Photo Credit - Mike Licht

Photo Credit – Mike Licht

Proper digital journaling is not an application, it is a process. It isn’t something you can buy for $0.99 in an app store, it is something that is learned and developed. How do I know this? Well, five years of keeping my own personal journal digitally has taught me many things and I have learned even more hearing the horror stories of those who poured their lives into a cheap application only to have it lost forever. For all of the benefits this newer form of journaling offers, poor preparation can bring out the worst that any computing machine can offer– insecurity, lost data and frustration.

Luckily, I have started to perfect a system for keeping a personal journal on a smartphone, tablet or computer (or all of the above). This post outlines the first fundamental that forms the foundation of this system: taking control of your data.

Imagine how you would feel if a tornado came through your house and all of your photo albums were lost forever. Pretty traumatic, right? The worst part of this kind of loss is that there is no amount of time or money that can replace this sort of treasure.

When you write the first entry of a new journal application, you are either believing that your device will never fail, fall or die or else you are putting an inordinate amount of trust in a developer that you have never met. It took me several years and some incredible heartbreak to learn this lesson. Consider the following:

“One day you will wake up and this app will have completely deleted every single one of your entries. You wont know why, and they wont be anywhere to be found. Gone. Deleted. Just like that. An app that has only one purpose, as a glorified “Notepad” …. whose only goal in life is to keep text notes …. can’t even do that right.”

Can you even imagine? This was actually written by a reader at Easy Journaling, frustrated by the recent lost of all of his priceless data. As bad as this sounds, it gets even worse:

“I was documenting my daily symptoms and progress with a very serious health condition. My improvement and possible recovery depended on this record of daily events. My diet, my medications, my symptoms. Mind you, I could die from this condition. And I put all my faith in this stupid app to do the one basic thing its supposed to. Record basic text.”

If this doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will! And this is just one of dozens on my website and that doesn’t even count the thousands of similar stories shared on various app stores for many different journal apps.

When you keep a journal on your smartphone or tablet, your data can be stored in one of several ways. The first is that it is just saved on your device. This is the most obvious– and the most dangerous. The second is that it can be saved to external storage, like an SD card. You won’t find this on iOS (Apple) devices, but many Android products offer this service. This is only marginally safer than on-device storage.

Developers are now more than ever offering offsite storage solutions. These can be as simple as the developer storing the data in their own servers or as integrated as Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud and Google Drive backup.

While backed up data sounds nice, it is only one piece of the puzzle. How is this data stored? Is it a file type unique to that particular application that can only be opened by that journal? What if your journal is backed up by Dropbox (for example) and the journal developer goes out of business and stops supporting the app? You will never be able to take your data with you, anywhere. The life of your journal would be directly connected to the life of the application. Not a good idea when you really start to think about it.

Understanding this flaw in most journaling applications was fundamental to developing my current journal keeping system. Unless you have the actual words where you can access them independent of anyone else, you don’t have anything.

The best solution to this problem can be summed up in three letters– PDF. The ability to export your journal entries into a universal format such as .pdf gives you control over what does and does not happen to your data.

Unfortunately, not all journal applications or online services offer PDF export. When you are looking for your first or your next digital journal, do everything you can to ensure that it has this feature. Penzu, Diaro 3 for Android and Everyday Timeline for iPhone are three of my favorites that have this feature.

Let me reiterate– do not put a single word in any journaling application unless it has the ability to export via PDF. Other text file exports can work in a pinch, but PDF is so universal and available enough that there is no reason to not have it.

Having your entries in PDF form gives you incredible control over your journaling as well as increased peace of mind and security. The advice I give is to make a special folder on your computer that is independent of the journal app you use. Occasionally you should export your entire journal and save it in this folder which should also be password protected.

But don’t stop there. Make redundant copies of this folder on external hard drives and online storage sites. This may seem like a hassle but I promise you that this is the best way for avoiding digital journaling failure. In fact, I am currently working with developers to find an end solution like this that will automatically make redundant copies of this priceless folder.

Taking control of your data is the first thing you must know if you want to start keeping a journal digitally. To read about the other two fundamentals you can download the full 3 page mini-guide for free by signing up for Easy Journaling updates on the right side of this page or on the home page.