The Real Difference Between a Planner and a Journal

Are you wanting to keep track of important dates or maybe write down your thoughts and special moments each day so that you have something to look back on? Both a planner and a journal can be good tools to accomplish these goals.

A paper planner contains daily, weekly, and/or monthly spreads with dates to track your schedules, appointments, and routines. A journal does not have dates incorporated into it. Journals are typically lined, graph, or blank pieces of paper in book format for writing down thoughts, goals, and lists.

To learn the benefits of a planner and journal, plus differences between journals, diaries, notebooks, and bullet journals, keep reading below.

difference between planners and journals

Difference Between a Planner and a Journal

What a Planner Is

Using a planner gives you the opportunity to track your tasks for the day and/or week, but they also typically include monthly calendars to track bills due, events, appointments, and other important dates.

Planners can be dated or undated. Dated planners are great for having everything ready to fill out at the beginning of the year. However, undated may work well for you if you started planning part way through the year. Then you are not tied to the dates and you aren’t wasting part of the planner.

Some planners even have an hourly breakdown so that you can fully plan out your day. This will make it more likely that you will follow your plan and get everything done.

Many planners also come with extra lined paper to track habits, meal plan for the week, track your spending and savings for the week and month, and whatever else you would like to track.

Some planners that you may be familiar with are Erin Condren, Emily Ley, Clever Fox, The Happy Planner, and Passion Planner. These are only a few of the many options available.

You will notice that the similarities between these are that they all contain calendars and other dated (sometimes undated) planner sheets that are ready to be filled out.

Planners are available in both paper format and digital format but provide similar functionality.

If you have ever wondered why planners are so expensive, check out my post to see what goes into making a planner.

What a Journal Is

A journal typically contains lined, graph, dot grid, or blank paper and allows you to write down your thoughts and experiences without being tied to schedules or formating.

You can create your own daily pages to write down what happened that day and what you liked and didn’t like about the day. However, you also have the option to just use it for random thoughts and planning for the future.

There are also journals that come with prompts to help you come up with ideas of what to track or goals you want to accomplish. You just have to answer the prompts or complete the sentences.

They can often help cheer you up or toss bad habits just by becoming more aware of what makes you happy or sad. They go even further with specific journal prompts related to men or women, gratitude journals, or mental health prompts.

Journals can be used to keep notes about books you want to read, movies you want to watch, favorite quotes, to-do lists, meal planning, future travel goals, tracking things such as weight loss, water intake, exercises, budget/spending/savings, etc.

If you are looking for a journal that you can keep forever, you will want one that not only looks beautiful but also has high-quality paper. The leather journal displayed below would be perfect for this purpose. If you want a cheaper option with lined paper that you can buy many of, these lined notebooks work just as well.

Can You Use a Journal and a Planner?

Using a journal and a planner together is a great idea! Planners often contain additional pages to write down some notes, but a journal gives a lot more room and the flexibility to be creative since you aren’t tied down to the page format.

A planner is important because it gives you the dates, sometimes broken down into the hour so that you can keep track of each important aspect of your day.

So it is very beneficial to still use a planner to keep track of appointments, events, sports, etc… for you and your family. It’s also a great place to track bills that are due and to-do lists.

Your journal could also be used similarly to a planner, as you could draw in your own calendar or daily plan. However, if you are already using a planner, your journal should be used as more of a creative outlet.

Write down your goals and aspirations in your journal. Draw simple pictures to add some texture to your pages. You could even attach some printed pictures of family and friends and treat it like a scrapbook with long descriptive sentences explaining what was happening that day.

Using both daily will help to keep track of your schedule and what you want to accomplish each day leading to more success overall.

How to Use a Journal As a Planner

Since a journal is often filled with blank or lined sheets, you can do almost anything you want with it. So creating a planner out of your journal is definitely possible.

I would suggest buying a journal/notebook that has at least 450 pages if you want to track your day, weeks, and months. Otherwise, you could just create a planner with your journal for half of the year, in which case you could get away with a more standard size notebook.

Creating a Monthly Spread

Open the journal so that you have two pages visible. One of the pages will have half of the month and the other page will have the other half of the month.

Put either Sunday to Wednesday on the left side or Monday to Thursday. Some people prefer to have Monday first but many planners have a Sunday start. Then on the right side put Thursday to Saturday or Friday to Sunday.

creating a calendar in a journal
Partially completed calendar in a journal

Use an online calendar to fill in the proper numbers in your calendar.

Use a website such as to determine what days events fall on. Some are obvious like Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day, but others such as Easter, and Thanksgiving change every year.

Make sure you are viewing the dates for the country and even state (or province in Canada) that you live in, as some of the celebration dates are different.

Next, fill in any birthdays of family and friends that you want to track and any important events that you are already aware of, such as a wedding or baby shower.

Now your calendar is ready to fill in as you go through the month.

