General Conference: My Note-Taking Method

So, I've finished working my way through my new note-taking system for general conference. I've been working out the kinks with various devotionals and conference talks from last session. I'm really happy with the results, so I thought I'd share them here!

As I mentioned before, one of the problems I'm trying to address is prioritizing better what I write down. I spend way too much time writing what the speakers are saying, instead of my own thoughts, feelings, and impressions. Why bother recording what the speakers are saying when the Church already does that online, in the Ensign, and the Gospel Library app? 

My other problem is that my notes, even when they're on point and full of spiritual promptings, they don't translate into real action for me. They sit in a notebook, where I'll usually refer back to them for a lesson I'm teaching... and that's about it. That's almost as pointless as not taking notes at all.

So I thought about the kinds of things I wanted to write down: Invitations to act, verses or talks to look up or that come to mind as I'm listening, topics to study, blessings the speaker promised, feelings, questions, goals. All of these things are manifestations of the Holy Ghost, which is exactly what I want to be writing down. And most of them are action-based, and require follow up on my part.

But I also don't want to have to go through with a fine tooth comb to find all of this stuff in my notes. I want to be able to instantly recognize each note for what it is, and why I wrote it down. The more at-a-glance it can be, the more useful it will be to me.

So I decided to use emojis! You know, the simple ones that I can actually draw.

✉️ Invitations
🔎 Lookup/Scripture Verses
💞 Feelings
💬 Direct Quotes, Talks
 Question for Prayers, Scripture Study
💭 Thoughts, Ideas
📌 Goals, To-Do, Reminders
🌠 Blessings

In thinking about how to make sure I do a quality follow up with the notes I take, I realized I could also incorporate my color coding system from my scripture study. So for each of the things I write down from general conference, I can ask myself how they relate to what I study in the scriptures. Since my topics are pretty straightforward, it's not hard to do with my finished notes:

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (their words, attributes, etc.)
The Plan of Salvation
Covenants (conditions, requirements, promised blessings, rewards)
The Temple
My Patriarchal Blessing
Happiness, Joy, Gratitude
Satan, Sin, Temptation, Warnings

As I go back over my notes, or sometimes even as I'm taking them, I'll write or mark something in one of the colors because it corresponds to one of my study topics. Then at the end of the talk, I'll put a colored star next to the speaker's name for each of the topics they mentioned. I can see at a glance the topics they covered, in a way that is most relevant to me and what I'm learning right now. And because what I'm studying and marking in my scriptures may change over time, I can change it up without having to go back to the drawing board.

Because I'm still keeping my bullet journal, I'm already envisioning a collection/index to my conference notes, where I write down each speaker's name, then put the colored stars next to their name. I'll be able to compare the talks to each other, see which of my study topics got those most mentions, and focus my future scripture study around those topics. Here's what my Women's Meeting index would look like, so you can see what I mean:

Women's Meeting
Jean B. Bingham 
Carole M. Stephens 
Bonnie Oscarson 
Dieter F. Uchtdorf 

Each talk is unique, even when it echoes what other speakers have said before. Analyzing talks in this way has helped me to see how true that is. And this is just through the lens of what I'm studying, and what I'm looking to get out of general conference. No two people are alike, and perhaps that's the greatest miracle of all: that so many of us come searching for answers, and no two people will walk away hearing the same message.

I'm glad to say I've found a note-taking method that helps to capture this aspect of general conference. I can't wait to hear what our leaders have to say, so I can dig into my notes and get to work!

Happy Conference Weekend!


I've begun the analysis of my note-taking process in preparation for general conference in October. I decided to play catch-up with the Worldwide Devotionals and BYU speeches, and have made it to my first April conference addresses. I'm happy with the progress I'm making, but I still have some additional details to hammer out. Once I'm satisfied, I'll dedicate a post to it here.

The talk I listened to today was Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You by Jeffrey R. Holland. Because part of what I'm trying to determine in my study involves how to handle scripture references, his message was great to analyze because it relies on so many scripture verses and examples. As I was listening, his statement on self-righteousness caught my attention: "We are to deal justly, never unjustly, never unfairly; we are to walk humbly, never arrogantly, never pridefully; we are to judge righteously, never self-righteously, never unrighteously."

