Decision-making: advice from a priest, a Google exec, and Tony Robbins

One thing I really struggle with is making decisions. For years I’ve read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and asked wise people (including a karate black belt and a priest) for advice on how to make good decisions. Lately I decided (! 🙂 ) to synthesize all the pertinent ideas I’ve found into one system.

1. Avoid and minimise

Decision-making is what shapes our lives, but it also takes time and energy. So how about conserving your decision-making mojo for the big ones? Be like Barack Obama, who only wears 2 colours of suit, and if you can avoid a decision, do.

2. Limit the time allowed

Well, if I’m trying to decide whether to do an hour-long gig, it’s totally ridiculous to spend more than an hour on this decision-making process. I could have done the gig while deliberating.! I agree wholeheartedly with former Google exec, David Girouard: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made. So before making a decision, I ask myself…

  • How much time is this decision worth? I agree with David Girouard’s advice: “There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.” And a decision should definitely take less time than the duration of the longest outcome, e.g. in the above case, less than one hour.
  • I also ask myself: what’s the deadline?

3. Make minor decisions in 1 minute or less…

If I have to make a minor decision quickly, I use my friend Father Ciarán’s trick: I imagine myself vividly doing option (a), then option (b), and simply choose what feels best.

4. Make major decisions using OOC/EMR

If it’s a complex decision I use Tony Robbins’ OOC/EMR system, which I find supremely helpful. Here’s an article on Tony’s site where it’s outlined: My summarised, slightly amended version follows…


You’re going to write out all your workings on good ‘ole-fashioned paper. As Tony cleverly observes, if you try to keep it all in your head you’ll just end up looping over the same facts and conclusions. Boy do I identify with that…


Write your desired outcome on top of the page. If there’s a few, write them all down.

Step 3: WHY?

Write the reason(s) you want this / these outcomes. Tony Robbins says knowing the ‘why’ means you’re more likely to execute the ultimate decision. I agree, but I also find knowing the ‘why’ is a good reality check to see if this outcome is really what you want. E.g. Desired outcome: do a triathlon. Why? because I want to improve my swimming. Mental review: well, Úna, you could just go to swimming lessons… or do the swimming section of a triathlon relay team… or … you get the idea. It’s a great tool for clarifying what you really want out of the situation. Once you’ve confirmed your desired outcome is what you really want, and you know why, it’s time to brainstorm your…


Write out each potential course of action for achieving your desired outcome, no matter how nutty.


Write out the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option.


Evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option. I answer the following questions for each pro and con:

Will this fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (y/n)

How likely is it to fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (0-10)

What’s the probability this will occur? (0-100%)

What’s the emotional consequence of this option?

When evaluating I may need a bit more information; if possible, a real-life sample is invaluable. E.g. when deciding ‘When doing artistic research on chords, should I also make a harp tutorial on the nice chords I discover?’ I played around with one chord (5 seconds), and then made a mock tutorial of that process with my phone (37 seconds). Knowing the difference in the duration of the tasks, and my focus while doing the tasks, was invaluable in helping me make the best decision.


Review the ‘cons’ and brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate them. E.g. I was asked to do a last-minute gig when my harp was at the harp-maker’s being restrung. I would be performing on a loaned harp, so it wouldn’t be my usual performance standard, and I was worried an influential guest would form a low opinion of my playing. I rang the event organiser to check if The BigWig would be present, and … was told they wouldn’t be there. Con eliminated! Did the gig to the delight of all concerned!


This, for me, is one of the great gifts of the OOC/EMR. In the words of Tony: “This is your best option – and because you’ve looked at so many other possibilities, you know that to be true. Resolve that, no matter what happens, this option will give you a win.” So the final step is to decide, and then to be confident in your decision. Then, of course, you EXECUTE. He makes the great point that it’s better to make a decision, and subsequently change approach if necessary, than to remain in ‘paralysis by analysis’.

…. So that’s it!! I have finally decided upon The Úna-Guide to Decision-Making! 🙂 Below is a chart I designed to help myself out the next time I use OOC/EMR. Click here to download and use, and I hope it brings you as much clarity and motivation as it did me. Go n-éirí leat with your decision-making, and may your decisions bring growth, and joy!!


Lost your keys?!

