Posted on Mar 16, 2013 | 6 comments
Using a folder system for organizing is so, like, five years ago. Right? Kids nowadays are keeping things together using tags which are similar to folders… but oh, so different. Gmail is the most obvious example. I used to use Yahoo email (you probably did too, once upon a time) and I remember having some elaborate system of folders and sub-folders to keep track of my most important emails. Once I made the switch to Gmail I had withdraws for a while because my beloved folder system had been replaced with a foreign method of tagging. Fast forward a half-decade later and I’m pretty sure that I would never go back to folders.
Twitter has expanded on this idea by implementing #hashtags. These are just basically text in your tweet with a # (pound) sign to indicate that it is a keyword, not actually part of the sentence. This has spawned an entire subculture based on following the most popular #hashtags of the day with such stunning examples of #aintnobodygottimeforthat, #coolstorybro and #endoftheworldconfessions. Any user can simply type one of these terms (as is, with no spaces) into the search bar and instantly see the conversation on that topic.
If you use a journal/diary app on your smartphone or tablet, chances are that it will have a built-in tagging feature. This basically means that instead of adding tags as text inside your entries you can click on frequently used tags and that entry will be grouped with all other entries with the same tag. It’s kind of cool in theory and even in execution, but unfortunately this system has a flaw.
I’ve recently started emphasizing the importance of knowing your ‘exit strategy’. What I mean by this is that if you are at least somewhat serious about keeping a personal journal, you need to have an end goal in mind. There really are only a few possibilities such as: delete everything, export to PDF, export to another format, print everything out in a physical book… and so on. This also involves what I call ‘taking control of your data’ so that you are not dependent on a developer that may or may not close shop any day.
Most likely your exit strategy will involve taking all of your entries with you somewhere and
moving on from the app (can you really still see yourself using “My Daily Journal” thirty years from now?) If this is the case, I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to use that tag function anymore. At best your tags will be included with your entries as text when you export them but I doubt this will happen. And since I can’t guarantee to you that your tags will get exported with all of your text, I just recommend not using the tagging feature at all.
Instead, just like I suggest taking control of your data by exporting and storing it by your own means, take control of your tagging by writing your own tags in the text below your entries. There are many ways you can do this, and any of them might work for you, but I will show you how I do it.
In my mind, the end goal of tagging is to quickly find things you have written when you need/want them in the future. For example, let’s say I am asked to give a keynote speech and I want to incl
ude some personal stories to tie in my topic. If I have my journals organized correctly (and in a digital, searchable format) I can just search ‘funnystory’ and I will instantly get a list of all of the funny stories I have written down. If you use too many tags, however, you might struggle with this. If some of your funny stories are tagged ‘hilarious’ and others are tagged ‘lolstory’ it will be difficult to find all of them when I start searching. Therefore, I have a very limited number of tags and I suggest you do the same. Personally, I keep a list of 10. I will share five of them with you to give you an idea:
These are topics I frequently write about and would like to find in the future. This may sound a bit over the top to some of you but write this list down! I assure you that not doing so will result in confusion and your tagging system will lose its effectiveness. You can make a special entry just for this list of tags you plan on using or you can write it somewhere else that you keep notes (Evernote, email, pen and paper…).
Notice also how I use the same #hashtag system that Twitter uses. This is just personal preference so that when I see those tags in the future I know that they aren’t part of my entry but rather just used as a way to organize my entries. You could also use commas to separate them at the bottom of the entry like: funny story, quote, basketball… and so on.
Above all, I highly recommend that you take control of your data; including organization. Don’t ever rely on the app you are using to do this for you. Your journal will only be as good as you make it because everything else will eventually fade away, including built-in tagging.
How do you organize your journal?