I’ve been keeping a journal for the last eight years.
This is one of my best habits: The journal compensates for my awful memory and helps me feel like a complete person with a deep and meaningful history. It reminds me that I’ve spent the last 24 years actually existing, 24 hours at a time. It shows me all the friends I’ve ever had, and all the bad days I’ve put behind me. It’s also fun to read (once enough time has passed, and transient emotions like embarrassment are mostly gone).
Until recently, it was also a pain in the ass.
The Microsoft Word file that stores one-sixth of all the words I’ve ever written is called “Daily Journal”. But it’s been a long time since I’ve really kept a daily journal.
Why? It’s not that my life is boring. Well, it is — objectively speaking — but I find it exciting.
One problem is Microsoft Word, which doesn’t perform well with 750,000-word, 1000-page documents, at least on my old machine.
The bigger problem is motivation. Without some kind of external prompt, I found myself forgetting the journal, or skipping it in favor of something more fun — sometimes for weeks at a time.
Last year, I switched to an email system. This eliminates the loading times and makes it very easy to finish daily entries. I’ve also begun to ask myself questions, to mitigate the menace of the blank page.
If you’ve ever wanted to journal, or to resume journaling, you can set up this hyper-efficient, automatic system yourself. In ten minutes.
My secret: Zapier. It’s an incredibly versatile system for making Y happen whenever X happens. In my case, Y is “Zapier sends me an email” and X is “the clock hits 10:00 pm”.
Here’s how you can get set up:
- Register an account with Zapier. (It’s free, as long as you have only a few daily tasks.)
- Log in.
- Click “Make a Zap!”
- Choose your trigger app: “Schedule By Zapier”.
- Choose your trigger: “Every Day”.
- Choose the time of day to send your email, and whether to trigger on weekends. (If you never remember your weekends, I guess you could say “no”.)
- Choose your action app: “Gmail”. (Other email options exist, but if you don’t have a Gmail, setting up a shell email to forward to your main email might be easiest.)
- Choose your action: “Send email”.
- Connect your Gmail account.
- Select your own email address as the “From” email. Then, choose a subject line and template.
Here’s the subject line and template I use:
Subject: Today’s Journal Entry
What good things happened today?
What could you have improved today?
What are you grateful for?
Anything else? Don’t forget Todoist!
(When something journal-worthy happens, I take a note in Todoist. If you take notes elsewhere, make a different reminder.)
What this means: Every night, I get an email from myself. I open it. There’s a prompt I can use to write an entry. And once I send the “reply” (which also goes to me), I can archive the email with one more keystroke. Now my journal exists in a Gmail folder.
What if I don’t want Gmail to read my journal?
Don’t keep secrets. I’m lax about hiding from Gmail (they have plenty of damning info on me even without my journal). But if I did want to remember anything especially devious, I would keep it in Word. That way, only Dropbox can see it. They seem like good people.
Let me know if you try this! Also, let me know if you pick any prompts you like more than mine. I’m always looking for ways to improve my introspection.