Let’s set the scene: one of my fave songs starts in F# minor, flirts with F# mixolydian, and then starts the chorus firmly in F# dorian. I’m currently sifting through 16 songs like this to figure out which to put on the album, plus experimenting with harp accompaniment. My head is MELTED! Fortunately a few years back I made this quick-reference table for a workshop on trad accompaniment. I hope to goodness I get this done ASAP, and here’s hoping the table might help you too some day!


B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭, F♭C flat majorG flat mixD flat dorianA flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭G flat majorD flat mixA flat dorianE flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭D flat majorA flat mixE flat dorianB flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭ A flat majorE flat mixB flat dorianF minor
B♭, E♭, A♭E flat majorB flat mixF dorianC minor
B♭, E♭B flat majorF mixC dorianG minor
BF majorC mixG dorianD minor
NO # OR C majorG mixD dorianA minor
F# G majorD mixA dorianE minor
F# C# D majorA mixE dorianB minor
F# C# G# A majorE mixB dorianF# minor
F# C# G# D#E majorB mixF# dorianC# minor
F# C# G# D# A# B majorF# mixC# dorianG# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E#F# majorC# mixG# dorianD# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E# B#C# majorG# mixD# dorianA# minor

Ferry or Flight?

Great news – just got asked to play Teesside Irish Festival. Wahoo!! Can’t wait, and thank you, Teesside Irish Society, for the invitation!! So now I ask my perennial life question … how on earth will I get there with the harp?

I find flying with the harp slightly stressful – how much of an overweight fee will they charge me this time? (It seems to depend on the person on the desk, rather than the airline.) Will my beloved instrument arrive at the other end?! (Not always!) So I like to minimise air travel if I can. Whereas with other areas of the world, the key question is ‘Which flight is cheapest?!’, when I’m going to the UK or France, there’s a little-known option… SailRail. Ferry companies Irish Ferries and StenaLine have really good ‘foot passenger’ deals which include the railfare from the port to your ultimate destination.

I’ve always wondered about the exact figures of SailRail versus flight, and because I don’t want to clean my house, it suddenly became very urgent that I research this question!! 🙂 So this is the summary:

Duration14 hours, 24 min8 hours, 23 min
C02 emissions25.7kg   55.9kg
Price€96 (Price of buying food in transit on long journey is a potential added cost.)€113.50 using bus for transfer; €208.50 with rental car; €90.50 if host can pick me up
HarpNo extra feeSome airlines charge extra fees at check-in
RelaxingI find trains and ferries very relaxing…. yum, seasaltFor me, planes are not as relaxing as trains and ferries
Last-minute bookingFare is consistently €97, even if travelling at short noticeFares increase dramatically if travelling at short notice

My first thought? The difference in the carbon footprint of SailRail versus flying is significant, but not as big as I thought it would be. It’s 30.2kg – same as driving an average car for a little over an hour. Conclusion: ideally I’ll choose SailRail, but if I can’t due to schedule considerations, I’ll offset the carbon on (massive thanks to Méadhbh O’Leary Fitzpatrick for this idea!) – and/or try to cut a car journey from my week.

Image from

Thought 2: Surprisingly, when I factor in all costs, the price of a flight is more or less the same as SailRail. However, this is only if I book in advance. If I buy the self-same flight with only 2 days’ notice, the fare increases by €87. So my conclusion is: if I have to go to the UK at short notice, SailRail is worth a look; but otherwise price is not a factor in ‘the fearsome fight of ferry versus flight’. (There’s a song in there somewhere.!)

Thought 3 – timing? Well, taking a flight reduces the journey from Galway to Middlesbrough by 6 hours. That’s either a massive or irrelevant difference, depending on the individual. Personally, I find travelling by train and ferry a lovely way to spend a day with someone, and a great way to relax or do admin. However, if I need to be practicing, or some Galwegians need attention, I can’t afford that day of travel. So the decision of SailRail vs flying will depend on my professional schedule and personal life at the time of the trip.

So after all my research, my surprising conclusion is that planes aren’t as bad as I thought for C02 emissions – but in the process, I found out that cars are relatively terrible. Oh dear. Watch this space for the next research question: what’s better for the environment – driving a ’99 Toyota Corolla into the ground or buying a new car??! But in the meantime… bring on the Teesside Irish festival!!

How to survive a harmonic analysis assignment – if you’re not a classical musician

I’m from a traditional music background. For my undergraduate music degree it was required that I do a western art music analysis course – PANIC!!! These are a few things that helped me hack that skill-set, and pass!