Listeners Learn of the Higher Law
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library

He makes a necessary distinction here about self-righteousness I've never explored before, so I decided to examine the topic today in my scripture study. Because hypocrisy and the moral treatment of his laws and commandments is a topic Jesus taught about extensively in his ministry, it would be a mistake for me, as his disciple, not to consider how these relate to self-righteousness.

What does it mean to be self-righteous?

In considering the definitions of self-righteous from Merriam-Webster,, Oxford, and Urban Dictionary, it was Merriam-Webster's definition that best represents the reason for my initial response. I found several of the presented definitions vague, and potentially problematic.

convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others : narrow-mindedly moralistic

Surely this definition does not mean to suggest that having convictions is a problem. Providing moral guidance upon which people may confidently base their beliefs and decisionsespecially moral choicesthis is the objective of all religious teaching. Because this process often exists within the tenets and systems of organized religion, it unavoidably becomes a comparative exercise. I have decided on my beliefs as much by adhering to and adopting beliefs from my own faith, as much as I have by considering other beliefs, and choosing not to adopt them. By virtue of taking any stance that contradicts another person's religion, I exist in contrast to their beliefs. The degree of certainty in which I, or they, hold to those personal beliefs is not an issue. Presenting this "contrast" as the defining principle of self-righteousness is deeply problematic.

The discernment between ideas, and the rational choice whether to adopt or reject them, this process cannot be defined as self-righteousness. Rather, the formulation and reconciliation of a personal belief system is an individual exercise of human reasoning. Confusion related to this language is why I prefer Oxford's definition:

Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.

The problem with self-righteousness is not a person's "contrast from" the beliefs and actions of others. Rather their attitude, the spirit in which they engage with others, in choosing or communicating their personal moral choices; their "unfounded" self-perception, when they assert their personal superiority or degree of correctness; this is self-righteousness.

These various definitions emphasize various elements of this attitude:

  • Haughtiness and self-aggrandizement
  • Intolerance, specifically an unwillingness to consider other points of view, or coexist with those whose beliefs and actions differ from your own
  • Hypocrisy and "showboating", especially when one's moral code forbids lifting up oneself, or tearing down another person for their differences

Examples of these behaviors of particular relevance to religious people, including Latter-day Saints, would be:

  • Asserting moral dominance over others. Examples I've witnessed have included heritage in the Church, politics, sexual orientation, and financial status. 
  • Extolling the virtues of one's own lifestyle or choices in exclusive language. In the church, the moments when I notice this most are when people say that being married or having children is the most important thing, or the greatest thing about being alive. You may feel that way about your own life, and the rest of us are happy for you. But expecting everyone else's life or happiness to be exactly like yours, or to believe that others don't deserve happiness because they aren't married or don't have kids, that's just absurd.
  • Refusing to educate oneself on the religions, cultures, and experiences of others—yet harboring suspicion against them. Contemporary examples include a mistrust of refugees, immigrants, and Muslims.
  • Offering uninvited correction on principles or standards, especially in public ways that are humiliating or embarrassing to those who receive it.
  • Exceeding the necessary amount or severity of correction for the sake of drawing attention to oneself.
  • Expecting accommodation for one's beliefs, but refusing to give the same courtesy to others.

Most of us can recognize how reprehensible this behavior is to our sensibilities. But are we willing to admit to that behavior when we're the ones who perpetuate it? The only thing worse than being accused of self-righteousness is when the accusation is actually true. By taking the time to reflect honestly, we can avoid learning about this particular shortcoming in a much more painful fashion.

What did Jesus teach about self-righteousness?

We often refer to Jesus Christ as a patient man. Patience and long-suffering are two of his hallmark traits. However, based on numerous examples from the scriptures, the Savior has no patience for self-righteousness. Some of the harshest language he uses against anyone includes the Pharisees, for all the times they use their position and influence to lift themselves up, and find fault with others.

Matthew 12 and 23 provide a wealth of examples of this Pharisaical behavior, and Jesus' response to it. Even the Sermon on the Mount, when cross-referenced with the Savior's interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees, condemns them in almost every point. Their behavior, in all of its self-righteousness, becomes the defining line between between heaven and hell in the teachings of Christ. (See Matthew 5:20) Because they also encouraged other people to engage in this same behavior, he warned others to beware of the "leavening" of the pharisees: the doctrines, cultures, and traditions of men that had polluted their moral senses. (See Luke 12: 1-3 and Matthew 23: 15)

Jesus Teaching Pharisees
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library

Christ repeated some of these same instruction when he instituted his church among the Nephites. He also addressed their ongoing tendency to exclude people from their places of worship. (See 3 Nephi 18: 22-34) When he addressed the general populace in verses 22-25, he forbid them from ostracizing or excluding anyone from the Church. In verses 26-34, he addresses the twelve disciples he previous called to administer in the Church, outlining the disciplinary process still in use today. But he emphasizes twice more, in verses 30-32, that they should not exclude anyone from coming to church.

