apps

Why I Switched to Physical Notebooks

I reviewed Day One on this site when it came out in early 2016. Back then, I was using Day One multiple times a day to record all sorts of things. I kept an occasional journal of interesting things, a daily gratitude journal, a daily planning journal and I recorded one thing I was grateful for about my partner every day for 450 days. The app made all of this really easy, helping me to keep the daily journaling habit for a long time.

But I don’t use it much any more. What gives?

The app has only improved since the release I reviewed. I still record the occasional quote, interesting thing, or photo in there. Now I keep a book journal in Day One with some notes about each book I read (I read 22 last year, and only 14 this year so far - I have some catching up to do!). But I’m not doing any of the many daily journals there any more. Now I use Day One approximately once a week.

I still keep a daily journal, but in a move that surprised me, I now write in a physical notebook with a pen.

I had been resisting this for years. I espoused the benefits of digital writing. Digital writing makes a lot of things easier - you can search it, so you can find things you’ve written more easily. Many of us digital natives (including me, but I acknowledge not everyone) can type faster than we can hand write. You can add photos to a digital journal. You have all this extra metadata about location, specific time, music you were listening to, your step count or mood for the day. A digital journal is significantly more feature rich than a physical notebook.

And yet, it stopped working for me.

It came down to one main thing.

Writing in an digital form means that you can search it. It means you can delete things easily. It means you approach the whole process of writing differently. You’re writing something that you will find again. You’re writing for future you to read. You’re able to easily edit to make what you’ve written just right. You’re creating a piece of writing. You’re not keeping a journal anymore.

I found the difference so subtle that I couldn’t put my finger on it for years. Over time, my journals became formulaic nothings that I didn’t feel. I was writing it for Future Tom, not for now.

Writing with pen and paper takes that away. You’re spilling your thoughts directly onto the page. You leave a mark if you make a mistake. It’s hard to search, so there’s less performance required in your writing. You might not ever read it again. You can let go and write.

I feel it’s important to point out that I know it’s possible to fight this without turning away from digital writing. This is about attitude towards journalling more than the app itself. When I started out using Day One I felt things. I got a lot out of it. But the subtle differences very slowly moved me away from the reason I started journaling in the first place.

So, I have started writing in a notebook with the express permission to myself to just write. Let it flow out of me with no regard for Future Tom. I write creatively and from the gut. It’s sometimes indecipherable later, but that’s not the point. The point is that it helps me think. It helps me work things out. And it has worked its way back into my other writing, helping me write more and get my thoughts down digitally more effectively.

Do this now. Go get a notebook, open it up to any page and just start writing. Write whatever comes into your mind. Don’t stop for 5 minutes. You could start by writing about the state of politics, move to that itch on your foot, the way your Mum talked to you last weekend, your idea for an app, or the irritating sounds of construction next door. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. This type of journalling is about making a connection with your stream of consciousness and getting it on paper.

It can be helpful to read back over your ramblings later, but you don’t have to. Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s not. Honestly, it’s not the point. Sure, maybe you’ll lose a couple of ‘good ideas’ in your writing but chances are the good ones will stick. If you come across something really profound that you want to remember, try putting it into you digital journal. But give yourself permission to miss things. It’s okay. If my experience is anything to go by, the number of ideas you’ll have and things you’ll work out will far exceed the number you’ll ‘lose’.

I will write very soon about my full journaling process. To summarise for you:

  • I keep a digital journal (still in Day One) for things I want to remember and search later. It’s a bit more formal so Future Tom can understand (hopefully).
  • I keep a hand written journal for just writing. Distracting myself. Getting away into my writing and thinking things through.

This month I’m doing a ‘life systems’ review. I’m going to write about the various ways I keep things on track, places I can find improvements, and things that are working for me. The key topics will be:

  • journalling
  • exercise
  • eating
  • getting work done

Sign up below to get updates for the next post on journalling.

Day One 2 Review

The developers behind my favourite journalling app Day One have released a second version. It’s called Day One 2, and I like it rather a lot.

I’ve been testing the app for a few months now as part of the beta program for Mac and iOS.

After giving it some thought, I figured that rather than doing the typical thing and having the things I don’t like about the app at the end of the post, I’m putting them right up front. That way it’s the first thing you read, so you know what you’re getting into.

Stuff I Don’t Like - Features Removed

Day One 2 has removed some good features from Day One (Classic). It’s a completely re-written app, so I’m not surprised. I heard that the new app is using a database to store the journal data rather than the .xml files that the original Day One used.