  • Go to all the lectures. You’re starting on the back foot, so you can’t afford to miss any.
  • Read the assignment very carefully. Ask the lecturer for a sample answer if they don’t give one.
  • You’ll probably be asked to analyse a piece from the canon of western art music, e.g. a string quartet by Shostakovich, or a Bach chorale. If your lecturer hasn’t recommended a particular recording, go to Youtube / Spotify / the library and find a recording from an authoritative source, that you enjoy listening to. Listen to the presribed music on repeat in the background.
  • Read all of the assigned readings / literature available on the assigned work. (Make note of the title, author and publisher of everything you’ve read for your bibliography.) Highlight any text that seems relevant to your assignment, and keep it all in one Word doc. You can refer to this later if you need to write a commentary / essay.
… If the notes on your score are tiny and low-contrast, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by creating your own score in Finale / Sibelius.
  • If you struggle with sight-reading, you may find it helpful to create your own score. But don’t worry – I don’t propose that you transcribe every individual note into your computer! A lot of the canon of western art music is public domain, and has already been transcribed by enthusiasts. So…
  1. Go to , and search for your assigned work (If you don’t find the piece on , search the internet at large for <title of your piece> and <.xml> or <.mxl> )
  2. When you find a version, spot-check a few chords in the new version against the original score, to ensure it’s accurate (I haven’t come across an inaccurate transcription yet)
  3. On MuseScore, click ‘Download’, select ‘MusicXML’, download the .xml file
  4. Open your music notation software, and import the MusicXML file (In Finale: go to File menu, click ‘Import’, click ‘MusicXML…’, select the relevant file in your downloads folder, click ‘open’)

… and ta-DA … you should now have your own score in front of you, which you can edit to help you learn!

  • You’ll need to look up bars, and then reference bars, as quickly and clearly as possible. I suggest that before you start your assignment, you put a measure number on every single bar. If you’re old-skool then handwrite it on your printed score. If you’re a techie, use your music notation software to add it (In Finale 25, click to ‘Measure’, select all, click on ‘Measure’ menu, then click ‘Show Measure Numbers’.)
  • If you’re analysing a piece with viola clef and reading this slows you down… how about using tech to change the viola staff to the bass clef? (In Finale 25, select the ‘Clef’ tool, double-click bar 1 of the viola staff, the ‘change clef’ window will pop up, select bass clef, then click ‘OK’)
  • More than likely, the learning objective of your assignment is the skill of chord diagnosis, and the concepts of harmonic analysis. Because I wasn’t a fast sight-reader during my undergrad, diagnosing each chord was painfully slow, and I had less time to work on understanding broader harmonic concepts. So I encourage students to work at their music literacy, but seperately to their analysis assignments. How about putting your piece into AlphaNotes font, which has the letter name of the note in its notehead? (In Finale, select all, then click on the Plugins menu, select ‘Note, Beam and Rest Editing’ and select ‘AlphaNotes’). Your chord diagnosis will now be exponentially faster.
Úna’s sneaky hacks: notes in AlphaNotes font, and viola staff in bass clef
(sssh, don’t tell anyone 🙂 )
  • There are loads of different schools of musical analysis; Schenkerian, etc. . However, they nearly all require analysing chords, cadences and tonality.
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, but are uncertain about your results, try checking your diagnosis against the free online tool, the Chord Identifier. Input up to 6 notes, and this amazing gadget gives you a list of what chords these notes could comprise. In my experience the Chord Identifier gives many results, but is not exhaustive; I use it as a brainstorming tool, rather than an ultimate authority.
Chord Identifier inputting system
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, and are unsure what it is, then I say – totally ignore the notes. Get the recording, close your eyes and LISTEN. At the relevant point, ask yourself… what note is most prominent? What feels like ‘doh’? Does it sound major / minor / diminished / augmented? Where does it want to go? These questions may bring you some clarity.
  • This is a decent index of various cadences, with audio examples. Again, if uncertain about the nature of a cadence, you could close your eyes while listening and asking yourself a few questions: How does it feel? What feels like home? Where does the melody want to go?
  • Is the melody modulating or not? Answer: if a melody has a chromatic note, THEN a cadence (even an unfinished cadence!), the melody has modulated. But … if a melody has a chromatic note, and no cadence following, it’s an inflection.

