One habit I had, but fell out of, and, wished I had today was journalling. For over five years I’ve been trying to get back to it, with limited success. It was not easy. Last year, I made a conscious decision to write again, that’ll I document the conversation I was having with myself, the thoughts running in my brain. I took stock of my then present situation, analysed how I worked, what my preferences were, and looked for areas causing friction and designed a way to make it work. This is what I did:
A year ago:
What was I currently doing? I took a stock of the situation. I was (am) active on Facebook. Since it is a public place, I’d remove names and then update statuses. But, to post on Facebook, I used to edit out a lot of emotion, a lot of inner dialogue too, which I wished I had tracked somewhere else. I knew I could write all that in a diary. But, I didn’t. Why? Because my diary was never handy. I had to wait till the evening to jot everything down. And, by the end of the day, I would hardly have any energy or motivation to do anything, so ’would skip writing. I wanted a place I could spontaneously jot down as thoughts bubbled up inside me which was another reason I liked Facebook. Because, it was always available and I could post something as it occurred to me. Small chunks of comments went onto Facebook and long reflections onto my blog. But, Facebook was not a diary. Neither was my blog. I was just on it always a lot because I missed journalling.
Couldn’t I just talk to someone? No. ’Cause you can never be completely honest with someone else and all of us have feelings we wish others never know. I needed a safe place where I could have unfiltered conversation with myself. I needed to start journalling.
What was my workflow?
How did I want to capture my thoughts? How frequently? Where? Which was the easiest way to do it? As part of answering those questions, I checked if I wanted to go back to a paper based journal. I missed writing and there was something romantic, organic, and the act of writing down on paper just felt like a logical extension for my thoughts to flow onto. But, issues with that, first –
- I couldn’t carry that journal everywhere with me. So, where should I be capturing thoughts that occur to me in the middle of the day?
- I work in flexible shifts. I don’t know when I come home and after working for 9 hours and travelling for an hour or two, I didn’t think I’d have enough energy to sit and write. Also, this was the prime reason I gave up journalling in the first place.
- When do I like to sit and reflect on the day that just passed? The morning after? Evening of the same day? I’m not a morning person. I don’t like to wade through memories of the day before (unless they are positive), before I start a new day. So, there would be friction. To avoid that, it had to be at the end of the same day.
I needed a system which could take my thoughts as they appear all day long, and have them ready either to expand on them or add onto them. There were only two ways, I could do that – either carry a small notebook to record thoughts as they occur, come home, copy them to the journal or, let the journal be for day long reflection and use these ‘satellite’ notebooks as add-ons. Or, go digital.
I was not really sure if having multiple notebooks was a good idea. Probably it was, but, notebooks condition in India is pretty bad. Other than regular notes used in schools and colleges, and a few fancy ones, no big company that was into notebooks, like Field Notes, Leuchtturm1917, Rhodia, Hobonichi, Baron Fig, was in India. Though, Moleskine was available, it was either very costly or not readily available in outlets, (1–2 notebooks from Rhodia are available on Amazon now, but have been out of stock for a very long time). The only other companies which I found produced well designed books were Nightingale and Rubberband. All my diaries were Nightingale, and Rubberband notebooks never seemed to be made for note taking. Given, this scenario, I preferred going with a digital tool as I started spending more time online.
Since 2010, I’ve been an Apple convert, fanboy and bought my first iPhone in 2011. It was in the same year, Apple announced iCloud, removing the necessity to tether your iPhone to mac. Given this situation, I wanted a digital journalling solution that had presence both on my mac and iPhone. I started with ‘momento’, but, it did not have a Mac app. I wanted a solution that was ubiquitous and not be limited to one device. Day One, then the new kid on the block was earning critical appreciation. I purchased it on iPhone and fell in love with its simplicity, colour scheme and icon. I bought the Mac version shortly after and later an iPad version. Though initially limited to words, Day One over the years kept adding more features like the ability to add photos, activity status, music being played and weather information. It also came with features like full screen writing, reminders & password. Day One’s aesthetic design coupled with its useful features made it a permanent fixture on my homescreen. It was/is hands down the best journalling app you can get your hands on. The best digital journalling solution. I had this for four years, but, did I write?
So, did I start journalling after buying Day One? Fortunately, and unfortunately in my case, Day One has an option to see how many entries I made over the years. In the five years I have had this app, it was only this year that my entries crossed double digits. That’s when I understood, more than the medium, workflow, need & convenience, it was ‘intent’ that mattered. When I go back to old diaries, I see blank pages. Some are days that have nothing much to write about. But, many are days that had seen struggles, dreams, happiness, & sorrow, days where I questioned myself & questioned my relations, days I was thankful for. If journalling had taught me anything, it is that life was made of small moments, not (only) the big ones. And, that was what I wanted to record but failed. And, that was why I stopped buying diaries. Blank pages only added to my guilt.
So, in Jan 2015, I made a conscious decision to journal every day. As on today, I’ve had 308 entries so far (with multiple entries on some days). I still didn’t write everyday. But, compared to the last 4 years, this was huge. However, I noticed a trend. I wrote almost regularly for the first 3 months till March and then entries dropped to 5–10 per month till September. Volume again picked up from October to December. So, it was like the new year resolve dissolved after three months and the approaching year-end reminded me of next years’ resolve making me question what I accomplished this year. Over the last three months, I’ve been trying not to break the streak. I’ve been tracking progress in my ‘habit list’ app and, been journalling regularly. I want to keep it going.
I made a few changes to how I wrote and seem to have seen better results because of that. As and when something noteworthy happened, I opened Day One, not Facebook. I captured the raw emotion including names. I didn’t try to come up with some clever “share-worthy” line. I just wrote what I felt, in the language I knew. I didn’t wait till the end of the day, till I was ready to sleep, to write. I also started writing about the day, 1–2 hours before I retired. I started copying memorable conversations I was having with friends in other apps, the best lines I read in books, quotes, movie & book reviews, pictures, my own observations in addition to daily logging and reflection. From bare bone content, Day One now houses one year of my life (well, atleast most of it).
But, I still had one problem – digital solutions don’t make it easy to browse previous/past entries. What would be the point in writing everything down if I could not get back to them or find them easily? So, before writing this post, I spent time with Day One just going from one entry to the next. It was good. Almost like reading a diary. (Why almost? Because digital solutions lack the ability cross check/refer/ compare two pages at a time.)
Journalling in the end:
Now, looking back at this year, I’m glad that I have written. Memories, good and bad, come to life. Going from one entry to another, I can see myself change ever so slightly into who I’m now, for better or worse. I’m glad I don’t have to remember memories only in my head where I’m bound loose on the finer details as time goes by.
But, can a digital solution replace paper journals? I doubt. I don’t think anything can beat the experience of writing down on paper, the freedom of doodling, writing asynchronously. Technology has a long way to go if it wants to replace paper. For the time being however, given my workflow, Day One is really helping me to get back to journalling. And, I’m happy for that. But, anyday, more than the medium we choose, it is the intent and desire to journal that matters.