In any case, in the process some features I liked got cut out. I’ll miss some more than others.

The Day One ‘publish’ feature is gone. I used it a total of 10 times. It seemed like a good idea, but its introduction also coincided with a dramatic reduction in me posting on social media so it never caught on for me. If you don’t remember the feature, here’s the description from the Day One website (I guess it’s still up because Day One Classic can still use it):

Publish enables you to post individual Day One entries to a beautiful webpage, then share them.

Day One 2 does still show the journal entries you have published under the filters menu (see below), but you can no longer publish from within the app.

Automatically detected tags are gone. But now you can directly set a tag using an automation app like Workflow, rather than the workaround I was using. I added a #hashtag to the text and Day One automatically detected it as I saved the entry.

The option to sync using iCloud and Dropbox has been removed in favour of the 'Day One Sync' feature. This could be huge for some people (I’ve certainly heard about it). I hope the developer considers bringing back other options - it feels a little unsafe having such personal data sitting out there with a small app development house rather than within iCloud encryption. Sure they’re less of a target, but they also have less resources to look after my stuff if there was to be an attack.

Stuff I do Like

Multiple Journals

The ability to seperate my journal into segregated journals is a nice flexibility upgrade for Day One. Visually each journal is represented in the UI by a different colour. But the separation runs deeper - each journal has its own set of tags too. There is a ‘all journals’ view where you can see everything at once, but the separation is a nice way to keep things organised.

I’m using three journals at the moment:

image.jpg
  • my original ‘journal’. This contains my gratitude journal and random thoughts. It’s my digital diary.
    • a book journal. This contains notes on the books I’m reading. I’m trying to remember more of what I read this year, so even if it’s just a few sentences capturing the key things I learnt from a book, I record it here.
    • a business journal. This contains my business related journal entries.

I can see that there are plenty of other ways I could use Day One now. I could have done this using tags in the original Day One, but there’s something about the separated journals that just fits better. As a result, the app is more flexible than it was before.

Multiple Inline Photos

You can now attach multiple photos to a single journal entry. It’s limited to 10, which is a sensible limit if you have to have one. If you need more, simply create a new entry.

This is a test entry I made back in November. 

This is a test entry I made back in November. 

Most interesting to me about the change is that photos can now be inserted inline with the text rather than just attached to an entry at the top. It makes your entries nicer to look at and means you can tell a story using your photos.

I imagine that people who were taking multiple photos throughout the day and sitting down to write a long entry at the end of the day were wishing for multiple photos per entry. For whatever reason, I tend to create multiple short entries throughout the day with one photo attached. I rarely waited until the end of the day to write in my journal, rather I saw it as something I’d do in the moment. In my mind, my daily reflections were seperate from photos so I never felt the need to attach any photos to those. I’d say this habit is at least partly because that’s the way Day One worked, so it’s nice to have the option now. I’ve been using Day One 2 in the beta for a while now, and I haven’t found myself using this feature.

Day One 2 uses a very similar photo view for viewing all posts containing photos. Day One 2 (left) provides all the same filtering options available on the main screen. You can filter by journal on the top left or any of the filters under the tag button on the top right. Because there are less options, Day One Classic (right) can fit more photos in the view. Would you just look at that happy puppy!

Day One 2 uses a very similar photo view for viewing all posts containing photos. Day One 2 (left) provides all the same filtering options available on the main screen. You can filter by journal on the top left or any of the filters under the tag button on the top right. Because there are less options, Day One Classic (right) can fit more photos in the view. Would you just look at that happy puppy!

User Interface Refresh

The new user interface is clean and simple in a way that I find easier to use. Like in Day One, the main screen has two big buttons to quickly start a new entry. But the list view of entries isn’t hidden behind a menu item, they’re all right there for you. You can swipe on a journal entry to perform actions on it, like adding a tag, star, or deleting it. There is a tab bar at the bottom of the screen with buttons representing various ways to view your journal: a list view, photo grid, a map, or a calendar. Because of the way I use the app, I spend the vast majority of my time using the list view.

The Day One Classic front screen (left) has filtering functions and journal entries hidden behind this list view. Day One 2 has almost all the same options available in the tab bar, with some behind the 'tag' button on the top right. 

The Day One Classic front screen (left) has filtering functions and journal entries hidden behind this list view. Day One 2 has almost all the same options available in the tab bar, with some behind the 'tag' button on the top right. 

Editing an entry from the front screen is simple. 

Editing an entry from the front screen is simple. 

The Day One Classic tag screen on the left. Day One 2 uses a modal tag view. 

