I discovered the perfect solution to keeping a digital daily journal: one plain text file, with one line per day that sums up the most significant event(s) of that day.
Read on to learn how I use it, and how it fits into my plain-text journaling system.
Why Journal Apps Suck
One thing I discovered about keeping a daily journal for years in apps such as Day One and Momento was that despite my persistent journaling, I never went back to read through any of the entries.
Entries felt trapped in a journaling app. Additionally, I’ve been shedding third-party software over the past year or so, and moving towards building a plain text system for notes, journaling and reference. It started with finally dumping Evernote in late 2016, and from there all the journaling apps I’d been locked into.
It’s so great to have system that will never be outdated, abandoned, require an upgrade or surprise you with a subscription. It will follow along with you to any computing platform you want to switch to as well. Plain-text rules.
I’ve written earlier about my “Year Recaps” journaling approach (which I still maintain). But the Year Recaps are more about establishing a quick chronological context for significant events in my past rather than a daily journal, which usually contains mundane activities more than anything else.
The One-Line Journal System
This system is inspired by Dan Lucraft’s plain-text journaling tips. I’ve tweaked it some, but the bulk of the idea and approach comes from him.
The format is extremely simple: every day, record the significant event(s) for that day in as few words as possible. That’s it.
I format my entries as follows, prepending the existing content:
2016-12-12 m | first snow ride with winter bicycle tires
m stands for Monday, and I appropriated the following single-letter day of the week format from this excellent plain-text calendar generator:
m t w h f s x
Here’s how a few entries look together:
2017-12-16 s | Vendor table consolidation & minimalization. ___ 2017-12-15 f | Bison wool socks & gloves arrived. ___ 2017-12-14 h | House fire late last night; new storage racks.
(Note that I am using 3 underscores for dividers so that these entries look good in plain text, and are formatted nicely in Markdown rendering as horizontal lines in HTML. If you use three dashes, they conflict with Markdown lists.)
You’ll probably want to add in Markdown headers for each month as well. Makes it easy to either skim the file or use the 1Writer action to get a list of headers and jump to the one you select.
2018-01-01 m | "One-Page Journal" blog post published ___ ## Dec 2017 2017-12-31 x | bike ride & hike ___ 2017-12-30 s | party at Yeti's house ___
I’ve experimented with chronological and reverse-chronological ordering for the entries, and I think reverse-chronological (newest at the top) is the way to go. Usually you’ll want to review the more recent entries. Not to mention if manually editing the file you’ll want to make it super-easy by having the top be the edit point.
The genius of this one-line journaling method is that it’s nearly impossible to claim you don’t have time for it — and even better, it’s a journal you’ll actually go back and browse since all the entries are “flat”, in one place, on one page and easy to skim.
That said, I also maintain a more detailed and long-form daily journal, but more for the benefit of Long-Term Future Me. This one-line journal is for Near-Future Me. Long form journaling is great for thinking through your mind. The one-line journal is purely for organizing your past. Tracking the mini-milestones. Putting time and experiences in context.
I find this contextualizing of the past far more interesting and useful than wading through my extended thoughts day after day. The one-line entries are more like a mnemonic to help you recall what was going on around a particular time in your past.
These one-line journal recaps are also perfect for adding to the top of your extended daily journal plain text files. It makes it really easy to get a quick preview of the day when browsing daily journal files in the Finder.
These are also the perfect format for referring back to so you can append your Year Recap journal with any significant events.
The Plain Text Journaling Master System
This one-line journal is part of my plain text journaling system which I’ve been refining over the past year, and plan on sharing it in detail in a future post. After a year of using and fine-tuning it, I feel like I have something really powerful, efficient and valuable built.
Best of all, it’s free and future-proof. And easily modified if you don’t like exactly how I set it up.
At present, my plain text journaling system is comprised of this One-Line, One-File Daily Journal, a Daily Recap extended daily journal file, the Year Recaps contextual milestones journal file, and a new addition — the Weekly Agenda scheduling journal file.
These all reside in one folder on Dropbox, and after detailing my Weekly Agenda journal file, I’ll dig into the master system these all reside within.
My earlier post about filename sorting with special keyboard characters is a bit of a teaser to this master system. The system is built of many plain text files, in one folder on Dropbox. They are sorted using the special keyboard characters prepended to the filename, which is the “system”. I’ll dig into all of this in detail in a future post.
And yes, I’ve become a convert to Markdown text formatting in this process.