CustomJournal App Tutorial: the Basics

Original Script of the Video (not a direct transcript)

Introduction

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this bonus video from Watch Me Shine. My name is Brian and I would like to first thank you all for joining me. Today I want to talk to you about a great new app I found called CustomJournal. It’s a brilliant app with a laundry list of great features that converted me from using a paper journal to exclusively journaling electronically.

In my fourth video, episode three of Watch Me Shine, titled How to Build a Journal and Start Journaling, I talked about how journaling has become one of my most valuable, even vital, tools in my life. Journaling is more than just a tool for tracking building good habits or breaking bad habits or writing down “Dear Diary…” stuff. It is a habit in itself, which helps build discipline. The habit of journaling has helped me keep a record of my life which allows me to analyze it better. It has also helped me see things more clearly, which in turn has helped me keep my life in perspective. It is a tool I recommend everyone start, whether old or young.

In that video I also talk about how journaling digitally was not my preferred method, for several reasons. I couldn’t keep up typing on my phone when taking notes from books and audiobooks. It also didn’t feel as genuine or real. The feel of writing on paper just felt right.

I’ve been journaling now for about seven months and in that time my journaling system has evolved. I started by using a custom-built journal using the Tul discbound notebook system, which I built to have a planner and several sections for organizing my various notes. My first journal entries were simple. I would just write a few thoughts down in the box provided for the day. These were the highlights and lowlights of each day, things that happened, things I learned, and such. I started to do this every day, just before I went to bed. Doing a brain-dump like that helped to clear my head and actually helped my issues with insomnia. It didn’t cure it, mind you, but it did help so that I didn’t go to bed with a brain full of thoughts keeping me awake.

Over time, I stopped using the planner part of my journal because my days are mostly the same. I get up, go to work, come home, do the chores or errands I need to do, do some work on my channel, writing, website, or hobbies, watch some YouTube or TV, and then go to bed. Not much variation there. I started taking notes using my Pixelbook instead of paper. At some point in there, I read the Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll and instantly fell in love. This was a pivotal moment in my journaling evolution. As these things changed, forcing my journaling methods to evolve, I started looking for a way to digitize my journal as well. And that’s when I discovered CustomJournal. And today, I’m going to teach you how to set up CustomJournal get started building a digital journal so that you can journal any way you like.

First Things First

First things first:

  1. CustomJournal is an Android-only app at this point and only in the Google Play Store. It’s not on Amazon or any other small app stores. The creator is working on making it an iPhone app as well, but I’ve been keeping him too busy asking him to put in all sorts of features that make this app better. But he does plan on making it an iPhone app. If you are an iPhone user and you’re interested in this app, there is a link on his website to sign up to show interest in the app and get notified when it’s released on the Apple App Store. I highly recommend you take advantage of that.
  2. As I hinted in the first point, this app is changing and it does so regularly. It’s actively being developed and I’m a beta tester for new code, so I know that. What appears in this video may not even be entirely accurate or complete by the time you watch it, but it should give you an idea of how to set it up and get started.
  3. As a beta tester and one that paid for the Premium version of the app, some of the things I talk about are Premium only features. I highly recommend buying the Premium version. Right now, the prices are Holiday prices. You can get it as a service for $3.99 for 3 months or $11.99 for 12 months, with a 25% discount on your first year, so $8.99. Or you can buy a lifetime liscense for $14.99. Sometime after the first of the year, the prices are going to go up. So, I would get it now, while you can. I can tell you that I bought the lifetime license because this is going to be a lifetime habit for me, and I’ve gotten $15 worth of use out of it per month. Seriously, this is one of my most used apps on my phone anymore.
  4. This first video is going to be about getting it installed and getting the settings the way you want them. My second video will cover using the default templates and building a custom template to journal exactly the way you want. My third video will cover advanced techniques like Books, using multiple templates, and journaling methods. I may have to split that last one up into two videos, depending on how deep I decide to go, but I’ll figure that out as we go through.

