Digital vs. Paper Journaling

Digital vs. Paper Journaling
The act of journaling has existed for thousands of years and has been an effective way to reflect on the past, comprehend the present, and plan for the future. As more and more of our daily activity happens online, there's been renewed interest in analog journaling methods like the Bullet Journal, Habit Journal, Self Journal, and others.

While we recognize the value of taking a break from apps and putting pen to paper, there's also a lot of value in digital journaling as well.

At the end of the day, the goal is to create a regular habit. The outcome you should be aiming for is habit creation - it's up to you to pick the method that works best for you.

In this post, we'll discuss the benefits of digital journaling vs. analog journaling. My personal preference is digital journaling, but at the end of the guide, you should be able to come to a conclusion about what makes the most sense for you.

P.S. - Friday makes it easy to keep a digital work journal. You can keep one personally, or expand the habit to build better teams at work (through regular communication & structured reflection).

Benefits of Digital Journaling

Let's first discuss the benefits of keeping a digital journal (see our top digital journaling apps list).

1.) Automated Reminders

B.J. Fogg, a leading researcher at Stanford and the founder of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, has a simple mental model for habit creation in which three components must converge at the same moment:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Prompts

A digital journal offers automated reminders (prompts) on a regular basis, while an analog journal requires that you create your own prompts or reminders.

I tried for years to keep a physical journal, but I would always forget to write. When I started using a digital journal, I received prompts over email, which helped me create the habit much easier.

2.) Easily include Online "Remnants"

Another benefit of digital journaling is that it allows you to include useful context about your life (or work). For example, if you use social media, you could easily include a status update or information that you posted from the service, which serves as helpful context and eliminates posting the same thing twice.

For example, maybe you should include a link to an Instagram photo and write a sentence vs. writing 3 sentences describing the photo. There's a lot of rich context that can be included from your online activity in a digital journal. This isn't the case for a physical journal.

Another example - when filling out a digital journal, I could include my RescueTime stats as useful context.

3.) Searchable/Taggable & easily archivable

This next section is pretty self explanatory, but digital journaling offers the ability to search through past posts, or tag the entries in a particular way that can be easy to reference later. Analog journaling does not offer this. Additionally, a digital journal can be backed up to Dropbox or another file storage system, so you can be confident that you will always have your entries and they won't be lost, stolen, or wear out.

With that being said, some people enjoy keeping physical journals and sifting through them over time. It's really up to you to choose a method that works for you.

4.) Creates Necessary Structure

We believe this next section is incredibly important. Digital journaling offers the ability to customize and create a structure that works best for you. This structure enables a variety of benefits.

If you start with a blank page, it can be difficult to come up with things to write about. That's why so many people find value with journaling prompts.

I've purchased structured journals in the past, and this requires that you adapt your behavior to the way the creator of the journal intended. For example, one analog journal I have has a section for daily gratitude. While I find this structure to be helpful, some of you may not want to fill this out.

The less personalized it is, the less likely you are to keep the habit.

Put simply, a physical journal cannot be adapted and modified to suite your tastes in the same way that a digital journal can. When you have to adapt your behavior too much, you won't end up creating the habit, which is the point of regular journaling in the first place!

One final point - I find the structure and prompts to act as a work/life coach of sorts.

Example prompts:

  • Did you work out today?
  • What did you read today?
  • What valuable lesson did you learn at work?

This helps me reflect and rewrite how my brain thinks. The digital journal is a keystone habit, as it kickstarts other useful habits as well.

Benefits of an Analog Journal

Paper journals have benefits as well. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, it's about finding a method that works best for you. Let's discuss the benefits of paper journaling below:

1.) A break from the digital world

Many people find analog journaling to be an effective counterbalance to the time spent online. As someone who spends quite a bit of time online everyday, it's important to take a break. I can certainly understand this point.

Additionally, when using a paper journal, there's no distractions, notifications, or open browser tabs begging you to visit them. 

2.) A more creative medium

Paper journaling is much more expressive. You can draw, doodle, and format it any way you'd like. To see examples, go visit the /r/journaling subreddit or you could watch the video below:

The author of the video is super artistic. I am not, which is why I use a digital journal :)

3.) Writing things down has benefits

Finally, the last benefit to a physical journal is that writing improves retention and studies have shown that improves mental wellbeing. Here's an important quote to back this up from a Fast Company article:

"Writing accesses you’re the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational,” says Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert. “While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us."

I can definitely understand this - it's why I use a physical notebook to keep track of random thoughts and ideas over the course of the day. Then, I can tap into the expressiveness of a physical format, while also gaining the benefits of a digital journal for more regular reflection.

In conclusion

Find a method that makes the most sense for you! Optimize for habit creation first - that's the most important element that matters in the long run.