What is the difference between a diary, planner and journal?

by Sunelle | Last Updated: 04/05/2020

What is the difference between a journal, diary or planner? Many people use these terms interchangeably, but are they the same?

The words for journal, diary and planner imply differences in the meaning and use of these items. In short, a diary is commonly used for logging daily events, while a journal can scribble relating to many random things. A planner is used to plan the next day, week or month. Let’s look at each of these in more detail to determine if there is a difference between a journal, diary or planner.

What is a diary?

The word diary comes from the Latin word “darium”, which can be translated to daily allowance. This is an accurate description, as a diary contains information about your daily life.  The practice of keeping a diary started hundreds of years ago. One of the earliest diaries belonged to Samuel Pepys. Samuel Pepys kept a diary of events such as the Great Fire of London, the Great Plague of London and the Second Dutch War. His diary also included personal insights and accounts of these events, making it an invaluable source of information about these events.


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Many diarists confide in their diary in the same manner they would to a best friend. One of the best-known diarists, Anne Frank, called her diary Kitty and wrote in her diary as if she was telling her friend, Kitty, all her secrets.

A diary can be used as a daily log of experiences. Diary entries are typically done chronologically. To use a diary optimally, daily entries are best, but this is a habit that requires significant self-discipline. A diary entry should focus on events by considering the following pointers:

Diaries are used to remember important personal events, but the focus is usually more on internal perceptions and feelings. Diary entries can be long or short, depending on how busy a day is. Many people start their diary in the order their day unfolded; for example, they write about their mornings, then afternoons and finish with their evenings. Other people only record the most important events or feelings of a day. A diary entry is similar to a newspaper report on an event, except it covers a day in your life! Diarists often complete their daily diary entries at the end of the day or the next morning.

I’ve kept a diary since I was 11. It’s a way of taking stock, almost meditative, trying to make sense of stuff because life is chaotic.
Richard E Grant

Keeping a diary is a simple practice and requires no special skills. Since you are the only intended reader, you must ensure you can read your handwriting. Many people keep a diary to

Many online diary facilities exist – here are some examples:

What is a planner?

Planners are tools for planning. They are tools to organize your life. Most planners come with calendars, months, weeks and days – sometimes even hours for each day. A planner intends to keep track of appointments and to make the planning of tasks more manageable. Planners help people be more productive since they plan their daily lives. A planner can help you prioritize, plan and execute. Two famous planners are the Happy Planner and the Passion Planner.

I’m a planner, an organizer. I write things down because you can visually check them off and see progress. Writing things down is a lost art. I’ve got sticky notes all over my apartment.
Will Grier

Planners come in a range of sizes and layouts. Some cover an entire calendar year (January to December), while others are focused on academic years (August to August). The layouts of planners can be daily, weekly, monthly or annual layouts.

What is a planner

A planning community focuses on decorating planners with stickers and Washi tape. Decorative journaling is a passion for many people who like pretty and productive planners.

Online planning facilities are available and include the following:

What is a journal?

A journal is more creative than diaries and planners. Journals are empty notebooks that the owner can customize and use to their liking. Journals are not focused on any specific topic and often cover multiple topics. A journal is not linked to a specific period and can be used over several years. Journalists use their journals on and off and don’t have a specific schedule as with a diary or planner.

The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal.

Robin Sharma

A journal can include various items, such as ideas, memories, and doodles. It can also contain drawings, clippings from magazines and quotes. People also use their journals for beautiful lyrics, inspirational quotes or pretty items they come across daily.


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There are so many different types of journals. Some examples of journals include:

If you like the idea of journaling but are unsure what to journal about, there are many different types of journal prompts to inspire you to write. Journaling can serve many purposes and can be therapeutic. There are even courses on journaling, as it is a skill that can be learned and improved to maximise the benefit of journaling.

Online journal facilities exist as well. Some examples of online journaling tools are the following:

What is a bullet journal?

For me, a bullet journal combines a diary, a planner and a journal. A bullet journal can be done in any blank notebook. The owner can decide on their spreads and may include a calendar and monthly or weekly plans. A bullet journal can include collections that include daily logs, habit trackers, doodles, and lists. A bullet journal is a creative planner and can be customized to the owner’s preferences. There is a methodology for bullet journaling based on a system developed by Ryder Carroll.


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Is there a difference between a diary, planner and journal?

Based on the purpose and uses discussed above, there is a difference between a diary, planner and journal. There is also an overlap between these concepts; nowadays, people combine their diaries, planner and journal in various ways. Some people combine a diary and a journal by recording events in their daily lives with notes, quotes and scribbles. Other people combine their planners and journal by having a weekly or monthly calendar with notes and sketches. Even the online apps available for diaries and journals are often the same, while planner apps also allow for note-taking and lists. The possibilities are endless and should be individual-specific.

The most important thing is that writing and recording your life, feelings and plans for the future is essential in living optimally. Writing about your day, plans, and future helps with stress relief and setting and meeting goals. Writing is good for your overall wellness.

Difference between a diary planner and journal | Productive Notes