He tolerated no such self-righteousness in the old world, and certainly wouldn't tolerate it the new world either. His condemnation, and the consequences of divine disfavor for self-righteousness, remain consistent in both accounts.

How do we avoid becoming self-righteous?

As a Latter-day Saint, I believe Jesus Christ is the most important moral authority for all of my beliefs and decisions. I will consider his teachings and actions before those of any other personincluding adherents within my own faith, men and women of other faiths, or in any other educational, civic, or professional capacity. I can't be who I am, and live up to what I value, if I compromise or temper my desire to serve God. I can't be less true to the promises I've made to the Lord, even at the risk of potentially making someone else uncomfortable.

When I maintain my devotion to him in the best way I know how, it brings out the best in me. The ability to negotiate, to solve problems, to listen, to respond with compassion to others, even if they disagree with me; all of this depends on me putting first things first. For me, that means loving the Lord and keeping his commandments.

All of the examples I've examined of self-righteousness have one thing in common: the self-righteous people put themselves and their own methods and preferences before the Lord. Doing so to make other people happy, therefore, is not a sustainable approach to avoiding accusations of being self-righteous. If anything, one could easily see how yielding to the demands of others upon our faith is how otherwise lovely people become insufferable. As the "salt loses its savor" only by contamination and mixture with outside forces, the meekness of James' "pure religion" becomes offensive to others only when it ceases to be pure. (See 3 Nephi 12:13 and James 1: 27)

Witnesses of Christ Healing a Possessed Man
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library

Nothing good ever comes when people of faith, especially disciples of Christ, put others before God. In a way I've never fully considered before, I can see why loving God is the first great commandment; because loving others without pretension isn't possible until I learn to do so with God. When I approach him with total honesty in my spirit, I can have no illusions about my nothingness before him, and the esteem he has for me and everyone else, despite our imperfections.

Philadelphia Temple Open House


At the stake center next to the Philadelphia temple. Seeing this painting, as well as the dressing room painting, was the highlight of the open house for me. It makes me wish I could paint so I could be a part of the change I love to see.

Not to mention that this lovely woman was our tour guide. I loved her tour. The way she addressed the protestors, presenting the temple with grace and poise. I wish I knew her name.

 (Update: of course Black Mormon Twitter was able to tell me her name is Josephine.)

My Baptism: A Decade Later

Today, I've officially been a member of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 10 years!

My baptism was the most important day of my life
because of the way it changed my entire future...

My baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Since then, I've been a member of 17 wards and branches, 
in 2 countries and 5 states.

The Rising Sun Branch
(now the Bayview Ward)

The Newark Ward Building
(where I attended Newark 1st Ward and the Newark 2nd YSA branch)

Ala Santa Tereza, Estaca Parque Pinheiros
São Paulo, Brazil

I've held 17 callings, including as missionary.

The temple has become the center of my life.
I've been to 18 different temples and temple sites, with many more to come!

Washington D.C. Temple 

Provo Utah Temple

And I spent my day in the temple as an ordinance worker with my husband...

Boise Idaho Temple whom I am sealed for time and all eternity. 

 We will never be separated from each other, not even in death.
He fills my life with so much joy,
and I never would have met him had I never been baptized.

I never dared to hope that my life would be so full of happiness, and 
all of the adventures I've had. 

And I owe all of it to that first day...

And everyone who was a part of it, who made it possible, 
thank you for believing in me. 

To my bishops and stake presidents, home and visiting teachers, 
to my friends, and my brothers and sisters in Christ. 

You're too many to number, and you have changed my life. 

Thank you, and I love you all!

RIP Jason Michaels (1971-2016)

Today I find myself

Donate to the Jason Michaels Memorial Bursary
loving my cousin in Canada to pieces. I'm praying for him after his brother, Jason Michaels, suddenly passed away from a heart attack at 45.

