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What Is the Difference Between a Journal and a Planner?


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Most people want a way to keep track of things that go on in their daily lives, and that’s often where journals or planners come in. However, although both tools have similar note-taking functions, they are quite different, since they are commonly used for separate purposes.

What is the difference between a journal and a planner? A journal is used for keeping daily thoughts, jotting down inspirations that come to you, and more. A planner, on the other hand, is used to keep track of your day-to-day schedule.

There are plenty of options to choose from when picking out a journal or a planner, but first, you will need to determine whether you need one or the other.

About Journals

A journal can be a book, notepad, or even a program that you can use daily to keep track of your thoughts, events that have transpired, inspirations, rants, and raves. A journal and its uses are pretty open-ended as to what you may do with it. To put it simply, a journal is something in which to record parts of life you want to remember.

Journals can be as diverse as the people that use them. You can pretty much have a journal for anything and everything. They can be utilitarian or as elaborate as a junk journal; it is up to you and your personal preferences.

Types of Journals

  • Gratitude Journal – These journals are for you to write down things you are grateful for.
  • Dream Journals – If you are a vivid dreamer, writing about your dreams in a dream journal is a way to help yourself remember the dream before it fades.
  • Travel Journals – If you travel a lot, this is a wonderful way to jot down your memorable impressions for later reflection.
  • Junk Journals – These are unique, artistic handcrafted journals. To find out more about these gorgeous, one-of-a-kind journals read here.
  • Self-Authoring Journals – Self-authoring journals help you reflect about your past, present and future.
  • Future-Self Journals – The concept of future-self journaling is quite recent and you can find out how to start on The Holistic Psychologist Blog. The intention is to reflect on WHO YOU WANT to become in the future and see which aspects of your current personality you can build upon or change to get there.
  • Writing Journals – These notebooks are a great way for writers and aspiring writers to jot story ideas down.
  • Art Journals – Yes, there are even journals for artists! Art journals are there to help artists express their art in drawing painting, writing or any other media as they wish, daily. There are no specific rules or templates, as your art journal format will depend on your artistic style.
  • Food Journals – These are popular, especially if you are on certain diets, or are trying to change your eating habits.
  • Time Capsule Journal – This type of journal helps you keep track of important events through time.
  • Family Journal – This is wonderful for noting mementos of family reunions and gatherings. This can be a wonderful addition to having a family photo album since pictures cannot always transmit the emotions and joy that were held in a moment.
  • Gardening Journal – This is a great way to keep track of your garden and plants year to year, and serves as a very useful reference guide later.
  • Prayer Journals – Some people like to be able to consult a prayer journal, or write down prayers.

About Planners

A planner can be a book, program, or a chart that enables one to keep track of your daily life. It usually contains sections for each day as well as different times of the day, like a clock, which allows you to organize your time accordingly.

As with journals, planners, too, can be quite personalized and as unique as their owners. They are traditionally used as more of a datebook, a calendar to keep track of your busy life. They have become a common tool for many people to help navigate their busy lives. There are many different types of planners on the market today, from academic planners to wedding planners.

Types of Planners

  • Traditional Planners – Traditional planners are used for keeping tabs on everyday life with a calendar and day schedule.
  • Financial Planners – These usually work around monthly bills and budgeting; some include daily/weekly planners.
  • Fitness Planners – These help you keep account of your fitness goals and progress. Many provide an area to keep tabs of your meals and meal planning.
  • Time and To-Do Planners – This is great for those who are list-makers.
  • Bullet/Journal Planners – This type of planner allows you to essentially create your own personal planner.
  • Academic Planners – These planners are great to help students keep track of group assignments, exams, homework, and have a nice area for notes as well.
  • Wedding Planners – Wedding planners are perfect for keeping track of all the intricate details of the big day.
  • Hobonichi Planner – This interesting planner is used for artistic planning, goal tracking, and/or bullet journaling. To delve more into this type of planner, read here.

Price Differences Between Journals and Planners

What Is the Difference Between a Journal and a Planner
What Is the Difference Between a Journal and a Planner

There are quite a few differences between journals and planners when it comes to their general look and function. However, they often differ in price as well.

