the typing mode of expressions are likely to get behavioural issues of irritation, hyperactivity, stress and anxiety. So using an actual journal to write stuff down is better than using your phone or a laptop.

However, digital journaling wins considerably in terms of convenience and features. Not only can you set reminders in the app itself, but it also has some advanced features such as word search, calendar, mood tracking, voice notes, adding hyperlinks and even the ability to add images and videos, which will take your experience to a whole new level.

Many people would still argue about why maintaining an actual diary is better than using an app or software, and they are not wrong. But it takes a lot of effort for beginners to create a habit, and the digital front will play a better role in doing that, considering the accessibility and features it offers. Plus, if you travel a lot or use your phone/laptop extensively, it would be more convenient, I suppose.

What to consider for a diary entry

For someone who has never maintained a journal before, this could be not easy if you hope to follow it in the long term (and you should). And it’s normal not to know what to write in the beginning. You can start by answering the following questions in your daily log:

  • What did I do today?
  • What lessons did I learn?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What did I read today?
  • What are my plans for tomorrow?
  • What is the most important thing I must accomplish tomorrow? Why?

Just answer the following questions, and this will surely help you in commencing your journaling journey. You can create other questions that you would like to answer every day regarding your feelings, mental health, thoughts and even special moments. Add photos, videos and voice note to make it memorable. Get creative and spend a reasonable amount of time thinking and writing.

Recommended apps

Following is the list of apps I have used personally and found beneficial. If you know of any other useful apps, let me know in the comments. Also, as mentioned earlier, the focus is on self-reflective and gratitude journaling. However, one can get creative and use some apps for other forms of journaling.

Journey (Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Web)

Hands down one of the best apps out there. Many features include cloud sync via Google Drive, fingerprint authentication, map, calendar, timeline and a beautiful text editor. However, you need to buy the premium version to use it as a stand-alone app on your laptop. Upload photos and videos, and the search option is powerful. I’ve used this app for a year, and I’ve no regrets.

Diary (Android)

First open-source app on our list. Basic UI with a lot of features. Markdown support is something that all other journaling apps should have instead of a basic text editor. Diary doesn’t stand out in any aspect other than markdown support. However, if you are looking for a lightweight, ad-free app with all the features, Diary has got you covered.

Diary app for Android

Note-Taking Apps

Yes, use your note-taking app as a journal. It is an all-in-one solution for all your tasks. Write your to-do lists, notes, daily schedule and even your diary entries in this case. I highly recommend Evernote (Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Web) and Notion (Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Web). After using Journey, I switched to Evernote to start gratitude journaling. I created a table with all the questions written in the first column and answers in the next column, made a single note comprising a month’s entries and created 12 such notes for a year. The same can be done with the help of Notion. However, keep in mind each table comprises a block, and the free version of Notion allows us to create only 1000 such blocks. Students can log in via their college email to get Notion for free.

Presently (Android)

Open-source app with a lot of themes. Gratitude journal provided a helpful search option, beautiful quotes, and it even suggests questions that you can answer. I would highly recommend this app if you are a beginner and can’t think of anything to write in your diary. It doesn’t require an internet connection, and everything is saved on your phone. You can export entries when switching phones.

Presently app for Android

Reflectly (Android, iOS)

As the name suggests, it helps in developing gratitude. According to the developers:

“Reflectly uses positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy to make you thrive in life and to give you the personal tools and mindset to overcome negative thoughts and build a habit of positivity through a journal into your life.”

This sounds interesting, to be honest. It would be best to try it, considering how different this app is from other journaling apps. It also gives insights after 4–5 entries.

Diarium (Android, iOS, Windows 10)

A good app if you are Windows 10 and Android/iOS user. Diarium is similar to Journey in terms of features. However, it is cheap if you are looking for a pro version that includes a Windows 10 app. It costs Rs. 324 (almost the same price as a good diary but with many features), less than the Journey desktop app (Rs. 330/month).

Markdown Editors

Learning markdown basics won’t take a lot of time. When you use it, you will love it. I have recently started writing blogs and journals using markdown editors, and I don’t think I will switch soon. I recommend iA Writer (Android, iOS, Windows, macOS) and Simplenote (Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Web). iA Writer is an excellent app for your phone. However, it requires us to pay for the desktop app. As it supports Dropbox to sync files, you can use other apps such as Simplenote while working on your laptop and iA Writer when the laptop is inaccessible.

Google Forms (Web)

Yes, you heard it right. I find it useful because everything is saved in my Google Drive. All you have to do is write your questions and save your form with link-sharing turned on (don’t share this link with others, as their journal entries will mix with yours in a single excel file). Whenever you are in a mood to write your thoughts, open the link in your web browser and answer the questions. The responses will get automatically saved in an excel sheet in your Drive.

Google form diary entry

Leave a comment if you have questions or want to share your journaling apps with us. Also, share this article with your friends if you found it helpful. Thank you for reading.

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