Today I want to talk about a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about. Which is best: bullet journal or planner? It’s a bit more complicated than you may think. It’s hard to say for definite which one is better, especially when every bullet journal or planner is different and the way they are used is unique to the owner.
So today I thought I would share what I like and dislike about the bullet journal system and paper planners. Even if we don’t figure out a winner I’m hoping you will be able to figure out which type of planning system you may prefer.
I think its important to remember that you shouldn’t choose a planning system because it’s popular online. Yes, if you go on Instagram you can find some users who have incredible bullet journals. But you shouldn’t start a bullet journal just because someone else uses one. You might start a bullet journal and realise you don’t like the planning system and would rather use a traditional planner.
I’m going to try and be as impartial as possible when I list all pros and cons of both the bullet journal and planner. But I think it is important to note that I prefer the bullet journal system so am biased when it comes to deciding which is better out of the bullet journal or planner.
Bullet Journal or Planner: Which Is Better?
The Bullet Journal System
The bullet journal is more like a system than a traditional planner. This system is built on a series of concepts: rapid logging, migration, collections and indexing. The bullet journal system is much more customisable than a traditional planner. So you can use the bullet journal as a planner, but you can also use it to organise notes or any other pieces of information in a notebook.
One of the things I like about the bullet journal is how customisable the spreads are. My daily spreads take up as much space as they need. While I use my daily log to track tasks, it’s also a place where I will keep notes and other pieces of information which come up during a day.
I also like how much flexibility I have when choosing a notebook for bullet journaling. Remember the bullet journal is a system you use in a notebook. You don’t need to buy a specific notebook to use as a bullet journal. This means you have more choice in the type of paper, size and price when buying a notebook. You don’t even need to use a notebook as a bullet journal, in the past I have tried bullet journaling in sketchbooks.
Probably one of the biggest downsides of the bullet journal system is how you have to set everything up yourself. This can be great because it gives you more options for layout, but it can also be a hassle if you have a lot of bullet journal spreads to set up each month.
On Having An ‘Aesthetic’ Bullet Journal
Maybe one of the biggest downsides of the bullet journal is the fact it is so popular. One of the reasons I see people stop using a bullet journal comes from wanting to emulate bullet journal spreads seen online. I should note this may not be true for everyone. But is something I commonly see when reading “why I stopped using my bullet journal” type posts.
I think if anything I became much happier with my bullet journal when I realised it didn’t need to look fancy. I don’t decorate my bullet journal, occasionally I will but this is a very rare occurrence. Yes, it’s possible to add things to your bullet journal as a form of decoration (currently I like to add geometric shapes to my pages as decoration). But the decorating part of bullet journaling shouldn’t become so important that you forget to use it as a tool.
A planner that’s always in date
I think one of the main reasons I prefer the bullet journal system to planners is how my bullet journal will always be in date. If you buy a dated planner it will be useless in 12 months. If you use a planner for half a year before moving on you’ve essentially wasted half of a planner. Undated planners are a sort of fix for this problem. If I buy a planner I will always try to ensure that it is an undated planner. But the design of some undated planners mean that you will end up with some empty space, no matter what you do.
I love using a bullet journal because I don’t need to buy an entirely new notebook or planner to get started. In some cases, I’ve set up the bullet journal system halfway through a notebook. The current notebook I’m using as a bullet journal was one I bought several years ago for a different purpose. In June of 2019, I decided to repurpose it as a bullet journal, though I only used it for a few months before moving on to another planning system.
But, in February of 2020, I decided to start using that same bullet journal again. I didn’t need to deal with empty pages, I set up a new month on the first blank double-page spread. Then I went back through the notebook filling any empty space with my daily logs. I like working in this style first of all because I get full use out of my notebook. But also it means those daily logs can be as long as I need them to be. I’m not restricted to a small amount of space on a weekly spread the same way I would be in a planner.
Traditional Paper Planners
Probably one of the biggest downsides to traditional paper planners is how inflexible they are compared to the bullet journal. I’m quite picky when it comes to the design of planners. It can be really hard to find the right combination of monthly, weekly, and daily pages in a planner. Especially if there are specific parts of a planning system which you like. Even choosing between different weekly layouts can be a hassle. Hourly layouts can be great if you have lots of events on. They aren’t so great if you have long to-do lists.
I know that there are a lot of really popular planning systems out there. The Happy Planners and Erin Condren planners are really popular for a reason. I’m sure some people will love that type of planning system. And I can see why, if you like a planner that has bright colours these can be a great choice.
Planners can also be a great choice if you’re really goal-setting which comes along with most planning systems now. The Passion Planner is particularly good for its goal-setting pages, and I like how the planner will remind you of those goals as you use the planner. But you don’t have to buy a planner to use these goal-setting pages. This is the type of thing you can set up as a spread in your bullet journal. Though you won’t be constantly reminded of your main goals the way the passion planner will.
Something like the Muji planners are great if you want a system somewhere between a planner and bullet journal. It has all your important monthly and weekly spreads set up. But the weekly spread has a full page of gridded paper which could be used for bullet journaling or just a place for notes.
So which is best: bullet journal or planner?
I think the thing you have to understand is, I can’t sit here and tell you the exact planning system which will work best. The Bullet Journal system and a traditional planner both have pros and cons. What you need to figure out is what you need from a planning system and then choose something which best meets your needs.
Bullet journals are great if you have a lot of task-based things which need to be done. So for example, if you’re working on a project and have lots of different things to do for that project. Planners work better if you have lots of time-based events, it’s easy to see what is happening and when. Though yes there is some space on planner pages for you to add tasks, you are limited in how much you can add to a single day on a planner spread.
For me, a bullet journal works better than a planner. But there have also been times where I’ve used a planner rather than a bullet journal. The reason I will always come back to the bullet journal is because I can start using the system from where I stopped. I like the flexibility, but you might prefer a planner because you don’t swap about as much. Or you don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting up a bullet journal.
Its important to remember in this debate of bullet journal or planner that the best planning system is one you use. It can be tempting to spend a lot of money on a planner and then never actually use it. When you think about it, it doesn’t matter which planning system you choose. The design and aesthetics aren’t as important as picking something which helps you get stuff done.
I think it’s also important to remember than bullet journals and paper planners aren’t the only planning systems available. Digital planners are great and can work just as well as the more traditional planners. You just need to figure out what you want from your planner.
And there we have it, maybe not a definite winner between the bullet journal or planner. But I’m hoping you have a better idea now of which planning system will work better for your needs. As I’ve said many times already, this is a very personal choice. Just because a bullet journal works for me doesn’t mean the same for you.
You don’t have to choose between a bullet journal or planner. There are many other planning systems you could use instead. Google calendar is a fantastic tool which I use regularly alongside my planner.
I think one of the most important things you have to remember is that a planning system is a tool. Its there to help you organise and keep doing the thing you’re already doing. I know that decorating your bullet journal can be a hobby in itself. But you shouldn’t let how you use your planner become more important than why you use your planner.