How to turn WhatsApp into a digital diary you actually use

The problem with digital diaries isn’t that there aren’t enough options, it’s that there are too many options. As different journaling methods (like bullet journals, gratitude journals, etc.) have grown in popularity, they've spawned their own subsets of journaling apps — including one recently launched by Apple itself — causing the entire space to feel bloated and crowded.

Throw in feature bloat (do I really need all these charting and tracking tools?), choice paralysis, and the potential privacy concerns of exposing your guts to potentially unsafe apps, and you've got a perfect recipe.. ....well, not actually finishing any journaling. Back to basics, I'm running an experiment using WhatsApp as my personal journal - an idea I saw from Lifehacker's own Jake Peterson - and it's working really well.

Of course, more power to you if you already have a journaling app or method that works for you. But if you're like me and find yourself not actually using those dedicated journaling apps, you might be better off repurposing the ones you already use.

Get the most out of your WhatsApp diary

WhatsApp is a great choice for a back-to-basics journaling experiment because it's such a ubiquitous app that I use every day. Plus, it's cross-platform, so I can access it from any device, and end-to-end encryption ensures the privacy of my entries. But it wasn't really designed to be a digital journal, so I had to do some setup to make it work like a digital journal.

Create a group message for one person

To make your own WhatsApp diary, click on the New Chat (+) icon. Your name will appear at the top of your contact list. Choose your name and message yourself just like you would any other contact.

Open a new chat . Select New Group, then select at least one contact from the Add Members list to create the group. Ideally, choose a friend or family member. You will delete them later. (Maybe remind them you're doing this.)

Next, give the group a name (in this case, something like "My Diary"). To complete the setup, click the group title and select the contact you want to delete. Click Delete and the contact will be removed from the group.

That's it: you now have your own encrypted, cross-platform chat window that only you can read. It's a great way to record your thoughts, track your daily activities, or just send yourself useful links and images you'll need later.

Tips for using WhatsApp as a diary

Since I've been using WhatsApp for journaling, I've gathered some tips to help make it more useful and secure.

  1. Pin your journal to the top. WhatsApp allows three contacts to be pinned on top of other contacts.

  2. Lock your chats/diaries and add a layer of privacy.

  3. Add photos to your ensemble. You can take photos and share them in WhatsApp diary. Add a note below it for posterity.

  4. Pin messages that really matter in chat. You can pin them for up to 30 days.

  5. On Android, you can add a group to your home screen using the Add shortcut option in the group settings.

  6. If you can't find a note you left, remember that WhatsApp chats are searchable. You can also filter them by date through WhatsApp Calendar.

  7. Use the microphone to turn WhatsApp into a voice diary or take a video and send it to yourself in a chat.

  8. If you prefer to keep a bullet journal, use your keyboard to add symbols or use emojis as markers. WhatsApp’s support for simple formatting like italics, bold, strikethrough, monospaced fonts, bulleted and numbered lists, quotes, and inline code should be enough for your needs.

  9. Add location to WhatsApp messages and use it to journal your travels.

  10. You can also add a few close friends to a separate group and create a virtual journaling club when you're collaborating on a project or planning a trip.