Uncover the biggest thieves of your time. Track it to reclaim it.

“Where did the day go?”
“I’m sure I put more time into this project than the others did”
“I just don’t have the time to read any more”
“I’ve been busy all day but couldn’t tell you what I achieved”

Do any of these sound familiar?

When you’re juggling all sorts of different things it’s hard to come up for air and really assess what you’re spending your time doing.

But it’s vital to monitor what your time is spent on so you can keep your goals on track and your distractions in check.

As the saying goes “time is money”. Time is also energy, mental strength and emotion. It is precious and should be managed well.

Invest time in your passions

“To find where your passion lays, look at where you spend your time”

In an ideal world we’d all spend the majority of our time on things that make us happy, fulfilled, and that sparks our passion.

In the real world we spend the majority of our time meeting obligations. Women still do the majority of household work and childcare. People living alone bear the whole the burden of the housework and admin.

looming obligations cartoon

Independent people are often seen as permanently available. They’re free to help when their friends are in a jam because they apparently don’t have anything else to do. But they end up being leaned on too heavily and their own needs fall to the wayside.

All of this sucks time away from where it would be better spent.

So how can you address this issue and funnel your time into things that are productive and fulfilling and away from those black holes of time which soak up our days?

1-week time logging

Process Improvement theory teaches that we can’t knowingly improve something if it’s not measured. If you measure your time you can see where the roadblocks are and reinvest that in more positive things. You can make a measurable difference.

Tracking your time can reveal some undeniable truths.

That ’10-minute favour’ for a friend actually took 3 hours, taking with it your physical and emotional energy. That’s time you may be vitally needing for your own self care and mental health.

“Without becoming aware of how you currently spend your time, it’s hard to reflect on whether you’re acting in ways that match up with what your values and highest-impact tasks are.

Keeping a time log is a great way to find your starting point, your base level.”

– Chris Bailey, The Productivity Project

As a ‘spiritual person’, you may only spend only a few minutes a week in prayer or meditation. As a ‘keen musician’ you might not have picked up your guitar in a month.

I once tracked my work time for a whole month and found almost 40% of my work time was spent on creating and updating presentations and I’d done a whopping 22 hours unpaid overtime.

Track your time for 1 week. You may be surprised by what it reveals.

6 steps to gathering the data you need

  1. Write down what your passions and priorities are. Consider your longer term or short term goals. Note any relationships that are really important.
    These are things that ideally you’d be spending time on.
  2. Decide how accurate you want to be. Don’t burden yourself with tracking every single minute but you want meaningful results. Being accurate to every 15 or 30 minute block should suffice
  3. Track your time for 1 week. Use a notepad, or try using one of the apps below
  4. Compare the results against your priorities.  Any mismatches?
  5. Consider what changes you can make to shift things in a better direction
  6. After a few months repeat the process and see how your results have changed

“It can seem like a tedious and boring task, but it can free up literally hours in your week. The key is to find a system that works for you”
– Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It

What should I track?

You don’t need to track the minutiae of what you do, just the main gist of the activity. Think about the variety of things you do in a week and what’s important for you to glean from it.

  • Work
    • Major projects
    • Admin
    • Helping others
  • Travel
    • Commuting
    • Driving yourself or others around
  • Household
    • Cleaning
    • Cooking
    • Admin tasks
  • Hobbies
    • Playing sports
    • Gardening
    • Exercise
  • Relationships
    • Phone calls
    • Face to face time
  • Technology
    • TV time
    • Internet browsing

Use a notebook

It’s really easy to just jot down what the time is and what task you’re doing.

You will need to add up your times later though, either by hand or in excel. That will, ironically, take some time in itself.

What apps could you try

Most apps are designed for business but there are some designed for personal life.

Time Tracker


iOS – (I can’t find it on iOS but I’m on Android so it might be there somewhere?)

This is one of the simplest and easiest ones I’ve seen. It’s a great place to start.

You can set your categories in advance, or add them as you go. You can give each one a different icon and colour. Then just click to start and stop as you go, toggling between them.

You can also have a few running at once.

Time Tracker app screenshot

What makes Time Tracker different is you can set targets for each; one hour a day, 20 hours a week, whatever you want. It then tells you how far off target you are.