The Day One Classic tag screen on the left. Day One 2 uses a modal tag view. 

The calendar view in Day One 2. I like the way the app shows a full calendar view to scroll through and slides up a list view when I select a date. 

The calendar view in Day One 2. I like the way the app shows a full calendar view to scroll through and slides up a list view when I select a date. 

The map view and the filter menu. You get to the filter menu by tapping the tag symbol on the top right. 

The map view and the filter menu. You get to the filter menu by tapping the tag symbol on the top right. 

I use the app mostly for adding entries. Usually the first thing I do upon opening app is tap the big plus button and start writing. If I’m using a photo, I usually add it after writing from within the journal entry screen rather than using the photo shortcut. That’s because my journal is mostly text. I’ve also been using the great Workflow app to do my daily journalling.

My primary use of the app is to enter information. But Day One 2 also brings improvments to viewing entries that I really like. To navigate between journal entries, you can swipe left or right or tap the up and down arrows at the bottom of the screen (up means go up the date ordered list, towards the newest entries and down means go down the list towards older entries). Those features together make it easier to navigate on the larger screen iPhone. You can dismiss the journal entry with a swipe down anywhere on the text, which is much better than a ‘done’ button at the top.

By moving the list view up to the main screen, the developer had to find a place for all the old journal viewing options. Some (like the photo grid) are in the tab bar at the bottom of the screen, but other options have been put into a filtering menu at the top right of the main screen. Tap on the tag symbol to bring up a filtering menu. You have the option to filter on stars, tags, years, activity, or music.

So far, Day One 2 has helped me spend more time reading my journal rather than always adding to it.

Custom Reminders

Setting custom reminders is a nice way to automate your journal. You can set up a reminder for a specific time, with a specific question to answer and pre-filled tags. I use this to remind me to write about a specific topic every day. I get the reminder, I write the entry, and it’s pre-tagged and ready to go. It’s simple, but nice.


This upgrade is a solid upgrade. The app is cleaner, faster, and allows me to interact with my journal more. I was always going to recommend this app though. I started journalling every day around a year ago, and I’m completely converted to it’s usefulness. I’ve had some of the most productive and wonderful times of my life since I started journalling. It could definitely be a coincidence, but there’s something about writing in my journal every day that has made me notice how good I’ve got it in a way that I never did before.

Day One has made my journalling habit stick, and I look forward to reaping the benefits with Day One 2.

Prune: iOS game of the weekend

Another thing I’ve been doing this weekend is playing Prune on my phone.

Prune is a level based game created around the concept of pruning a growing plant so that it can reach the sunlight. It’s a beautiful design with nice music to match.

It’s $4.99 in the Australian App Store and worth a look.

Scrivener for iOS coming soon

Some good news on the Scrivener for iOS front.

The good news is that our iOS version is (at last!) feature-complete and is currently in internal beta-testing.

Scrivener is one of those apps that I love the idea of. I have started so many projects in Scrivener, but never finished one. I've done crazy things like trying to use it to help me create the class diagrams for the app I'm developing. I've tried using it to help me write 'Potential Investment' papers for my day job. I've tried using it for those longer blog posts that never quite make it onto my site. I love using the app, but I can't say I've really done anything with it.

Having Scrivener on iOS could change that. I use my iPad a lot to write. I use it constantly for my day job (like Federico). All of the creative work I do for my day job is done on my iOS devices these days, so not having Scrivener there has hampered its utility for me in that space. The more I think about it, the more I think that creative work in general is done on an iOS device for me. My Mac is an important part of the workflow, but I just don't do the creative work there.

I don't want to say that the lack of Scrivener has stopped me from being creative. Not at all. It's just that I am creative in other apps instead. I'm excited to see what the addition of Scrivener will do to my workflow.

Right now I'm using Ulysses for this type of work. I love using Ulysses, but in practice it really doesn't feel that different to using any other text editor on my iPad. It's not getting it the way of my creativity, but it doesn't seem to add to it.

I'm still not convinced that Scrivener will "add to my creativity" either. But I keep finding myself checking to see if it's out on iOS every few weeks. I think that's because I know that iOS is where I'm creative, and because of that the Scrivener Mac app never had a chance to help me do my creative work.


Given past debacles, I’m hesitant to talk about release dates, but we expect a summer release, though whether mid or late summer will depend on what is thrown up during beta-testing, of course.

They haven't announced a release date yet, but I'm guessing by the time it's Spring (for Australia), I'll have my hands on the app. Maybe I'll write a review.