Download and Install

Because this is an Android app, it’s not hard to download and install. Just look up CustomJournal in the Google Play Store and hit Install. This will run on any Android phone running Android 5.0 or above. It also runs on Chromebooks with access to the Play Store and Android apps. I run it on my phone and my Pixelbook, which allows me to use the built-in keyboard or a bluetooth keyboard to type long-form journal entries.

Initial Setup

When I first get a new app on my phone or Pixelbook, the first thing I do is go through the settings. Let’s start there.

Screen Lock

The first section is Screen Lock. There are three options here:

  1. Require Password: If you want to lock the app, just click on the toggle button to turn it on. It will ask you to set a password. You can use a PIN, a password, or an alpha-numeric string with special characters. I’m a fan of the last one, as I like security. It should be noted that the password is just to secure the app at this point. It does not secure the backup files yet. The developer has told me that he’s going to change this in the future so that the backups are encrypted. I’m looking forward to that feature.
  2. Change Password: Once you set a password, you can use this feature to change it.
  3. Check Password on Pause: This will change the behavior to require a password even when resumed from the background, not just when the app is started. This is more secure, if you’re paranoid like me, so that the password is required in case you forget to close your journal when you’re done with it.

Style

The second section is Style. This is the overall feel of your journal and there are several options here:

  1. Primary Color: This is the primary color of the whole app, meaning the toolbar, check boxes, buttons, etc. As a minimalist, I chose a grey color. The cool thing I figured out here is that, when you set your main color, the rest of the colors are all on a palette so they all go together. I’ll get to that later when we start building templates. For now, I’m going to use the one I picked so that it’s easy to remember. I use hex code #BDBDBD. I chose it because it’s easy to remember.
  2. Question Font: You can pick a font here so that all questions use the same font. There is the System Default, as well as several others. But I didn’t really care for them. I chose to download my favorite since I moved to Android: Roboto Mono. As I said, I’m a minimalist, so I like boring, monospaced fonts. To do this, you click “Tap to download custom font” and then pick one from this huge list. You can also search this list by clicking in the search box and selecting the font you want. Here is Roboto Mono, but you can choose any one you like.
  3. Question Color: This color is specifically for questions in your journal. This doesn’t mean when you type a question in your journal. This is for Question templates, which we’ll get to when we start building those. I chose black for this and ended up leaving it this way, but you can choose any color. For the time being, I recommend you just choose black until you start building your own templates.
  4. Input Font: The same as the question font, but this will be the font of the things you type in. Again, you can choose the fonts that are there are or select something else. I could see making the questions a blocky, typed font and making this a script font. That would be neat. But I’m boring and chose Roboto Mono here as well. I like things simple.
  5. Input Color: The same as the question color, but it will change the color of the things you type in. Again, I chose black, but you can choose whatever color you like. I would recommend black for now, but it’s your journal. Do whatever makes you happy.
  6. Font Size: There are four sizes here. I chose small because my eyes are good as long as I’m wearing my glasses and I like to see a lot of text when I’m reading. If it’s too large my reading speed gets in the way and I have to scroll too much. But pick a size that’s comfortable for you. I’m going to select Normal for the purposes of this video because I want you all to be able to see it.
  7. Dark Mode: Yes, for all you dark mode fans, this app has a dark mode!

Background

The third section is Background. There are three options here:

  1. Change Background Image: You can choose a custom background image that will display in your journal. I personally left this blank, but it’s a neat feature if you want to put in something like lined paper, parchment, or something cute like a kitten or a koala.
  2. Reset Background Image: This will set the background to the default one that came with CustomJournal.
  3. Remove Background Image: This is what I hit. It just makes it blank.

Reminder

The fourth section is Reminder.

  1. Daily Reminders: This is where you can set a reminder to journal every day. Mine goes off at 10:30 PM, which gives me a little time so I can journal right before I go to bed.
  2. Notification Sound: You can turn this toggle on to use the notification sound on your phone. Leaving it off makes the notification pop up in your notification bar, but it remains silent.