Agus sin é!! I hope these tips save you some grief, and help you actually enjoy the beautiful music of Bach / Shostakovich / Beethoven!


How to eat healthily for €32 a week

In my ideal world, I’d buy local and organic, and have tons of time to prepare delicious fresh meals for myself every day… or a personal chef. I (or my friendly chef) would consult with a dietician, and a personal trainer, in order to make the best choices for my health and the planet’s well-being. But at the moment… 

I love cooking, but my priorities are elsewhere (ALBUMMMM) so I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking and washing dishes right now. I’m also a musician, so, ahem, on a budget, plus have a really irregular schedule where I’ll be in my house for weeks at a time, but then gone for a few days. (So if I buy fresh food it usually goes off 🙁 ) Last May I did start listening to my conscience about climate change and animal welfare, so decided to go veggie as much as possible. But that has even further complexified the daily challenge of feeding myself. 

So what’s a self-employed muso to do? 


So now, every 10 days or so, I go to my local supermarket (Aldi) and buy the ingredients for all the recipes… 

I spend a day batch-cooking, and cook 32-56 meals…  

… and then I divide the food into individual portions and put these in the freezer. Every night I take out 2 or 3 portions to defrost, and BOOM. Next day I wake up, and restaurant Úna is open for business!

My motivation for this wacky idea was my long-term health, plus efficiency, but I’m now ADDICTED to batch-cooking. I love preparing lots of food at one time – it feels nourishing as well as hyper-efficient. I love having food available without even thinking about it. I love, but LOVE, not having to wash dishes twice a day. (I actually quite enjoy washing dishes, but not absolutely everyday!). I love the fact that I get the right amount of veggies and protein into me at every meal without having to do the mental work of macronutrient calculations. I love the lack of stress around food waste – I don’t have to worry about food going off in my fridge. The fact that I batch-cook has inspired me to start buying frozen vegetables (FYI: just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts) so I’m using a wider range of ingredients, ergo my palate is getting more variety these days than before. And guess what? An unexpected side-effect of my batch-cook-and-freezing is that it’s *shockingly* cheaper. 

My latest food-shopping bill (completed while supposed to be writing a grant – oops), which provided 32 meals, came to €48.10.

Now, this bill changes a little each month (I buy fresh/frozen veg according to availability) but it’s generally around this number. €48.10 divided by the 32 meals it made, gives an average cost per meal of… bodhrán-roll, please…

€1.50 per meal. That means my total cost for eating 3 nutritionally-balanced meals a day for a week is €31.50. Pretty cool, huh??!

So if you’re interested in organizing your food in a cheaper, and/or faster way,

here’s my shopping list,

here are my recipes, and

here are my tips!!

Go n-éirí leat – may they bring you towards health, music, and yumminess!


Úna’s Batch-Cooking Tips

  • I buy all the ingredients on my batch-cooking shopping list, except for tamari and occasionally tofu, in Aldi . It just happens to be the closest budget supermarket. Based on a quick gawk, Lidl is probably just as good.
  • Ask at the supermarket what days and times they get their deliveries of veg, plus what time they usually get the veg on display, and schedule your food-shopping accordingly. I find frozen spinach sells out really quick in Aldi… us Galwegians are more health-conscious than we give ourselves credit for 🙂
  • I found out the hard way that bags of frozen vegetables leak water. My kitchen is quite small, and I couldn’t figure out a place to put the voluminous bags of frozen vegetables until it was time to cook them. My (kinda wacky) solution is … I put them in my shower!! It’s a bit mad, but it means I don’t have puddles of water in my apartment – always nice. ! 😉
  • Cooking devices with timers are crucial. Confession: I choose to steam, grill and microwave food, not for reasons of health or taste, but … because my steamer, grill and microwave have timers. I fill them up, then go off and do nerdy musical things!
  • How many big mixing bowls do you have? That, plus the size of your cooking devices, will dictate how many recipes you make at once. I have 2 big mixing bowls, so I make 2 recipes at once.
  • You’ll have to experiment to find out to how big a batch you can comfortably cook with the space, devices and cookware available to you. Based on the size of my frying pan, steamer, and 2 mixing bowls, I find it’s best if I stick to cooking batches of 8 portions at a time. (I’ve tried 16 – it got a bit messy. !)
  • What’s your cooking plan? Well, the fact that all the ingredients of a meal don’t have to arrive on a table at the same time means you don’t really need one! For time-efficiency, I try to have all devices in the kitchen working simultaneously – e.g. have tofu marinading, vegetables steaming, potatoes microwaving, rice simmering, fresh veg grilling, and something frying all at once. Once an ingredient is ready, I put it in a big mixing bowl dedicated to that recipe. When all ingredients are ready and in the bowl, I mix it all together.
  • I originally tried dividing portions by weight – I found that very time-consuming. Now I mix / put the whole mixture into a rectangular-shaped receptacle, flatten it a bit, then divide the rectangle roughly into the appropriate amount of portions with a sharp knife. I then ladle each portion into a …
  • resealable freezer bag, which is more space-efficient than a freezer container. After use, I wash each bag and re-use.
  • In case I want to feed a few people at the same time, I put 8 portions in one big freezer container.
  • Sounds obvious, but: I let all the food cool to room temperature before I put it in the freezer. That way I minimise my valiant little freezer’s energy use.
  • When taking out a meal portion to defrost, leave it in the sink / on your draining board so it doesn’t leak all over the kitchen.

