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Simple Journaling on Mac or iOS with Day One

An old, hand-written journalHere at ProfHacker, we frequently talk about how to get your writing done. After all, for many of us, writing is an important part of (keeping) our jobs. We’ve frequently discussed writing software like Scrivener or Google Docs; more recently Konrad covered Draft for collaborative writing and Adeline talked about using Gingko, which is a horizontal outline and writing tool. We’ve covered methods for getting your writing done, from Billie’s look at 750words.com and Erin’s personal Rule of 200 (words). And guest author Lee Skallerup Bessette recently reminded us that your writing isn’t something you should always give away; it might be worth considering your writing fee.

Today, however, I’d like to talk about a type of writing we’ve never covered (as far as I can tell) on ProfHacker before: journal writing. There are a lot of reasons that you might write in a journal. Keeping track of your thoughts and experiences for your own sake or that of posterity might be one. But you could also keep a journal of the different trips that you take—a travelogue of sorts. You could keep a food journal. You could even keep a record at the end of every day of work about what you did that day, which could be useful during an annual review.

I have journaled at different points throughout my life, but it’s not something that I’ve managed to do regularly for more than a decade. That’s all changed recently thanks to a new writing tool. Day One is a gorgeous journaling application for iOS ($4 at present and regularly $5) and the Mac ($8 at present and regularly $10). From the color scheme, to the fonts, to the icons, it’s a pleasure to use.

When you open it up on your iOS device, you’re presented with two different choices to start an entry: a camera icon and a plus.

A screenshot of the opening page of the iOS Day One app

The camera allows you to start an entry by taking a photo or pulling in one from your photo library. You’re then dropped straight into the writing environment, which is where you would have ended up directly if you’d chosen the plus button. Day One wants to put the focus on your writing, so there’s not much to see beyond the keyboard and your writing space. You can format your text using Multi Markdown and use a small tool bar to adjust the time at which you’re journaling or add tags to the entry (hashtags in the body of an entry act as tags). And that’s about it. You’re writing and you’re writing quickly. When you’re finished you touch “Done,” and you get on with whatever’s next.

The writing environment for Day One on iOS

But if Day One was just a text editor—even a beautiful one—I don’t know if it would have drawn me in enough to keep me journaling. What’s made Day One so sticky for me are some (and just some) of its small but critical features.

  • Reminders: Every day, the app on my phone and on my iPad pops up a little note at 9:29pm reminding me to write. I have to choose to do so, of course, but the nudge is something that my hardback, paper journal hasn’t ever managed to do. So guess which one I write in?
  • Sync and write on any device: You can have Day One sync your journal across all your (Apple) devices using iCloud or ProfHacker favorite Dropbox. This means that I’ve always got my journal at hand, whether I’m on my commute, in an airplane, at work, or in a different city. I don’t have an excuse to not do it.
  • Geolocation: If you grant it permissions, Day One will record where you are writing your journal entry. It will try to get a physical address, but you can link it to a particular place using Foursquare. This means that your journal entries are tied in a very real way to where you created them. If you add a photo to the entry, it will ask if you’d like to relocate the entry to where you took the image. On a Mac running Mavericks, you can even browse your entries with a beautiful map view.
  • Weather: When starting an entry in Day One, it not only pulls in your location but also your local weather, including temperature and precipitation.
  • Music: If you’re listening to music on your iOS device when you start a journal entry, it gets added to the ambient information as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do this with the Mac app yet.
  • Export: In case you want to share the journal in a more stable format you can export to PDF, text files, or Markdown.
  • Multiple views: I can view my past entries not only in a list, but also calendar views or just the photos that I’ve taken. The former helps me see that I’m continuing to build up my journal, and the latter is just a nice way to browse my memories.

The calendar view of the Mac app

All in all, it’s the little nudges from Day One that has got me journaling regularly again. That and the ability to write on my phone. It turns out that when I’m presented with a big open writing space (such as my old paper journals) or a full computer keyboard, I get the tendency to write a lot (as you can probably tell). But when I’m writing on my phone, it’s not as comfortable and convenient, so I end up focusing on small, short snippets. Being compelled to write quickly has actually led to my writing more regularly because it feels manageable.

Day One isn’t cheap, but I’ve been incredibly happy with the money that I spent on both the iOS and Mac apps. I use Day One on almost a daily basis, and I’m glad that I finally have a journal again. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend starting with the iOS version and then picking up the Mac app if it works for you.

Do you journal? Do you write it on a device or on paper? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: Journal: May 17-18, 1959-1963 | “LOL” / CC BY 2.0

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