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The 8 best journal apps of 2021

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The 8 best journal apps of 2021

By Melanie Pinola · April 5, 2021
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Journaling might be the most underrated activity that can boost your productivity and well-being in just a few minutes a day. Just jot your thoughts down or record what happened during the day for a simple way to manage stress, enhance creativity, increase happiness, improve health, and increase work performance, according to research.

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The trouble is, keeping a journal isn't easy. It takes dedication to this new habit and a willingness to open up when writing on a blank page. What have you done today? Who are you, really? Journaling apps can help you figure this out and help you establish a daily writing routine.

After testing nearly two dozen options, these are the top journaling apps to record your memories this year and in years to come. Click on any app to learn more about why we chose it, or keep reading for more context on journal apps.

The best journaling apps

If you don't want a completely new app, you can always use your current note-taking app as your journal. Or, do one better and build your own journal app without any code—just a quick automation.

What makes a great journal app?

A paper notebook and pen are fine for journaling, but apps offer more. They give you more context on what you've accomplished and where you might want to go. They also let you include photos from your phone or posts from your social media feeds to make the journaling experience more rewarding. Add in reminders and the ability to search your journal entries, and digital journaling is almost a no-brainer.

The best apps for keeping a journal have a few things in common:

  • Easy entry: If it takes more than a couple of clicks or taps to add a journal entry, chances are you're not going to do it.

  • Pleasant interface: A minimalist, uncluttered interface helps you focus on your thoughts and makes journaling a pleasant experience.

  • Reminders: Perhaps the biggest challenge to journaling is remembering to do it. Automatic reminders help you keep up the habit.

  • Exporting: Just in case the app stops being developed or you want to move to a different journaling platform, you'll want to be able to export your entries in a format other programs can read, such as PDF or RTF.

  • Syncing: Syncing will make sure your journal's up to date no matter what device you're using.

  • Affordability: We eliminated some apps because of the high price. Journaling shouldn't be expensive.

Other features that might be important to you include password protection, Markdown support, the ability to add more than one photo, location and weather tags, and journaling prompts.


Best journal app for Mac and iOS users

Day One (Mac, iOS, watchOS, Android)

Day One journal entry showing a photo of a lighthouse

Since its release in 2011, Day One has been one of the most highly recommended journaling apps, landing a spot as Apple's Editors Choice in the App Store numerous times.

It's not hard to see why. The app offers a wide array of features—just about everything you might want or need in a digital journal. You can create journal entries in just one click on the Mac from the menu bar, use templates to make journaling easier, and automatically add metadata, such as location, weather, motion activity, currently playing music, and step count. There are optional prompts, if you're not sure what to write about. You can also tag entries with hashtags, insert photos and videos, password-protect your journal, and format entries in Markdown. And all of this is within an elegant, unobtrusive design. It has just one main blue color plus menus and icons in gray—no gaudy toolbars in sight.

Perhaps Day One's best feature is the ability to customize multiple reminders. Most other journal apps only send you one reminder during the day. But with Day One, you can get prompted to write, say, when you start the day, at lunchtime, and then at the end of your workday to keep track of your activities and thoughts throughout the day.

The free app offers pretty much all of the core journaling features, but for syncing, unlimited photos, handwritten and audio entries, and multiple journals, you'll need to subscribe to the Day One Premium service.

Day One Pricing: Free version: available; $2.92/month for premium features when billed annually

Best cross-platform journal app

Diarium (Windows, Android, macOS, iOS)

Diarium screenshot

Compared to other journaling apps, Diarium stands out for its support for multiple media types in journal entries. If you'd rather speak than type, you can dictate your thoughts with accurate speech recognition. You can attach an audio file, inked drawing, or any other type of file to your entries, as well as multiple photos. Heck, you can even rate your journal entries (perhaps most useful as a way to track how happy you are each day).

Diarium syncs using your choice of cloud apps—OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or WebDAV. You can also export your entries to DOCX, HTML, RTF, or TXT formats—with separate files for media attachments—so you can rest assured that your data will always be accessible. 

To make journaling even easier, Diarium can automatically pull in feeds from Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or fitness apps, including Google Fit, Fitbit, and Strava, among other apps. The app can also remind you once a day (at your chosen time) to write in the journal.

Diarium Pricing: Free version available on Android ($4.99 for Pro), iOS ($4.99 for Pro), and macOS ($8.99 for Pro). Windows 10 version for $19.99.

Best journal app for secure journaling

Penzu (Web, iOS, Android)

New journal entry in Penzu

Writing a journal entry in Penzu is much like writing a blog post in WordPress, with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface, complete with a text formatting toolbar. So why not just use Word, WordPress, or a note-taking app like Evernote? For one thing, Penzu keeps your entries together in one journal online, as opposed to several different files. Custom email reminders help you remember to record your journal entry. And Penzu can send you reminders of what you've written in the past so that you can reminisce about the good old days.

More importantly, Penzu will keep your entries 100 percent private. You can lock your journal with a special password (which is different than your account password), secure your content with 128-bit encryption, and choose to auto-lock your journal at all times. If you're on the Pro plan, Penzu can safeguard your entries with military-strength 256-bit encryption.