… So that’s it! Let me know via Facebook or Insta how you get on!!

go n-éirí leat,


Veggie meals with 20g protein!!

Last year, my guilt about climate change and niggles about animal welfare finally got too loud to ignore. So I resolved to turn veggie as much as I could.

At first, I did the obvious thing: I extracted the meat from my meals, and increased my starch and vegetables to the same volume of the missing meat. However, starches and veggies are not as protein-dense as meat. Consequently, I was not meeting my  RDA of protein, and I was not a happy camper: I was consistently grumpy and hungry. 

Then I hit gold… a little bird (who happens to be a professional dietician) told me of a magical index which listed the macronutrient composition of all foods available in the UK. And – this fact makes me so happy to live in the 21st century – this incredible resource is publicly available!!

The amazing index is the “McCance and Widdowson’s composition of foods integrated dataset” . It’s available in both .pdf and Excel format here.

Me being me (i.e. a total nerd) I downloaded the magical Excel file, and calculated veggie food combinations that would give me 20g protein per meal.

At the moment I don’t have a lot of time for cooking. So I’d describe my creations as ‘how to quickly throw quantities of food together’, rather than ‘haute cuisine recipes’. But, in case you, too, are a busy bee who wants to lessen their ecological footprint, I share my fave food combos below.

Or … why not download the McCance and Widdowson dataset yourself, and design your own protein-rich veggie food combos? And then … share them with me? 😉

Scrambled Egg, Mature Cheddar, Courgette, Kale

Feta Cheese, Cauliflower, Green Beans

Smoked Salmon, Squash, Peppers, Potato

Marinated Tofu, Spinach, Broccoli

Update 26/01/2019: to make your life easier, I’ve now added a shopping list for those recipes, plus some batch-cooking tips.

Also, in future I’d love to try making a second draft of these food combos which uses the amount of food in a single packet (e.g. broccoli comes in packets of 907g. So it would be really handy if my tofu recipe used exactly 907g of broccoli, rather than its current 880g.!) Less measuring = fasterrrr!

And I’d also love to try pairing foods which are in season at the same time. So watch this space…. !

Complete and utter disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user’s own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.

Úna’s Optimal Grant-Writing Timeline


Last night I found myself awake at 4am, cooking 56 meals, for no other reason than that I was avoiding writing a grant. Today I nearly had heart failure trying to get my grant finished, and may have set a Guinness world record for ‘The Latest Online Grant Application Ever Successfully Submitted’. I have finally decided that I would like to try a gentler system, and have come up with this aspirational grant-writing timeline for future endeavours. (And with that, I’m off to bed after eating a lovely pre-prepared dinner … cooking-as-procrastination has some upsides, at least 😉 )

Cautionary note: Prepare yourselves for a foreign concept. This timeline aims to submit the day before the advertised submission deadline. WOAH!!

 12 days before submission: Register for online system if necessary (takes 5 working days for Irish Arts Council). Invite referees to send letters; ask proofreaders if they’ll look at draft 1 of your doc in a week’s time.

11 days before submission: Analyse grant guidelines; get more info on objectives of the award by ringing awarding body (e.g Arts Council / hosting venue); brainstorm possible project activities.

10 days before submission: Choose project activity. Invite collaborators & ask for letter of support, costs & fees, CV, bio.

