Adam Ayrton Stoner

The best journaling app

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I've tried journaling for years and I've used just about every journaling app there is, even going so far as to build my own. The habit has never stuck until recently and I put my newfound success down to one thing: Standard Notes.

I've raved about Standard Notes in the past. It’s a beautifully minimal, open-source note-taking app that’s end-to-end encrypted with keys that you control.

Standard Notes itself sums up much of my feelings over privacy and journaling in their own post titled ‘Why Encrypted Writing’:

Internet living is about being in a room with 50 million people. We are not ourselves there. We have to be much more cautious about ourselves. [...] I know that when I speak with friends on Slack, or write a note on Evernote or Google Docs, there is an ever-present 1% chance that what I am typing will one day be seen by someone else. And with this thought lingering in the back of my mind at all times, I do not write like I would write in a private journal. I write as if an audience were present. I pause between every few sentences to look both ways.

Standard Notes is not a journaling app but a note taking app with limited support for multimedia attachments or formatting. Its lack of features is exactly why I love it. Day One — the market leading journal app — is much too overpowered for my needs, capturing bucket-loads of metadata (from the weather to your location to step counts and even what song you’re listening to as you write) that I don’t need. 750 words, based on Morning Pages, three pages of long-form handwriting, also looks like it would suit my needs but I think the lack of user-controlled encryption is irresponsible.

Although price is never much of a worry for me – make a good product and I'll buy it from youStandard Notes' five-year Extended plan also works out ever so marginally cheaper ($2.48 USD/mo, billed as $149 every five years) in the long-run than Day One and much, much cheaper than other note-taking apps like Evernote and OneNote.

So, how do I structure my journal?

Every day has two entries, titled with the date and whether it was written in the morning or evening:

From there, I tend to copy the Five Minute Journal template, listing a few things I am grateful for and a few things I hope to achieve in the day ahead.

In a Five Minute Journal, you fill out one section both morning and evening

I then write generally for a period of about 5 minutes or so on whatever else is in my mind. I title each section – Gratitude, Aims – and call this last one 'Purge Writing', a stream-of-consciousness word-vomit from keyboard to app. I tend to do this on the train as part of my morning commute, standing my iPhone on the table and using a Logitech Keys-To-Go ultra-slim, ultra-portable silent keyboard to type on.

Before writing in the evening, I will re-read the bullet points from my morning entry (but never the 'Purge Writing' section, no matter how tempted I am to) and then list all of the things I achieved in the day. Hopefully that's a copy-and-paste job from the morning list but it can sometimes be wildly different! My evening entry is simply a timeline of my day with how I felt about certain events documented beside it. I tend to write my [PM] journal just before bed, usually using my laptop. Standard Notes' sync feature is great in this regard.

This whole process takes me about 1% of my day, which is about 15 minutes. The effects I've seen on my wellbeing are only positive. I'll usually couple writing with a meditation afterwards using Headspace and Calm, doing the 'Everyday Headspace' in the morning and something from Calm in the evening. Even if you can't spare the additional 2% of your day to meditate, I believe everyone can benefit from spending just fifteen minutes working on their priorities and getting what's in our messy and chaotic heads onto paper – or, in this case, in to the safest app of its kind that I've found.

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