Toggl app screenshot

With the Toggl app you can set up your categories in advance then just click different ones throughout the day- toggling between them like with Time Tracker.

Toggl will then add up how much time you spend on each one and show you various charts.

It’s designed for business but can be easily adapted with your own personal categories.

Smarter Time


Smarter Time app screenshot

This one is designed for personal use rather than for businesses. It’s built around tracking both work and home tasks for a full picture of your time.

It can track the apps you’re using and use GPS to see where you are – work, home, gym etc.

Some would say that’s intrusive.
Some would say that’s helpful.

You have to log each activity manually rather than toggling but it’s not overly cumbersome. It has loads of pre-set categories and activities or you can add your own. The most recent ones will go to the top of the list.

Smarter Time app screenshot 2

You can then use the analyser to see charts and maps.

There are loads of apps on the market so look for something that will suit your lifestyle as well as giving you the right data. Once you have some data you can make some conscious changes for the better.

Get tracking and take back control of your time!

5 ways to beautify your bullet journal when you have zero art skills

  • Do you want your bullet journal look as beautiful as those Instagram and Pinterest?
  • Do your attempts at art look like a 5-year-old’s scribbles?

Me too! I’ve been slowly working out how to make my bullet journal look fabulous with minimal input from my own free hand.

Aside from copying other people’s layout ideas how can us non-artistic types make a Pinterest-worthy (or at least not awful looking) bullet journal?

  1. Stencils

Don’t draw by hand! You can get all kinds of stencils – some are just shapes, some are special icons and designs.

I got this metal set from Amazon which looked fabulous – heaps of little icons for marking up my bullets.

But a lot of the holes were smaller than any pen or pencil I possess so it’s just sitting at home in my craft box.


I picked up this blue stencil from Michael’s in Toronto. It’s got much better shapes I can actually use but is quite flimsy. I also had to cut it so it would fit in the back of my journal.

Have a look online and in craft shops for something with a variety of shapes and that’s practical for you.

2. Stickers

Again, anything that helps avoid drawing by hand.

Stickers- cats
My kawaii cat stickers

Look for a set that has a range of themes so you can use them on different kinds of pages. Like these adorable cats I got from eBay.

Stickers- planner

Stickers designed for planners can be really helpful for labelling pages or sections with a bit more flair than a plain black pen.

Just watch out for thick or shiny ones, they might bulk up your book or be difficult to write on.

3. Washi Tape

Washi tape 2The papery texture makes Washi Tape easy to write on (helping avoid bleed-through and ghosting) and it doesn’t bulk out your bullet journal pages.

You can get sets with a range of colours and patterns but I recommend picking out just the particular individual ones you want. A lot of sellers on eBay will let you choose individual rolls for around £1 each while a set from a ‘proper’ shop might be closer to £10-15.

My favourites have a variety of patterns on one roll. So I can cut off one section and not have that pattern repeated for 10 more pages.

4. Tracing

Font 1

A little old-school but it works! Find some awesome fonts online and print them off. Most bullet journals have thin enough pages that you can trace over them. Now you can create fabulous decorative lettering without screwing it up.

Or find some bold image designs online to print or trace from your phone screen.

5. Stick things in

Spanish stamps

Stamps make wonderful decorations. They can be vintage or colourful, on a whole range of themes and they’re small enough to stick into your bullet journal.

Travel tips page
Washi tape postage stamp combo

Since you’re on eBay looking at washi tape take a look at what stamps are on offer.

Magazines have loads of pictures and lettering you could cut out to decorate a dull looking page. Just try to avoid the ransom note look.

If you have access to a nice printer try printing out tiny pictures of your family and friends.


Do you have any other tips to help out your fellow non-artistic bullet journal lovers? Share them in the comments

How to smash the Edinburgh Fringe on your own – Insider tips from a local

It’s the largest arts festival in the world. There are 50,000 performances of well over 3,000 shows across a whole month. Squillions of people visit Edinburgh every August for the Edinburgh Festival, Fringe Festival, Military Tattoo, Book Festival and all the other events.

Learn how you can skillfully navigate this mayhem like a local.

Where is the festival?

