Despite these attempts, I never established a habit of regular journaling.
Some days I'd forget to bring it with me, other days I'd get too busy to spend the time to write. I recognized the importance of regular reflection & planning, but the habit didn't stick.
Then I tried a digital journal. At the time, I started using OhLife (which is now shut down). The app was simple - every day (or week), I'd receive a notification in my email inbox encouraging me to reply. I'd add a response over email. It was super simple to use, and the habit stuck! I could even see past entries directly over email.
This made me realize that digital journals have massive benefits, especially if you need help establishing the habit. We wrote more about the benefits of digital journals vs. paper journals if you'd like to learn more. We've also written a guide to journaling prompts as well.
In the rest of this post, I'm going to share a list of digital journaling apps that you can use to kickstart a regular habit of reflection & planning. We will make sure to highlight things like:
- Other bits of important information
Ok, let's kick this off!
1.) The Five Minute Journal App
The Five Minute Journal app is based off the bestselling physical journal. In the morning you receive specific prompts on your iPhone/Android like:
- I am grateful for...
- What will I do to make today great?
Then in the evening, you can answer questions like:
- 3 amazing things that happened today
- How could I have made today even better?
Additionally, you can add a photo to your post and you'll receive a daily quote that you can share on social media. This is an effective structure and covers the key aspects of journaling. It's ideal for beginners who are trying to build a regular habit of journaling, but if you're looking to customize entries, prompts, and the cadence; you may need to look elsewhere.
2.) Day One
Day One is a personal journaling app that is available across the entire iOS ecosystem & Android (it even comes with a Mac app). This app is much more free-form than structured apps like Friday or the Five Minute Journal; it's a bit more like an open-ended digital diary.
There's quite a few useful features you may like in Day One:
- Advanced Encryption/Security
- Various integrations (it will pull in your posts from other systems, available on the Premium plan)
- Location tagging
- Markdown formatting
- Export/backup options
You can see more in this video review below:
The only downside to Day One is that it's open-ended, so you will need to come up with your own journaling prompts. For beginners, staring at an empty page can be intimidating.
Unlike the others in this list, we offer a completely customizable way to build any regular habit of reflection, gratitude, writing, and more. You can use our routine builder to setup a perfect cadence for your needs.
Why does customization matter?
Most apps require that you adapt your behavior so it matches how the tool functions. It turns out, behavior change is difficult. With Friday, you can customize the routine, which means you are much more likely to create the behavior over the long run.
You can see above that you can customize the writing prompts. When giving an update, we'll automatically pull in past responses in a sidebar.
Next up, we have Penzu, one of the earliest digital journaling apps available (their Wikipedia says they were founded in 2008). Penzu is very similar to Day One, as it's more of a freeform diary app vs. being a structured journal. It boasts over 2 million users.
Penzu offers a free plan, and two paid offerings. The free plan offers unlimited entries, access to mobile apps, and basic font options. Yes, the reminders are included in the free plan.
Unfortunately, the app seems to have lost a bit of its luster over the past couple of years - it looks like only one founder is still working on the project (see LinkedIn company page). The app currently has a 4.3 star rating on the iTunes store and 4.3 stars on the Play store.
The paid offerings have features like:
- Various Journal Covers
- Different Background colors
- Custom reminders
- PDF Export
Friday might be an interesting alternative worth considering.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, I used to use Ohlife before it shut down. Dabble.me is the closest alternative I've found to the email-based journaling method. As I mentioned before, this app delivers an email on a regular interval. All you need to do is reply via email. You can see in the screenshot below, it will also show a past update:
If you live in your email inbox, this is worth a second look. The free plan offers restricted functionality, like the email notifications are sent every other week.
The paid offering unlocks the following features, such as:
- Ability to change the frequency
- Attach a photo
- Edit entries
- Rich text formatting
- Year in Review
If you are looking for a simple way to start journaling, Dabble.me is worth a look, or you could consider an alternative.
Daybook is another journaling app similar to Day One or Penzu. The user experience is extremely minimal (see example below), but it's a free app and appears to be still in beta.
Journey is the new kid on the block and appears to be the most popular regular journaling app in this list, with over 65,000 reviews on the Google Play store and nearly 2,000 reviews on iTunes. Once again, it's pretty similar to Penzu and Day One, but it looks like Journey is a newer, more up-to-date version work exploring.
Similar to other apps, the free plan offers basic journaling capabilities, but you will need to upgrade to access advanced functionality like:
- Unlimited entries
- Create an entry from email
- Pull in social media posts from Zapier
This pricing isn't obvious from their website, which is a little disappointing and a bit sketchy. With that being said, they seem to have many happy users.
P.S. - if you're looking for an alternative to Journey.cloud, we might be able to help.
Ok, here's an interesting pick. Daylio: a "micro diary and mood tracker." I've been using it for a couple weeks and have found it to be an interesting alternative to the traditional journaling apps.
Unlike traditional journaling apps, you are prompted to journal with "labels" and short snippets of text vs. being a pure "writing" app. You also share your general mood/sentiment on a regular basis.
This breaks down the barriers to journaling because it's so easy to use. This app boasts a crazy number of reviews on the Google play store - over 250k! Additionally, the iOS app has over 20k reviews.
The free plan restricts certain feature and is ad-supported. The premium plan offers the following functionality:
- Unlimited moods
- Unlimited reminders
- Unlimited goals
- Ability to export entries
- Automatic backups
- Various themes
Overall, I really like the approach Daylio is taking, especially for people who are new to journaling. With that being said, I think there is immense power to spending some time writing things down in a structured way. Sentiment tracking is only one piece of the puzzle.
9.) 750 Words
Here's our final pick - it's called 750 Words and it's based on morning pages from the book, The Artist's Way. The general theme is that you should write in a stream of consciousness. The process can be therapeutic. 750 words will keep track of your word count, sentiment, and how frequently you write, which can be helpful to know.
You can see a bit more of the user experience from this video:
If you are a writer or someone who wants to write more often (like me), you should check this out. If you are a beginner, this habit takes quite a bit of effort to stick.
In conclusion, there are a ton of various apps to choose from. We recommend focusing on establishing the habit first - the various features won't make a huge difference if you don't make journaling a regular habit.
That's why you should try Friday (get started for free). We are the only fully customizable tool available, which means that you can mold the software to fit your needs instead of trying to create new behaviors that confirm to how the app functions. That won't work in the long run.