In my example above I used the Erin Condren notebook, which had the option to have a checklist along one side. I like this for a calendar so that I can write to-do lists down, things to buy, people to e-mail or call, and any other notes that I want to be able to quickly view when looking at my calendar.

Creating a Weekly Spread

Now you can move onto the weekly spread. Again you can choose to either start the week on Sunday or Monday and then fill in the numbers and any special events.

Create it in the same way that the monthly pages were created, but without the horizontal lines. Then you can create your to-do lists from top to bottom. You may even want to break each section into hours.

Otherwise, you can create your weekly pages in a horizontal format. You may be able to fit the entire week onto one page. Then you can write the full width of the page allowing for longer sentences, if you prefer that.

The weekly spread is a great place to keep track of to-do lists, reminders, meal prep, and anything that you need to plan for the week.

Make sure to leave some blank pages after the weekly spread for any additional notes that you want to take.

If you don’t need the weekly view but want to track daily, dedicate a full page to one day, then just label each page with the day and fill them out with whatever you want to track. Create separate boxes on each for reminders, to-do lists, appointments, goals, etc.

Using a Planner As a Journal

To use a planner as a journal, you would need to buy a planner that comes with lots of extra note paper for each month. The extra paper can be used the same as the journal to jot down important notes from the day, a brain dump, to-do lists, or tracking your goals.

The other option is using your weekly spread to put notes into. The weekly view can be focused only on important notes from that day, a spot to attach pictures, quotes, and other special memories. While the monthly calendar can be used for important dates, bills that are due, appointments, birthdays, etc.

The weekly spread is often either in vertical format or horizontal format. So make sure you buy the planner that has the best layout for you.

I personally like the vertical because I like to list items out. So either a to-do list for the day or cleaning tasks for the day. This layout allows me to put a checkmark next to each item and then check them off as I complete them.

If you enjoy writing in long sentences and keeping track of your thoughts, you may like the horizontal layout more.

Are there any journal and planner combos?

A great option for a journal/planner combo would be the Erin Condren daily duo. This is a 6-month planner, since a 12 month would be way too thick, but you do receive two planners for the year.

A full-page is given for each day broken down into hours, a to-do list section, and extra writing space. So you can write your thoughts from the day right onto the daily pages. Plus there is still room for including pictures.

This planner also comes with monthly calendars so that you can still track your important events, appointments, reminders, and more.

Some other options are:

  1. Erin Condren LifePlanner. This doesn’t give as much flexibility as the daily duo, but each month does come with an extra lined page, plus 11 lined sheets at the back. So there is plenty of room to take extra notes. I have another post that provides a full review of the Erin Condren LifePlanner.
  2. The Passion Planner, which comes with 20 extra sheets of blank and 20 sheets of dotted paper in their annual planner.
  3. The Happy Planner. There are many different kits that can be purchased separately from the planner. These can be inserted at any location in your planner. For journaling purposes, they sell filler paper kits so that you can add as much as you need.
  4. Finally, as already mentioned above, you could create your own with a basic journal or notebook. This would be the cheapest option and allows you to be really creative.
writing in a journal

Journal vs Notebook vs Diary vs Bullet Journal


A diary is generally where you would write down special moments each day, more in a story format. Sometimes diaries even have a lock so that other people can’t easily view your personal moments.

Standard Journal

A standard journal and notebook are pretty much the same thing. They are both generally lined paper in a book format, often with a spiral closure or book binding. They can be used for taking general notes or writing down special moments from that day.

Bullet Journal

A bullet journal is also for writing down memories but there is typically a more artistic flare to it. The paper can either be lined, blank, graph, or have a dot grid. Sometimes even a combination of the three. But the intent is to fill it with whatever you want to track.

You could create a calendar or a weekly planner in a bullet journal with a pen, markers, and ruler if you wanted to. Or it could just be used for drawing, writing down notes, or attaching pictures of family and friends.

Prompt Journals

Not all journals are blank. Sometimes an author will create a journal with some ideas already included. Then you just have to fill in what you were feeling that day or answer the questions.

One of my favorites is The 5 Second Journal by Mel Robbins. It gives prompts on what to ask yourself each and every day to make the most of that day.

Some examples from the journal are:

  • Writing down how you are feeling that day
  • Why you are feeling that way
  • Important projects and how to make progress on the projects
  • A brain dump, and more

It’s sometimes nice to have these prompts when you just aren’t feeling like writing anything down.

In Summary

Both a planner and a journal have their benefits and can work well for planning and setting goals. Try both options to see which works best for you. Maybe using both at the same time will result in being the most productive.

A planner can really help you schedule out your daily tasks, weekly goals, and monthly bills and events. While a journal can help you set goals and work your way towards accomplishing those goals. Taking the time to fill out either will increase your productivity considerably. It acts as a constant reminder of what you were hoping to complete that day, week, or month.

I hope this post has helped you discover the difference between a planner and a journal. Plus when it may be beneficial to use both.