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.

Append Text File With Hazel, Automator & Shell Scripts

I love the Drafts app for the iPhone, and I love automating stuff. The downside to using Drafts is that the workflows I’ve set up aren’t possible with any software on the Mac. I cobbled together some methods to achieve at least the one most common task I have, appending info to a master plain-text log file on Dropbox. Here’s how I did it.  Continue reading “Append Text File With Hazel, Automator & Shell Scripts”

nvIt: Chrome & Safari extensions for nvALT

Since the recent update to Drafts with the expanded URL Scheme functionality, I’ve been monkeying around with nvALT plaintext journaling and note taking. There’s a cool browser extension for snagging text and webpages in plain text format and adding them as new notes to your nvALT folder.

It’s on the main nvALT page, but it’s easy to miss.

nvIt — Chrome and Safari extensions for nvALT – elastic threads

I plan on posting about this plaintext approach in detail, but just sharing the bookmarklet for now.

Advanced Tips for Drafts App

Often advanced features in my favorite apps are tough to explain because they are so open to customization. Examples usually help. Here are some handy Drafts tips I’ve either discovered or created that might give you some idea on how to take advantage of Dropbox actions, URL Actions, and email actions.

– Use date stamps to create a scratchpad text dump file

– Log your tweets

– Log your Google searches

– Log everything!

– Use IFTTT and email action to subscribe in Google Reader

– Use date stamps for an auto-created monthly journal text file

– Use bookmarklets to log webpages or send to Reminders Continue reading “Advanced Tips for Drafts App”

Drafts URL Action: Search Netflix Instant

Simple URL Action for Drafts to use your text to search on Netflix Instant. Visit this page on your iPhone/iPad and click the following link to install in Drafts: Drafts URL Action: Search Netflix Instant

Seems strips out the part of the URL that allows importing Actions via a simple click to work, so you’ll have to copy and paste the following and add it to a URL Action in Drafts yourself, unless I can find a fix:[[draft]]]&search_submit=

Quickly Launch Drafts from Notification Center Via Launch Center Pro

I’m always looking for more ways to use Drafts on my iPhone, as well as more ways to access it. I discovered a way to have access via the Notification Center list using Launch Center Pro. I doubt I’m the first to write about this, but thought I’d share anyways.

Continue reading “Quickly Launch Drafts from Notification Center Via Launch Center Pro”

Create Simple Amazon Affiliate Links on iOS with Launch Center Pro & Drafts

Taking the info from Bob Lee on how to create simple Amazon affiliate links, I created a companion Launch Center Pro/Drafts action to generate these links on the iPhone and the iPad.  Continue reading “Create Simple Amazon Affiliate Links on iOS with Launch Center Pro & Drafts”

Control Your Mac Remotely with Drafts, Hazel, Dropbox & AppleScript

I wanted to set up a way to to toggle my Mac’s system volume setting from the iPhone. But this technique could be used for any AppleScript you’d like to trigger remotely from your iPhone. Here’s how I did it.

Continue reading “Control Your Mac Remotely with Drafts, Hazel, Dropbox & AppleScript”

Launch Center Pro

Launch Center Pro is an automation utility for the iPhone. You launch the app, then choose an action that you’ve configured earlier. Most actions in some way interact with other apps you’ve installed on your iPhone. For example, say you copied some text in Safari; you can have an action set up that takes the text from the clipboard and uses it to automatically Tweet that text. Or send it to Evernote as a new note. Or send it as a text to your spouse.

This app isn’t for everyone, but I love utilities like this and it’s extremely well done. I owned the original Launch Center and hesitated on having to buy a new version so soon after the original, but this version is so much better and it was completely worth it.

Continue reading “Launch Center Pro”