Note-taking for Inspiration
© 29 Sep 2014 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Some tips from my experience taking notes in General Conference.


This coming weekend is the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Anyone can watch it (at and see what the leaders of the church are saying to the members of the church. Rather than talk about conference itself, however, this post will discuss how I take notes in that meeting.

My note taking habits have changed over the years; and they will continue to change, in part because I will change, in part because anything too familiar loses some of its interest, and in part because they are still far from perfect. That said, the following tips as a snapshot of some of my current note-taking habits.

Pen and Paper

I have tried many media in my note taking time, but none have been better than a nice-quality fine-tip ball-point pen Pentel’s R.S.V.P. is one of my favorites. and a smaller-than-a-letter larger-than-a-pocket notebook. Pencils and computers both tempt me to erase or correct myself, which slows me down. Felt-tip and nib pens require too much care and occasionally distract. Cheap pens have flow problems and sometimes feel gicky. I want the process of writing to be as simple, automatic, and ignorable as possible.

Transcribe After

I have found great benefit in digesting and re-entering my notes in my journal after the meetings close. Knowing that I will do so means I am free to make the notes with only enough detail to last me a few days; the process of doing so helps reinforce what I learned.

Meta-Note Syntax

I have several notations that indicate special kinds of notes. My particular set has evolved and is a bit idiosyncratic, but the ability to make a quite mark to distinguish between their words and my thoughts and so on is quite handy. The more recent additions to my meta-notation scheme use circled letters, one on either side of a piece of text, like so:
Ⓜthis item is my thought, not from the speakerⓂ

Summaries and Quotes

I used to take extensive notes on the things the speaker said. The more conferences I attend, the less I do this. I am down to just three. Plain text in my notes means “‍a summary of the speaker’s emphasis‍” and is only written if I think that emphasis unusual or otherwise interesting. I also have a notation for “‍direct quote of interesting phrasing‍”, Ⓠdirect quotationⓆ.

Action Items

Often in general conference the speaker will make a direct invitation, such as “‍pray for missionaries‍” or “‍keep your family computer in a public space‍”. I have a notation for these (Ⓐthing to doⒶ) but more importantly I create what amounts to a bookmark in my journal I keep my journal digitally, so it is actually the text after my last entry, but it is similar to a bookmark. with a list of all the action items that I noticed in the most recent conference. When I started doing this I was amazed at how many more of them I remembered and put into practice than I had in the past.

Enabling Inspiration

One of my most important notations is the circled-M for “‍my thought‍”. I use it both for thoughts that come from me and thoughts that are directed by God to me.

I have played with distinct notations for the two, but I find that I am often not certain if a thought it inspired or not and having to pick a notation before writing it down was not helpful. Instead I write things like
ⓂI should blog about my note taking habitsⓂ
the moment that such a thought occurs to me. Usually after it is down on paper either the Lord will confirm it as His or I’ll feel I didn’t capture it quite right and write more or it will feel like an aside and I’ll move on.

It amazes me how much inspiration there is to receive once you have a medium for recording it and a way to follow up on what was recorded (see “‍Action Items‍” above). In the October 2012 general conference, for example, I received so many spiritual insights one after another that I had to adopt the convention “‍left-hand page is for inspiration, right-hand page is for notes‍”. While that instance is an outlier (at least so far), it is usually the case that I have more notes marked Ⓜmy thoughtⓂ than I have all other kinds of notes combined.

In the bookmark page in my journal that I mentioned under “‍Action Items‍” above I put, after the list of injunctions spoken over the pulpit, a list of injunctions spoken to me alone. I keep the two kinds of action items separate, but I keep them both where I can see them daily.


In addition to the spiritual thoughts noted in the previous item, I also have lots of distracting thoughts come to mind during conference. I used to try to push those away as unwelcome, but that just invited them to keep distracting me. A few years ago I started putting them in the top margin of my notes. I found that once I wrote them down they would rest and I could refocus my attention. Top margins of my notebooks are littered with notes like “‍!eo minister‍” !eo is’s notation for “‍search etymonline instead of the web‍” and “‍how common are nose hair trimmers?‍” and “‍Spalding‍”, each of which would have distracted me from the session if I had not had a place to put it that was not in my head.

I have a fear associated with sharing this list. I have come to believe that there are a lot of people who are looking for magic bullets, for the one thing that will miraculously solve their problems and change them into the kind of person they wish they were. I fear that some one of you will think some part of this list is one of those magic bullets. In fact, these tips are all examples of the infinitely large set of things that are not magic bullets. Magic bullets don’t exist.

Part of the reason that my note taking habits have worked so well for me is that they are mine. Some of them were inspired by what I observed others doing, but in the end each one is my own creation, tailored to my own being and needs. If you find them useful, take them, but don’t take them as is: change them to fit your needs and thinking, make them yours.

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