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Fringe venues

Every accommodation description will tell you its ‘near the festival’ but what does that mean?

Most events are in the town centre but they’re pretty spread out. With over 500 venues ranging from theatre halls to public bathrooms there’s no one central place. It’s more a series of smaller hubs and individual locations.

Insider tip:

Make sure you know exactly which venue you’re going to. The names can be very similar and the locations not quite where you’d expect.

Assembly Mound is not at Assembly Halls. Pleasance Dome is not on the Pleasance!

Where to stay


Staying in the Old Town is best for the Fringe Festival as it’s near a large proportion of venues. The Grassmarket, Royal Mile and Cowgate are lively areas for bars, restaurants and a good concentration of the Festival venues.

New Town is more upmarket and will be a little quieter but still walking distance as long as you don’t mind a bit of a hill to get into the town centre.

Further afield we have places like Marchmont, Tollcross and Gorgie/Dalry to the south. These are all around 20-30 minutes bus ride from the centre.

Or to the north there’s the famous Leith. Some areas of Leith have a bit of a reputation but the main road into town, Leith Walk, is full of independent shops, multi cultural restaurants, and there’s a lively artistic community.

Graduation unversity students
They’re not using it. Stay in university halls of residence

University halls of residence are hired out over the summer and can be much cheaper than big hotels. They’re clean but basic. Use the University Rooms website to search for a room. Just check the location on the map before booking.

There are camping and caravan sites around the edge of the city too which are cheaper but not as handy.

Use Google Maps to see how far your prospective accommodation is from St Giles Cathedral. That’s on the Royal Mile so a good proxy for the ‘centre’ of the Festival.

Insider tip:

There are no e-tickets, you need to collect your physical tickets instead. The Royal Mile ticket office has reeaally long queues but there are loads of other collection locations.

Since you’ve got the map open check out where the other collection points are.

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Getting around Edinburgh

Walking is easiest but it can get confusing as Edinburgh’s Old Town has roads that run underneath other roads and little wynds that cut between streets. Prepare for some steep hills and steps too.

The two main taxi companies are Edinburgh City Cabs who have a handy app which uses your location if you’re not sure where you are; and Capital Cars which can be cheaper than metered fares.

The bus system is focused on going into and out from the centre of town along main arteries rather than round the houses (which can have its own drawbacks). Go to the Lothian Bus website for maps and timetables.

Single fares are £1.60 no matter how far you go. There are no transfers, you have to pay again if you swap busses. The bus driver doesn’t have change so have the exact change ready.

To make things easier you can get bus tickets on your phone. If you don’t want to use a lot of mobile data, or you’re staying a little longer you can get a prepaid citysmart card from one of the Lothian Bus Travel Shops.

Insider tip:

Download the My Bus Edinburgh app before you go. You can see all the bus routes and stops, set your favourite stops, and it tells you how long there is to wait for any bus at any stop. Lothian Bus also have their own app but I find My Bus is better.

You can always ask the drivers for help… but if you’re the third person in a row to do that the locals will start tutting and rolling their eyes at you.

Where to eat


There are hundreds of superb restaurants in the city to suit any budget and taste. But eating out is a bit different when you’re on your own. If you don’t want a table service dinner or are pressed for time there are still lots of options.

  • Mosque Kitchen: 31-33 Nicholson Square
    The Mosque Kitchen offers cheap, hearty, delicious Indian food in the Old Town. It’s between The Pleasance and University areas which are both major hubs for shows.
    It’s cafeteria style service so go up to the counter and pick up your food then just find an empty seat. It’s much easier for a solo traveller because everyone just slots in where there’s a free seat.
    Note that it closes for a short time on Friday lunchtime for prayers.
  • Waverley Mall: 3 Waverley Bridge
    If it’s raining and you’re near Princes Street pop in to Waverley Mall. It’s right off the station too so very handy for transport. Plus you can do some shopping while you’re there.
    The food court has a range of meals from sushi to pizza, fast food or baked potatoes. It’s open seating so it’s very easy to find a space for one.
  • Marks and Spencer: 54 Princes Street
    It doesn’t look like it but there’s actually an M&S supermarket underneath their Princes Street shop. They have packaged sandwiches and lunch items as well as ingredients for doing your own cooking.
  • Food stalls: Everywhere
    A lot of the Festival venue hubs have food and drink stalls. So George Square, The Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly will all have burgers, noodles, crepes, that kind of quick fix.
    Queues aren’t normally too long either.

