SMS Based Journal in the style of Benjamin Franklin’s Journal

Success leaves clues. One of the most common habits of highly successful people in their careers and in living a fulfilled life is journaling. If you write down your goals you are more likely to achieve them etc etc. You’ve probably heard these sorts of things before and maybe you do or don’t already have a journaling habit, but the thought has crossed your mind.

I grew up very disorganized. If ADHD is real, then I certainly had it. I knew I needed a consistent habit of some method planning and keeping myself accountable because otherwise I would forget all my school assignments and whatnot. I tried to do lists but it never stuck. In hindsight, it felt too commanding and didn’t connect in my brain to the actual reason I should do stuff, so I struggled with motivation to finish my lists. Another big problem with to do lists was the lack of prioritization. With say 8 items on your to do list, you can easily feel overwhelmed and begin by doing the easy, fun items and never get to the hard stuff. Later I pivoted to a Franklin Covey notebook as per recommendation from my Dad who uses this system. The Franklin Covey is basically a notebook with dates in it, and it’s great feature is that it encourages prioritization of your tasks by having a priority column where you put a letter or number next to each of your items to order them by importance/urgency of getting done. However, I still had the same problem getting the habit to stick.

Finally I found a system that worked for me in consistently planning and reflecting on my days to structure and inspire and then hold me accountable and reward my successes. I began to use the same journaling method that Benjamin Franklin used to use after stumbling upon it in his autobiography. His journaling practice was more extensive, but the core part that I adopted was beginning your day with the question “What good shall I do today?” and ending your day with “What good did I do today?”. You simply answer these questions at the appropriate time each day. The magic is in the simplicity and also in the positive framing of essentially a to do list. The phrasing leaves it very open ended, so it doesn’t feel boring and mechanical. The phrase also requires you to make value judgements of what you deem good and in what sense of the word good do you interpret the question. There’s a perfect balance for me of open-endedness and structure to make it a sustainable and enjoyable habit that I have now maintained for probably 2 years.

Being the case that I have some software programming skills, I thought about how I might improve this journaling system using code. Over the course of time, I would sometimes forget to do the journaling practice and always felt disappointed when I did because I had come to enjoy it and appreciate the benefits it had on my life. I am a digital note taker which makes it quite convenient to switch to my phone’s notes app and execute this journaling practice, but even still I would forget sometimes. The idea came to me one day to have the prompts (“what good will you do today?” and “what good did you do today?” ) sent to me via text, and that I could respond to the text and the responses be added to a cloud journal to be searched back through later if I wanted. This would make me much less likely to forget the practice due to the reminder and ease of responding right there in the text. I also wouldn’t have to write out the questions each time in my notes app, so I would save a step making this quick and effective habit even quicker and simpler.

So over the course of a few weeks I built the software to send these scheduled journal prompts and to save the responses to a google cloud document to be accessed whenever later on. I called it Benji — short for Benjamin as in Benjamin Franklin, the originator of the journaling structure. Having entrepreneurial aspirations, I built the infrastructure so that more users could be added easily and setup a payment system. A natural evangelist, I tried to convince my friends to try out what I had built. I am intrinsically enthused by the idea of getting my friends on board with a habit that has helped my life so much and that I suspect would help theirs too if they committed to it. I managed to convince a few supportive friends to essentially beta test and provide feedback. For some, the practice took to them like water off a ducks back. They had no interest in the idea of journaling or daily planning through writing, and perhaps it wasn’t a fit for their current life and goals. One user, my friend Haadi, kept at it and enjoyed the practice immediately. I can happily say that he’s been using the system for months now quite consistently and feeling the benefits of the positive framing of the questions.

After learning from the failings and successes of the beta test, I set upon making more improvements and shipping it out to potential users beyond my close friends and family. After reading “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal (the name says it all), I added emojis with random variation to the prompts to trigger addiction and activate the part of the brain that reads facial expressions. I also added some gamification by sending a weekly summary of your usage and how long your current streak of responses is. I know that if I can manage, through these psychological tricks, to get you addicted to the habit, then it will do you some serious good. I’m trying to help your limbic system get on board with your cortex by seducing it with gamification and variable reward highly stimulating emojis. This is in the best interest of all parties involved.

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