NOTEBOOK PEOPLE: An Interview with Brian Gilchrist   // Trina O’Gorman

NOTEBOOK PEOPLE: An Interview with Brian Gilchrist // Trina O’Gorman

Winnipeg, Canada, is 1635 miles away from my home in West Orange, New Jersey. By car, it would take me a full 24 hours to get there, if I were to drive without stopping. It’s safe to say that without our shared love of analogue tools, like notebooks and pens, and all the things one does with them, such as personal writing and planning, Brian and I would never have crossed paths. The oldest message exchange I can find between us on Instagram is dated 2017. I think we were making plans to meet up on Zoom to write. He has attended some of my writing workshops, knows all about my MindMosaic writing technique, and is also an early riser like me. I think he’s the only person with whom I have ever written a MindMosaic at 5:30 in the morning. We’ve written together quite a few times over the years, and I cherish those times. I think of him as an old friend. 

Connections like this always have me reassessing my analogue-loving self’s love-hate relationship with social media and the technological world. Establishing friendships, like the one I have with Brian, would be impossible without it. Having the opportunity to have great people like Brian and many of the other “notebook people '' I have met makes me grateful and appreciative of social media and its ability to provide networks for people with similar interests. Even though I have long known that Brian loves notebooks and has a journaling practice, I really didn’t know much about his writing tools, so I was absolutely thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for the Notebook People Project.

BRIAN GILCHRIST 

Brian referred to his journaling style as “loose” in the questionnaire that he completed prior to our interview. He described his writing as on again/off again and explained that he could “go for a few months without writing, then write every day for months.” Though for another question, he shared that he did most of his writing at night, but was thinking of trying to write in the morning as part of his daily ritual. By the time we had our interview, he’d incorporated that morning writing into his routine. Setting goals and making the necessary changes to achieve those goals was a recurring theme throughout my time talking to Brian. While Brian’s journaling style is free-flowing and stream of consciousness writing, he is also goal-oriented and loves to read productivity books. He attributed his new daily writing routine, for which he uses a separate notebook, to having read Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less and Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. 

Focus is important to Brian. The word “focus” came up thirteen times during the 90 minutes we spoke for this Notebook People Project story. Focus, clarity, and productivity are important to Brian, and he talked about them a lot when he talked about his journaling and planning practices. His writing, drawing, and reading are often done in support of mental clarity, focus, and reaching his many goals. In addition to planning, Brian likes to journal and draw and paint. He does some of this in a well-loved regular size Traveler’s Company traveler’s notebook that he has had since 2015, the same time that he started a regular journaling practice. The cover has a beautiful patina, and is covered with stains and scratches, which he loves, remarking that that’s “what gives it character.” In it, he has pages of journaling, some filled with writing done in my MindMosaic technique. He also has sketches and watercolor paintings of urban landscapes, which are beautiful and drawn from photos that he finds. He is a big fan of the Traveler’s Company 003 insert, which is the blank notebook. Slipped under the traveler’s notebook elastic, which is adorned with an Australian coin he brought back from a trip to Sydney, are two smaller notebooks. One of those is a dedicated gratitude journal and the other is a commonplace book. There are two brass skeleton binder clips attached to the front cover of the notebook, and several pens attached to it as well. It is beautiful and intentionally used. 

Brian also uses a planner. As an accountant, husband, and father, Brian has a lot on his plate and a lot to prioritize and manage, but he still finds time to write every day and explore and achieve personal goals, like becoming a pilot. It is safe to say that his attention to mental clarity and focus are effective. To help him stay on top of everything and to focus, he uses the Full Focus Planner, which was designed by Michael Hyatt, the same productivity expert that wrote the book Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less, which Brian talked about early in our conversation. He learned about this planner when it was being used by a fellow passenger sitting next to him when he was flying to Las Vegas this past February to attend a conference. Curious, he leaned over and asked him to tell him about his planner, and as is often the case with analogue tool users, the man was more than happy to oblige. He showed his planner to Brian, who at the time was using an Ink + Volt planner with which he wasn’t entirely happy because parts of it didn’t work, and Brian was sold. The Full Focus Planner is a highly structured system that is divided into four separate bound planners per year, one for each quarter, and set up according to Michael Hyatt’s productivity system, which is designed to help with goal setting and increasing one’s focus. 

And while focus, productivity, and clarity, all sound like very serious concepts that are definitely characteristic of Brian’s personality, he is also adventurous and fun-loving. He is currently taking flying lessons, and excitedly talked about learning to fly a particular kind of plane. He explained that it isn’t a pipe dream, but a realistic goal that is in reach. I’m laughing now, as I write this, because it really seemed like our conversation was all over the place, hopping from one topic to the next, and in many ways it was. Brian is full of energy, and we both love analogue tools, so there was a lot to talk about enthusiastically. At one point, we even pulled out our old typewriters, when they came up in our conversation. However, focus, clarity, and productivity seem to be constants in Brian’s life, whether we are talking about his work as an accountant or his recreational activities, like flying and reading. When it comes to planning and productivity, social media has recently had an enormous influence on what we think about when we think about those activities. These days most people, and perhaps particularly, women associate both with the trend of bullet journaling. But planning and productivity have been mainstays in the corporate world for as long as I can remember, and years ago when I worked for Franklin Quest, a subsidiary of Franklin Covey, it was in its heyday, and rather than being associated with pretty planners, it was associated with success. 

Far too often we think of attention paid to success and productivity, as lacking spontaneity and as not being fun. However, one could argue that setting personal goals and working toward achieving those goals is rewarding, and while that might not be the same feeling as fun, those positive feelings are satisfying and fulfilling. In fact, a lack of purpose and achievement are often hallmarks of depression and feeling dissatisfied with one’s life. Brian appreciates the aesthetics of the MindMosaics and other things that he draws and writes, often changing pens and inks for just that reason. He has an eye for beauty, as demonstrated in his urban landscapes. And he has a love of adventure, as evidenced by flying lessons. His story and practice reminds us that being focused and productive allows us to make time in our schedule to do the things we love and aspire to do, and to spend time with the people we love, as well as being successful in professional settings. All of this has a positive outcome because it can decrease stress and increase good feelings. Since talking with Brian, I have stopped thinking about my return to focusing on my own productivity and planning, as a sign of me being “too serious and no fun.” I can now unapologetically look at these efforts as actually supporting my fun, and I hope that you can take away some positive tips from this as well. 

Happy writing.

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