The price you end up paying for a journal or planner boils down to what it is that you are looking for in either. When it comes to journals, you can find one for as little as $5.00—and even less if you want to simply use a composition notebook to journal in. Some mid-range, leather journals can usually run around $25 to $30. But some more luxurious versions even cost around $136 such as Ancicrafts’ leather journal*, which is a large journal one could typically use for sketches or art.

On the higher end, an accounting journal such as the Boorum & Pease 66 Series Account Book is nearly $50. Ultimately, the more bells and whistles—and customization—you want in your journal, the more expensive it will be.

With planners, they tend to start more in the $6.99 range for a basic set-up. For a more detailed planner such as Smart Planner Pro’s Planner 2020-2021* which includes a weekly and monthly planner, you are looking at spending at least $24.99. More sophisticated planners, such as from the brand Filofax, could range anywhere between $40+ (e.g. Filofax The Original Organiser*) for the and $200+ (such as for the Filofax Classic Croc Print Leather Weekly Daily Planner*).

Of course, as always, you can also find luxury planners ranging from anywhere between $200 and $2,950.

Full disclosure: I like people to be straightforward and fully honest with me. So I’ll be upfront with you as well. Note that I have included some affiliate links from Amazon above (as marked by a little asterisk*). Which means that I would earn a small commission on any purchase you make on Amazon through those links, at NO additional cost to you. This enables me to keep writing good content on my blog in a sustainable way. HOWEVER, in this case, I would like to let you know that I did not personally try out all the planners mentioned in this section, as I intended to give you an idea of different prices for journals and planners available on the market. 

One journal that I DID try out, however, and which I would highly recommend to you is The Five Minute Journal* as mentioned earlier in this post. For the rest, stay tuned until I get more research and testing done or check out this quick research of affordable planners with good reviews I’ve done in this other article: 6 Reasons to Have Two or More Planners (With Examples).

Do You Need a Planner or a Journal?

The benefits of planning and journaling

Journals and planners are an excellent way to help you form BETTER AND BETTER HABITS over time.

As a matter of fact, many people find it REWARDING to track their personal progress via a planner or a journal.

Hence, there is science backing the fact that this type of reward can help you CHANGE your current HABIT LOOPS, as described by Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business*. This means that over the long-term, you can genuinely start CRAVING positive habits (such as running, being grateful etc.) simply because you are journaling or tracking them.

Additionally, journals and planners are the perfect way for you to CONSCIOUSLY REFOCUS your attention on specific tasks and practices which YOU feel will take you further in life. Off you go towards a more proactive lifestyle!

Figuring out what you need

Determining your needs is the first step in deciding if you require a journal or planner—or even both. If you prefer to keep your life organized and well-ordered, a planner would be a great option for you. If you are less of a planner and prefer to write inspiring quotes or random thoughts that pop into your head, then a journal would be the route you might want to consider.

Alternatively, if you find yourself jotting little notes in the margins of a planner as an idea hits you, a combination of a journal and planner could be a better answer.

Combining Both Journals and Planners

You might be wondering if it is possible to combine both a planner and a journal. The answer is yes, you can, with bullet journals.

What is a Bullet Journal (Bujo)?

What Is the Difference Between a Journal and a Planner

A bullet journal is one popular type of journal-planner combination that you create with a Rapid Logging system. Bullets within the journal can be short-form sentences combined with symbols that categorize your entries. For example:

Symbol Meaning Example
() Tasks or things you have to do. () Clean the kitchen
* Events or moments in time worth writing down. *Visited Karen and her new baby Sam
Notes or things you do not want to forget. – Call mom today.
“” Inspiration or things that have inspired you. “Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.” – Hellen Keller

As you can see, bullet journaling is a very neat system of keeping records. Besides, there is no one way of keeping a bullet journal; you can get as creative as you’d like, and even look out to other bujo journalists for inspiration. Here is where you can find out more about how to create and maintain a bullet journal.

Bullet journals are a popular method of both planning and journaling. However, one of the drawbacks to this particular type of journal/planner is that you need to set it up yourself since it doesn’t come with a pre-made format. While for some, this could be a drawback, others may find this much more flexible and amenable to their specific style of record keeping.

Having more than one planner or journal

It often makes sense to hold both a planner and a journal, as they fulfil different purposes for you. And in some cases, I would even recommend having more than 2 planners, as you probably have different areas of your life that require planning. You can read more about this in my other article here: 6 Reasons to Have Two or More Planners (With Examples).