If you want to keep a journal the same way you might a personal blog but keep it private, Penzu is an excellent option. You'll need to spring for the paid Pro plan, though, to get core digital journaling features such as tagging.

Penzu Pricing: Free version available; paid version from $19.99/year

Best journal app for social media power users

Momento (iOS)

Momento journal entry showing a Twitter post with a Bon Appetit recipe

If you're already documenting your life online on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium, you're already keeping a journal. It's just spread across the internet. Momento brings all of your shared posts and interactions from sites like these into one place, helping you keep a digital archive of your online interactions. Momento supports 11 feeds, including your Uber trip history, Spotify saved tracks, and YouTube videos. You can also create new journal entries like you would with a typical journaling app.

Momento excels at resurfacing where you've been and what you've done in the past. You can group separate entries (or "moments") into "events"—so all of the Instagram photos you were tagged in for a family reunion could live together. The app will show you what happened on a specific date in previous years, so you can see how time has flown. And preset reminders—for example, "what did you dream?" at 7:30 a.m. and "how was your day?" at 8 p.m.—make it easier to journal when you're not sure what to write.

Momento Pricing: Free for up to 3 social feeds; $2.49/month for the Premium plan, $37.99/year for the Premium Gold plan

Best journal app for templated journaling

Grid Diary (macOS, Android, iOS)

Grid Diary journal entry with eight question prompts

Grid Diary bills itself as "the simplest way to get started with keeping a diary." Instead of a blank slate, this app gives you a grid of boxes you can give custom headers. The defaults are things like "Today's wins," "Heath and Fitness," and "Personal growth," though you can customize these to say whatever you want. 

This gives you a detailed and bird's-eye view of what's happening in your life, one day at a time. You can review entries using the built-in calendar, or you can use the Titles view to review all entries for a particular grid. There's also support for attachments, and syncing between multiple devices if you're using the paid version. Instead of wondering what you should write about each day, use Grid Diary to write down simple responses that help you reflect on your days. 

Grid Diary Pricing: Free version available; paid version from $2.99/month

Best journal app for beginners

Five Minute Journal (iOS, Android)

New Five Minute Journal entry

If you're new to journaling, writing down your thoughts and feelings each day can feel daunting. It might also be challenging to find time to devote to it. Five Minute Journal makes journaling easy and approachable with timed prompts throughout the day. In the morning, the app asks you three questions designed to instill gratitude and set a purpose for your day. In the evening, two questions ask you to reflect on the positive things that happened and how you could improve for tomorrow.

Based on positive psychology research, Five Minute Journal helps support a gratitude habit and self-reflection. You can add a photo for each entry and export to PDF, but if you're looking for a freeform journaling app to write as much as you want, this isn't the app for you.

Five Minute Journal Pricing: $4.99

Best journal app for journaling over email 

Dabble Me (Web)

Dabble.me screenshot

The main problem with journal apps: you have to remember to open them. Dabble Me doesn't have this problem because it works entirely over email. The paid version ($3/month) will email you once a day, reminding you it's time to journal—respond to that email, and you've just journaled. The free version doesn't give you the daily prompts, but journaling is still as easy as writing an email—you can find a custom email address to send entries to in the settings.

You also can see the complete archive of your journals on the website, which also offers search, a calendar view, and even a page for reviewing and listening to any Spotify links you've included in your entires. There's also support for exporting your entries to TXT or JSON files, so you can take your entries with you should you decide to shut down your account. 

One way to journal is to pretend that you're writing letters to a friend. Dabble Me is great for this because you're actually writing emails.  

Dabble Me pricing: Pro starts at $3/month. 

Best journal app for non-writers

Daylio (iOS, Android)

A journal entry in Daylio with mood options to choose from

Journaling has traditionally focused on longer-form writing, but not everyone has a way with words. If you prefer to communicate in visuals, Daylio is the app for you.

A journal entry in Daylio captures your mood and activities for each day. Best of all, there is absolutely no typing (unless you really want to add supplementary notes). Pick your mood by selecting one of five smiley face icons. You can also choose icons that represent what you did that day (for example, shopping, working, sports, gaming, and reading). Both the mood options and activities can be customized. While it takes just a few seconds to complete each entry, the details add up to form a well-rounded picture of what your day was like.

Daylio also includes standard journaling features, like reminders, exporting entries, and setting goals. As a bonus, it offers a detailed dashboard that aggregates a monthly mood chart, your mood and activity counts, and average daily mood. It can also surface patterns in the "Often together" section, showing you how you usually feel when you do certain activities (for example, when your mood is "good," you usually read and spend time with family).

Daylio doesn't offer a traditional journaling experience, but the free plan is an impressive way to track how you feel in just a few seconds each day.

Daylio Pricing: Free version available; Premium starts at $2.99/month

Originally published in 2018, this post has been updated with contributions from Emily Esposito and Justin Pot.

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Melanie Pinola

Melanie Pinola is a NY-based writer. Besides trying out new productivity systems, she enjoys cooking, playing video games with her family, and traveling. Follow her at @melaniepinola.

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