It pains me to see him question the goodness and justice of God because his brother was taken so young, and at such an unexpected time in his life.

I had a special chance to share the love, clarity, and peace I hope he finds with God and with himself. To bear my witness that God is present and constant in everything we experience.

I know the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. Death is not the end, but the beginning of something beautiful and new, for the ones we lose and for us.

Death us not a sign that God has abandoned us. Death comes to us all, and he is never more present than when it does.


Respecting Boundaries

You ever have those moments in scripture study where the Lord steps in and teaches you something about yourself you didn't know how to learn?

Recent experiences have made me recognize that I don't understand when to help others, and when to disengage because they don't want my help. It's not in my nature to just let people struggle, even when that's what they want. Why should I let someone make their own lives harder if I can help them avoid it?

Then I read Galatians 6:2-5, where Paul explains the answer to this question:

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

My mind was expanded, my heart eased. I know better now how to proceed in moments like that. There are valid reasons someone could not want my help. The right thing to do is to accept that. I can still make myself available if they change their mind. But honoring their boundaries is how I can show them I respect them, even when I don't understand what they're trying to accomplish.

I won't understand the reasoning behind every person who turns away my desire to help them. And that's okay. I don't need to understand the reasons why to respect someone else's boundaries. Respecting their boundaries is sometimes the best way I can help someone, and that's enough.

An LDS Approach to Bullet Journaling

My scripture study is some of the most valuable time in the world to me. In order to be a functioning human being who is happy and at peace with myself, I need to be in the scriptures every day. And I admit, making it happen for myself is a struggle--even though I know how important it is. Even though I want to do it, need to do it, and genuinely love to do it. Life just has a way of crowding out the things that matter most to us until we figure out a way to stop it from happening.

I want to be the person that studies my scriptures every day. And I've never been able to figure out why achieving that consistency is so hard for me... until now.

About a month ago, I discovered Ryder Carroll's Bullet Journal phenomenon--which began as a minimalist planning system. I liked his approach, and decided to try it. The way he merged his journaling together with a homemade planner made a lot of sense. As I thought about it, I caught this awesome vision of how I could use it to take control of my spiritual life.

I see now why the system is so effective for me, and what my problem in the past has been. I've tried planning out my study before, but I greatly dislike most of the planners I've ever purchased. Having a planner separate from the notebook where I do all of my studying really doesn't work for me. It makes me treat studying and planning as two separate processes, when really I should be treating them as one. The moment I combined the planner into my study journal, the way the Bullet Journal system allows me to do it, I found it much easier to plan because I studied, and study because I planned.

So I thought I'd share a breakdown of the spreads I'm using, and why they're working so well for me over traditional commercial planners. As I continue improving upon my own approach, I'll try to add more ideas in some follow up posts!

Index and Numbered Pages

The first thing you do in a Bullet Journal, before you do anything else, is create an index. Now that I'm digitizing a lot of my past study journals, notebooks, and lessons, this practice alone is so valuable to me. When I try to access something again, or figure out the time period a journal covers, I can do that much more readily at a glance with an index. Now that I've been keeping an index in my journal, I don't think I could ever go back!

Monthly Spread

I follow Ryder Carroll here without a whole lot of variation. He numbers out each day of the month, then writes in his tasks and events on each day. He'll then migrate the tasks to the Future Log (which I don't use) or his Daily spreads as he needs them. I like the streamlined approach of it, especially the way I can use it together with the To-Do list.

To-Do List

This is a creation of my own, and is really all I need in terms of managing my ongoing projects. I write down all of the projects and ongoing tasks I have, then classify them by whether they are daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. Daily tasks are the elements I have built into my daily spread. Weekly tasks are ones I fill in automatically on the days that they apply.


Scripture Study

Morning Prayer

Evening Prayer




Lesson Planning


Temple Checklist


Sabbath Checklist



Digitization: Study Journals

Personal Progress

Visiting Teaching

For ongoing projects that aren't tied to any particular day, I write down how many times I want to work on each one in a day, week, or month. Based on those goals, I migrate each one into my Monthly spread, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This process alone made me realize why I find it so hard to use a traditional planner. They don't let me plan in this order because they don't give me space to really grapple with my goals like this. When the only place I have to write down my tasks is a calendar, I have to already commit myself to when I'm going to do them at the same time I decide I want to do them. But before I can do that, I need to analyze that task in conjunction with everything else I need to accomplish.