Is it safe?

Edinburgh is a pretty safe city and there’s a bigger police presence during the festival to keep things in line.

The biggest issue will be the crowds. Especially around the Royal Mile or the festival hubs where there could be thousands of people at any one time. It’s an inviting place for pick pockets and opportunists.

Keep your belongings secure. Keep your bag close to your body and properly zipped up.

The street performers can be amazing but don’t get so absorbed that you don’t notice someone dipping into your bag.

If you’ll be out late remember some venues don’t normally have so much footfall and the area might be dead at night. Plan your onward travel in advance and take taxi phone numbers with you.

What shows should you see

With so many shows to choose from use the website rather than scouring the 450 page printed brochure to find something to see. You can specify timeslots, locations, genre and key word to drill down into something you’d like.

Reviews are helpful but the official fringe website only allows the person who booked the ticket to review the show online, and some performers don’t allow reviews on there.

Look in the free specially published guides and in newspapers for recommendations, or ask the people you meet while you’re there.

Insider tip:

Lots of places use a chalk board to write up the names of that day’s sold out shows. They’ll show you what’s popular so you can get a ticket for another day.

Scheduling – not just for organisation lovers


You’ll need to be organised if you want to pack in a number of shows in one day. Most are 1 hour long but they could be longer or shorter. They don’t have nice organised half-hourly start times, it’s every 5 minutes.

  1. Start by making a short list of shows you like
  2. Transfer the key information to a spreadsheet or time planner app.
    (I’m old school and do this by hand, writing times down the side of a grid and each show in a different column along the top. Then I shade in the timeslots so I can see the overlaps at a glance)
  3. Pick out which shows would fit together into one day. Leave at least 1 hour between one show finishing and the next one starting.
  4. Transfer your finished schedule to your planner!

Insider tip:

Get the EdFringe app to see what’s on near your current location, what’s at the half price hut, your calendar and maps. It’s really handy if you’re rushing from one place to another and you want to check the map for the exact place.

Top Tips


What’s that? You want some more advice?

  1. Queue up early
    Give it half an hour if you can. It takes some logistics to get everyone into and out of the rooms. Plus seating is not assigned so if you want a good seat you need to get there early.
  2. Keep cool
    Edinburgh isn’t known for its heat but most venues don’t have air conditioning, windows and other such luxuries. Add 50 people and some bright lights into that room and it can get very stuffy.
    Take water and a paper fan with you. Flyers make a good fan, there’s no shortage of those!
  3. Take snacks
    Save money by bringing a packed lunch, or just have a snack bar in your pocket for emergencies. If you’re in a long queue you won’t want to lose your place to hunt for food
  4. Half price hut
    The hut is by the galleries at Princes Street. They sell half price tickets for shows later that day.
  5. Free tickets
    If you’re willing to take a gamble you can sometimes get free tickets from promoters on the street. (I once saw an utterly terrible show set in the inside of Celine Dion’s mind that way.)
    Or if you’d rather choose for yourself there’s hundreds of free shows in the listings. Just be prepared to give a donation at the end. Be a good person.
  6. Prepare for all weather
    Bring a light rain coat instead of an umbrella. Unless you want it to join the umbrella graveyards that build up around every bin on a windy day. Edinburgh can get VERY windy.
    Layer up your clothes so you can adjust as the weather changes every ten minutes.
  7. Escape the crowds and explore
    It’s not all about the shows. Go and see the castle and galleries. Take a walk up Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill. The Royal Botanic Gardens is a beautiful escape from the noise and crowds.
  8. Forgive the locals
    For a few years I had to walk along the Royal Mile to get to and from work every day. After 9 hours in the office, an IT failure and a 3-hour meeting I’m not going to be in the mood to wait for tourists to take pictures.
    Locals have busy lives to lead as well as the festival to contend with. Please forgive us if we’re not as welcoming as we could be sometimes. We’re sorry!



Do you have any other gems to share? Pop them in the comments below…