My favourite types of journals

After this quick overview, I’d like to dive just a little deeper into my favourite types of journals and WHY they are so great in my personal opinion.

Gratitude Journals

Practising gratitude is one of the lowest-hanging fruits for people who want to quickly and easily improve their life. There is plenty of scientific research to support the miraculous-sounding claims around it. Hence, we now know for sure that gratitude journals have a very strong and positive impact on sleep, well-being and they even help get relief from physical pain.

I’ve been practising gratitude almost DAILY for about 2-3 years now. But, so far, I simply meditated about 3 or more things I was grateful for.

After a bit of research, though, I got really intrigued by the power of journaling and the act of WRITING THINGS DOWN. I’ve tried if with the Law of Attraction and positive affirmations and found the effects mindblowing.

Which is why I’ve just started a new experiment. After reading a few recommendations from bloggers and podcasters (e.g. Tim Ferris), I’ve decided to go ahead and buy The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day | Original Creator of The Five Minute Journal – Simple Daily Guided Format – Increase Gratitude & Happiness, Life Planner, Gratitude List*.

I am thrilled both by the 40-ish pages of introduction and the actual journaling section. And I’m looking forward to the benefits I will get out of this in the long-term – which I will write about in this blog for sure, so stay tuned! ;).

Dream Journals

Remembering dreams can be more powerful than you think since the brain tends to solve problems and process information and emotions overnight. And writing down your dreams first thing in the morning into a dream journal is a great way to foster your dream-memory over time.

I’ve found this practice very useful in the past as it helped me untangle complicated emotional situations, solve problems miraculously or get a burst of creativity.

For example, I once woke up with a clear picture of a painting that I then set myself to create. During my studies, I had a very weird series of dreams, during which I dreamt 5 times that it was the end of the world, each time in a different way. Those dreams helped me put more focus on my inner peace.

Travel Journals

I personally love keeping a journal while traveling. Especially because new places and cultures often trigger a burst of creativity. I start seeing things differently, having ideas and reflecting on my own culture and mindset.

A travel journal is the best place to gather all these wonderful thoughts and get back to them later. In order to change your life and personality for the better in the long run.

Junk Journals

Junk journals can be a great way to get back in touch with your creative and artistic side with NO JUDGEMENT and NO BIG PLANS.

If you are somewhat like me, you can feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting a creative activity again.

Painting again? Need all the materials and space. Playing an instrument? Need to invest the money and time to even start playing a nice melody…

The junk journal, however, can be an experiment and a pleasure. You don’t need much to start, and it can bring you a long way.

Self-Authoring Journals

In Jordan B. Peterson’s self-authoring program, you specifically learn to

    • (1) remember and analyze positive and negative events in your past,
    • (2) reflect on your current good and bad character traits and
    • (3) envision a great future 3 to 5 years from now, with a clear actionable plan to make it happen.

Research shows that self-authoring has a high impact on individuals’ performance over the short to long-term

I’ve been highly intrigued by self-authoring for a while now and wanted to start implementing this practice myself. Although (**full disclosure**) I haven’t really been able to start so far. But I’m still full of hope I will get to it in the near future :).

Future-Self Journals

I love the concept of future-self journaling, as it makes the underlying process of CHANGING WHO YOU ARE more conscious and proactive.

As a matter of fact, we are constantly changing throughout life. Our daily experiences shape new character traits, new thoughts, and new cravings. Most of the time, these subtle changes happen incrementally. And it often feels like these changes are HAPPENING TO US without us having any power over this process.

But we definitely have MORE CONTROL over those changes than we may think. That’s where future-self journals can be of tremendous help. They help us become AWARE of who we want to be and RECONNECT this vision with our current self.

If you feel like diving deeper into this, I’d recommend having a look at this small guide from The Holistic Psychologist and this testimony on medium.com: How My Life Changed After 30 Days of ‘Future-Self’ Journaling.

Final Thoughts

Journals and planners differ in use and layout, but offer unique benefits for different types of record-keepers and note-takers. Some even find that a combination of both—as is the case with bullet journals—is best suited for them. Ultimately, the right tool for you will depend on your needs and the things you want to keep track of.

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