How often can I realistically expect to work on this project, with all of these other things I have to do? I can't decide when I'm going to do something until I've answered that question. I know that sounds so obvious, but I've never realized how important this is until keeping a bullet journal, because this is the way it encourages you to plan and process your goals.

Daily Spread

My daily spread, again, is not all that dissimilar from Ryder Carroll's. Instead of handling my tasks and events in a rapid log under the date, I use a two-column daily layout. On the left side is where I write in events from my Monthly spread. They're usually my higher priority tasks as well, since that's where I focus my planning. The right side is where I migrate things from the previous day, and write new tasks that come up throughout the day.

Prayer Tracker:
Scripture Study: Topic, Chapter, or Talk
Migrated Tasks from Previous Day

High Priority Tasks


I have a weekly planning session every Sunday where I'll create a week's worthy of daily logs, fill in everything from my Monthly spread, then plan what I want to study in the scriptures in the coming week. I've really enjoyed seeing how the topics I choose end up being perfectly suited to what is happening in my day.

The day that's really unique is Sunday. Because Sunday is the busiest day of my week, this is a major reason that I can't use traditional planners. They cram Saturday and Sunday together, and I never have enough room for everything I need to plan for the Sabbath.

Prayer Tracker:
SS: Topic

High Priority Tasks


I keep the two column format, but I include a lot more space. All of my planning happens in the left column, and the right column is for Announcements. I write down announcements from Sacrament Meeting, Young Women, and Relief Society on the right. If I have any meetings or events I need to schedule, I'll also write them in that column. Since that's also the day I do my weekly planning, none of the information sits for long. I get it all down in one place--the day that it's given to me--and I handle all of the scheduling the same day.

I also recently discoverd the calendar widget on my phone, so I'll also put events and meetings into my phone, so I can check them when I first wake up in the morning. Since I prefer to write things down and add them to my phone later, this approach works well for me.


Collections are made up of anything that you include in your journal that isn't a calendar or planning related item. Journal entries, lists of verses I create when I study, study questions, checklists--all of these things can be collections. Once bullet journaling hit Pinterest, there's no end to the suggestions for collections that are out there. Here's a few I've found, used, started, or am currently using:

  • Temple Prep Checklist
    • List of things I need to remember, do, bring, and ask myself before going to the temple for my shift. Since I've started planning to look it over on Thursday, I always remember my socks!
  • Sabbath Day Checklist
    • List of things I need to remember, do, bring, and ask myself before going to Church on Sunday.
  • Acts of Kindness List
    • List of things I can do to serve my husband, the sisters I visit teach, or anyone really. But especially visiting teaching. 
  • Scripture Study Topics
    • Since one of the biggest deterrents to me studying the scriptures is not knowing what I want to study, I keep a list of when I think of a topic or have a question, and keep them together in the same place. Then I look at the list when I do my weekly planning, and just pick stuff from the list.
  • Scripture Study Topics (Related to the Temple)
    • Our temple president is always mentioning fascinating things to study. And his suggestions are always good. So I keep them on a separate list, and try to study something from it the day before my shift.
  • Gratitude Log
    • This one is really popular. You write down something every day that you're grateful for. I'm really bad at remembering it, but it's one I want to work on until I get it down!
  • Humor Log
    • I did this on my mission. Any time something really funny happened, I would write it down. Once I got a good list, I'd write them all up and send them to my mom. Since she isn't a member, it was all stuff she could appreciate, and let her know that I was happy. I want to start doing it again because I liked the way it made me look for humor in what would otherwise be really crappy situations.
  • Books to Read, Buy, or Finish
  • Lists of Verses or Conference Talks by Subject
  • My Undo List
    • The Opposite of a To-Do list, because they're things you want to STOP doing. 
  • Lesson Plans
  • Ideas for Other Collections
My bullet journal for me is the place where I can keep track of my spiritual life. The chores and errands that I don't want to rule my life anymore are relegated to a white board on my refrigerator, where they can easily be erased. I begin each day with a blank slate for the most tedious things I have to do, instead of allowing them to rule my life. The feelings like I was born for more than housekeeping have already started to fade as I've given myself permission to do more than chores.

As time goes by, I look forward to seeing how my bullet journal experiment leads to greater things for my life as a Latter-day Saint.

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