Template Reminders

The fifth section is Template Reminders. This makes your reminders more granular. When we get to building templates, you can set a reminder on certain ones, different reminders on other ones, or no reminders at all on others. This section allows you to make it so that reminders can have sound even when your main reminder doesn’t, or vice versa.

  1. Template Notification Sound: Turn this one on so that templates make sound.
  2. Do Not Send Notification If Used: If you’ve already filled out a template early, this will make it so the reminder for that template will not trigger. This has been handy for me to remind me when I forgot to fill out a template or so it doesn’t wake me up when I already wrote my journal and went to bed early.

Export

The sixth section is Export. This is another great feature of this journal. You can export it to either text or PDF so that you can have a copy of it to print out, if you like. I’ve done this so that I have a backup that someone can read in case something happens to me.

Days that are colored have journal entries. If you want to export one day, just click on it. If you want to export a span of days, click on the first day you want in the series, then click on the last day you want in the series, and then click done. You then have the option to “Export to Local Device” or “Share”.

If you choose “Export to Local Device”, you will then choose where to save the file, and then click save. It will be saved to that location. If you choose “Share” you will get a notification when the export is complete. You then click on that notification and choose what to do with it. You can open it in another program, save it somewhere, email it, transfer it through Bluetooth, or even print it.

Manual Backup Data and Images

The seventh section is Manual Backup Data and Images. This is a complete backup of the database for your journal. It’s exported as a Zip file. You can either choose to back this file up to Google Drive, or locally on your device. If you use Google Drive it will create a folder in the root of your Google Drive called CustomJournal. If you choose “Backup to Device” you can choose where it saves the file. These zip files will contain a file called custom-journal.db, which will have all the entries to your journal as well as all your settings, books, and templates, as well as a copy of all the images you’ve saved into your journal. More on that later.

Google Account

The eighth section is Google Account. This is where you will log into your Google account, if you want to use Google Drive and auto-sync. If you don’t want to use these features, just skip this part. Otherwise, click on “Log In As” and log in. If you don’t want to be logged in anymore and don’t want to use these features anymore, just click “Logout”.

Automatically Backup Data and Images

The ninth section is Automatically Backup Data and Images. You can use this to automatically back up your data once per day to Google Drive in the same Zip files that manual backups create. This will keep the last five backups to all of your data and images in the CustomJournal folder in your Google Drive. You can also set it to only backup over WiFi to save your data if you’re not on an unlimited plan. You can also use this feature to restore from your latest backup by clicking “Restore from Google Drive”.

Sync Between Devices

The tenth section is Sync Between Devices. This will create backups using the App Data section in Google Drive. You can find it by going to your Google Drive on your computer, clicking the Settings button (represented by this gear icon), and going to Manage Apps. You can’t see these files, but you do have the option of disconnecting the app from drive and deleting this hidden app data. I use this feature all the time since I journal during the day on my phone and then do my longform journaling at night on my Pixelbook. Again, you can set this to only sync over WiFi and you can restore from this data on Google Drive as well. There is also an option to delete the data from Google Drive from the app as well, if you don’t want to log in on your computer.

Miscellaneous

The last section of settings is Miscellaneous. There are two settings here:

  1. Enable Left Navigation Drawer Swipe: This will allow you to open the navigation drawer using a swipe, but I found that this is tricky with the new gestures on Android 10 and especially when flipping through the pages on my Pixelbook. It’s here if you want it, though.
  2. Reset Tutorials: If you’ve turned off the handy tutorials and forgotten how to use some features, you can use this option to turn them back on. I’ve done this a couple times when I’ve forgotten how something works. So, it’s there if you need it.

Conclusion

And that’s how to install and initially set up your CustomJournal. Using this, you can get started building a journal. There are a lot of built-in templates that come with CustomJournal. You should be able to get started using any, some, or all of these. Look for my next video in which I teach you how to use the default templates and set up a custom template to journal exactly the way you want. My third video will cover advanced techniques like Books, using multiple templates, and journaling methods. Until then, Watch Me Shine.


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