Planner Vs Journal

Bullet Journal Journalling Planner Planner Stamps Planning system

Planners and Journals are so often lumped together but, to me, they’re really different. 

And I reckon that once you acknowledge that, and think a bit more about the basics of them both, then you’re in a much better place to decide what it is you really need to fit in with you. 

Simply put Planners help you focus on to the future and Journals help you to look back. (I’m not covering Bullet Journals here quite yet but stick with me!). 

It is perhaps an overly simplistic way to describe them as they are both incredibly useful tools, whether you’re processing experiences in a bit more detail or looking to factor those lessons into how you move forward. 

Dark Wooden Table with a full cappuccino in a teal cup and saucer to the top left corner.  Next to them, on an angle, are piled an orange fabric cover spiral bound notebook, and on top of that a blue ink-marble effect notebook.

Of course not everyone does plan or journal, or does so in the same way, so there’s lots of different versions and structures available to use, not to mention the opportunity to create your own blend.  But the key to both is having some sort of framework which can, in essence, take away some of that pressure of starting from scratch so instead you can focus on what you’re putting down on the paper.

So, let’s talk about those basics. First up, Planners.

Planners really are best for when you’ve got somewhere specific you want to be going. Whether it’s business or personal, fundamental is having a goal you're aiming for, although it doesn’t need to be big or life changing.  Really it’s just an intention to keep you moving towards something and by having that you’ll then naturally provide yourself with a way of gauging whether you’re getting there. And let’s face it, the satisfaction of hitting those markers is a massive motivator. 

The nature of your goal will dictate what sort of structure you need in your planner.  It may be you need a daily timeline space to list appointments or time block; space to track how many steps you’re taking a day or how much water you’re drinking; maybe a to-do list is the most important bit to keep all your tasks in one place, or somewhere to track expenses or savings. 

Of course there’s a wealth of printed planner styles available, some giving firm structures and other’s giving you a bit more flexibility.  As well as just plain notebooks which are the ultimate in flexible styles where you can tailor the structure to be exactly what you need to keep you on track. 

It’s also worth remembering that whilst many planners are annual, there’s no reason why your planning system has to last a whole year.  In fact I’d say that unless you know it 100% works, having one planner/planning system set up for a whole year, especially if it’s complex, is a sure-fire way of losing enthusiasm and it stopping working for you.  Consider having it per month, per project or possibly even per quarter.

So what are planners really good for? Measuring progress towards a specific goal in achievable chunks; Planning a limited time project like a holiday or a product/service launch; Seeing boxes being ticked on the way to your goal and, quite rightly, boosting your motivation.

And as for the basics of Journals: 

An open dot-grid notebook to the left of the square image.  Alongside to its right are a number of stationery items. From top to bottom a brass paperclip with neon yellow tassell, a rose gold bow-shaped paperclip, a deep blue ballpoint pen, a mint green 15cm rule and a white pen with a neon yellow cap.

Journaling is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your inner voice.  In a world that can be fast and noisy, having an opportunity in a judgement-free zone to really listen, discuss and process your gut feelings can be hugely valuable.  

Journaling basics are much more, well, basic. In its simplest form you just need paper, something to write with and the time/space you’re comfortable with.  From here on it can get a little more complicated but with something that is so personal it’s no surprise there’s many variations like daily journaling, visual/art journaling, weekly reflections or monthly gratitude.  And of course there’s a multitude of alternatives lying between each of these too. 

We’re all aware of how daunting a blank page can be though.  And so as with planning some sort of structure can be useful. As well as printed journals with different prompts for every day, there’s a huge range of places you can get prompts from to get your mind flowing.  And of course journaling doesn’t have to be written out like an essay - far from it! You could mind map, doodle, write out some meditation thoughts or hand-letter a phrase that felt significant at that time. 

So what are journals really good for? Working with your inner mentor; learning about your what you can gain from your experiences; encouraging pressure-free creative practice; helping [re]balance your mental wellbeing, especially when life might get a busy and overwhelming

But what about Bullet Journals?

I couldn't write about planner and journals without discussing Bullet Journals and I have to be honest.  Bullet Journaling has its place but quite frankly I think it’s a rubbish planning system.  The clue’s in the name really.  That’s not to say I think it’s generally a bad system.  Its versatility can be brilliant and I understand the hype that it gets.  But I also think it’s gotten so lost in translation, and re-translation, that it’s too foggy for people to see how it might help them.  And that’s before you see the thousands of wonderfully creative spreads that have brought the creators lots of joy but which can load on the pressure for those that might not want to spend time in that way.

Ultimately the hype the original Bullet Journal was a catalyst for has altered our expectations of what our planners or journals need to do for us, and what they can really efficiently help with.  Of course they can help, to an extent, with future planning but they’re certainly not a one-stop system and actually some of the most functional I’ve seen still use other planning methods or digital tools alongside it day-to-day too, for example a diary. 


Open double spread of a notebook, with the months of the year down the left side and three blank columns to its right.  There's a number of columns and brightly coloured pens scattered across it. A light marble background with a lilac notebook to the left, and to the right a black pencil case with a number of pens, stamps and mini ink pads spilling out of it. An open notebook on a desktop. The notebook features a calendar dial on the left, with 9 boxes on the rest of the pages for the days of the week plus a notes section.  There's also a sheet of 10 clear stamps with washi-tape strips on them (a product available from Mint Maker Studio)

When life can fling a myriad of things in our direction, and we need to be able to adapt, journals and planners are brilliant tools which can help us process our experiences and work out how to move forward.  Especially when our goal posts may have moved for whatever reason.  

Fundamentally though, the best systems are the ones that will evolve with us so just remember it’s not one-size-fits-all, we’re unlikely to get it right straight away, and we can make it what we want/need it to be!  

PS - If you love changing up your planner, but sometimes feel a bit stuck about which layouts are working for you, I think you'll find next month's post really useful too! 


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Planner Versus Journal | Blog Post cover image from Mint Maker Studio | Two open notebooks with yellow covers which extend beyond the image.  Slightly higher left notebook reads Planner Vs. Journal.  Lower right hand notebook reads What's the difference? And which do I need?


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