Yearly Recaps: A Monthly, Contextual, Plain-Text Journaling System

While I regularly maintain a daily journal, and do so in plain text (while also keeping a concurrent journal in the Momento app on my iPhone for the search and tagging features), often I find that I never actually read any of the old entries. Which is fine, as I mostly just like the habit of recording the information. Recently, I developed a system that is proving to be immensely useful.

Yearly Recaps

Most often¬†I’m trying to place my past in context. Did I start biking to the grocery store last summer or the year before? Was that trip to Utah really just last year? Those are the kinds of mental reminiscing tasks I’m often looking to resolve with journaling.

I started a new plain-text file called Yearly Recaps. The format is simple: I list the year, followed by each month, with bulleted lists for the big events that month:




– Kickstarter funding successful

– bad allergies

– Days Of The Dead artist table in Louisville


The entries are intended to be simple, and just cover the things I might was context for in a year. No thoughts, no daily task recording. Just the big chunks. Months are in standard order, years are listed with the most current year at the top.

The Key: Having It All Together, In One Place

This started out as simply an outline for me to gain some context over my past. I just wanted to see it all written out, in order, in one place. As soon as I started building the entries I realized how powerful this was for me, and that it was going to become a core tool in my journaling system.

I used to spend every Sunday evening doing a weekly recap, where I would review my daily entries and summarize them into a weekly recap. I used those to go back and populate the earlier months in my Yearly Recaps file.

The Weekly Recaps were intended to be the readable summaries, but these monthly summaries have proven to be far more useful. In a sense, the Yearly Recaps are just monthly recaps with typically one or two entries per week. But having them collated in one file for easy context is key.

The Structure

Currently I have just one file for all the yearly recaps, but I’m starting to think I may split them up into one text file per year, as it can be tough to navigate to the desired year. I could use the search functionality in my apps but I get lazy and just end up scrolling.

I’ve found this Yearly Recap system to be the most useful journal I’ve kept yet. I refer to it constantly, and really enjoy the mental Zen it brings having my jumbled memories of the past in a coherent order.

I still journal daily (mostly a mundane recording of the day’s events), but I use and refer back to the Yearly Recaps on a far more regular basis. It’s become an essential tool to keep my head together.

The System

And as far as the system I use: I’ve been gradually moving my note-taking, journaling and to-do lists to a plain-text system over the years. I’ve discussed some of my automated journaling techniques in previous posts. These days, I primarily rely on Dropbox, the Drafts app and the 1Writer app on iOS, and nvALT on the Mac.

Drafts is used for appending daily recaps to a plain-text file stored on Dropbox (with all sorts of automation going on with Hazel on the Mac). 1Writer is used for editing on iOS and nvALT for editing on the Mac. The files are all stored and synced via Dropbox.

The Yearly Recaps file is a manually-edited file so I do most of my editing of that in 1Writer.

I should probably do an entire post on my plain-text journaling system, I just realized I’ve only hinted at some of the advanced methods I use to organize things, but not the process of actually recording things. I’ve got it quite streamlined these days.