Journaling with IFTTT and Evernote

UPDATE: Thanks to this post by Jamie Todd Rubin, I now know how I could have solved the duplicating journal entries problem: add ” +” to the end of the email subject line that IFTTT sends (or manually add it myself when I change the address).

I started journaling 37 days ago, and using a simple IFTTT recipe, I haven’t missed a single day.

IFTTT Recipe: Email me every night at 9:30, reminding me to write a journal entry. (To be used with Evernote) connects date-time to gmail

To tell you the truth, I couldn’t tell you why I decided to try writing a journal. I know I’ve read about it on The Art of Manliness before. I think I skimmed that post and decided to go for it. What I can tell you is that since I started on Jan 23rd of this year (37 days ago), I haven’t missed writing a single daily entry.

More importantly than that, though, is that I have been more productive since I started journaling. I try to use to do lists, but I’ve never really kept to them. I used to think it was a problem with whatever system I happened to be using at the time, and I’ve tried a lot of different to do list trackers: Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, Bullet Journal, todo.txt. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I realized after I started keeping a journal that the satisfaction of checking off an item on the list isn’t enough motivation to get me to do whatever it is on the list. However, if I take the time to reflect on my day (as I now do with the journal), it drives me to accomplish more in a day, so I have more to write about. Since I’m committed to journaling, I want the entries to be meaningful. “Went to work, did work, went home, watched TV” is just boring as hell; especially if it’s every single entry. It’s also a nice way to vent about stress-inducers at work and in my personal life. I find it easier to let things go if I know I can come back to them later, if I really want to. Which I don’t after they’ve been written down.

Setting this up was incredibly easy, using the magic of IFTTT and Evernote. You can click the “Use” button above to use this IFTTT recipe yourself. You just need to plug in your email address, and adjust any fields as you see fit. Here’s how it works:

At 9:30 every night, IFTTT emails me. The subject of the email is that day’s date and time followed by “What kind of day has it been” and “@journal.” In addition to being a good question to ask yourself to motivate you to journal by answering the question, it has the bonus of being a reference to multiple Aaron Sorkin TV shows. The “@journal” bit is for Evernote, which I’ll get to in a second. When I climb in to bed at night, I pop open that email from IFTTT, and click to forward the email. Then I remove “Fwd: ” from the subject line, put my Evernote email address in the “to” field, and start writing. Once I’m done, I just send the email. This creates a note in my Evernote notebook named “journal” (because of the “@journal” in the subject line).

I ran into a couple of minor flaws in the system when I started this. First, I had included my Evernote address in the email IFTTT sends, which seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem is that Evernote doesn’t append to an existing note if the subject line of an email matches an existing note. This meant I had two notes for each day, but one of them was mostly blank (it had the text from the IFTTT email, but didn’t have the actual journal entry). The other thing is the notes all have pretty boring names, since they are mostly identical. And since Evernote already tracks creation date and time, having that information in the subject of the email/the title of the note doesn’t add anything. It somehow only just occurred to me as I’m writing this that I could put anything into the subject line when I forward the email. I guess I could try to summarize the entry in the subject line from now on. As long as I leave “@journal” in the subject.

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