9 days before submission: Do draft schedule for project. Assemble all costings for project. Do draft 1 of budget

8 days before submission: Write CV

7 days before submission: Write ‘Statement of Artistic Practice’

6 days before submission: Assemble samples of creative work

5 days before submission: Do draft 2 of budget (… this time in Excel)

4 days before submission: Download and fill in first half of Application Form (for Irish AC, as far as ‘Details of proposal’)

3 days before submission: Finish Application Form, proofread, send for proofreading by others

2 days before submission: Assemble all letters of support, collaborators’ CVs and bios, references, any additional docs.

Day before submission: get proofreaders’ feedback and make final edits to Application Form

Day of submission: upload all files; double-check all files are uploaded; hit ‘submit’.

Day of submission deadline: relaaax! Maybe do some cooking!! 🙂

Grant-Writing Tips

Aaaah, grant-writing… possibly the bane of my life. I will do ANYTHING to avoid it. But last night, as I was up at 4am batch-cooking 56 meals, I finally thought to myself ‘Úna, there has got to be a better way.’ And with that in mind, I have put together an aspirational schedule, and these tips for myself, for the next time I’m applying for a grant-a-roo.

Top tip: it’s so basic, but hit ‘save’ frequently. Including while working online.

–  With every significant change in your document, click ‘Save As’ and amend the filename with a number, e.g. BursaryDraft1.doc ,  BursaryDraft2.doc, BursaryDraft3.doc . Now if for some reason your document gets corrupted, all is not lost. 

– Timeline? I’ve learnt the hard way that I can’t organise mandatory documentation for a grant without an absolute minimum of 3 days’ notice. I need to start assembling this material a minimum of 3 days before the submission deadline, and ideally 12 days. (I can pull allnighters, but I can’t make other people answer my emails!)

– If it’s an online application system…  put all your supporting documents in one location, clearly labeled. This will save you hours in the eventual uploading process. At the very beginning of writing your grant:

  1. Create a folder on your computer. Call it ‘Bursary X’.
  2. Create a subfolder. Call it ‘Supporting Materials’.
  3. Save every document you intend to upload to ‘Supporting Materials’.

– When contacting each referee and asking them for a letter of reference, tell them what grant you’re applying for, and what your focus is, but actually ask them to leave the title of the grant OUT of the application. That way you can recycle this letter for future use (and avoid bugging them again – a win-win!)

– Before you start, think ‘who do I know who could proofread my application?’ Aim for 2 people to proofread the first draft of your application form. Criteria for these people, in order of preference:

  1. They won won the grant you are applying for in the past
  2. They won a different grant, awarded by the same body, but the grants are in the same domain (e.g. for me, music)
  3. They won a different grant in a different domain (e..g. for me, literature, theatre)
  4. They are experienced grant writers
  5. They are very good writers

(You may also want to think of 2 people to help you choose your best work for the supporting materials. These people don’t have to be academic, but must have expertise in your domain. For example, I asked 2 friends of mine who are excellent music critics, but not very ‘wordy’, to help me select the best of my audio recordings for inclusion in a grant I applied for last summer.)

Contact the people you’d like to proofread your application / listen to your material, tell them you’d like to send them your application in 5/6 days for submission in 7 days, and ask them if they’ll proofread it for you. People appreciate a heads-up. And some chocolate after 🙂

– I find that collecting quotes, letters of support and CVs from potential collaborators, is one of the most time-consuming tasks… perhaps because (a) it’s high stakes (it’s a mandatory requirement of an Irish AC application, so if you don’t include them in your application it won’t get assessed) and (b) it’s a tedious task so most normal humans put it off. Consider giving your invited collaborators a draft letter of support to edit themselves, just to get them started.

– Úna’s grant uploading checklist:

  1. Application form
  2. Examples of work
  3. CV
  4. Letters of support
  5. Collaborators’ CVs
  6. Collaborators’ bios
  7. Letters of in-kind support
  8. Letters of reference (a doc with bios of referees may be necessary)
  9. Any additional docs, like an additional budget / schedule

– A few days after the whole shebang is submitted, I recommend making a list of all your referees, collaborators, proofreaders, anyone who helped you, and send them thank-you cards / emails. They took time out of their busy lives for you!!

… are you psychologically prepared?? If so, take a look at …


*Huge thank you to sound engineer and music-maker Shay Leon for this excellent suggestion!

Úna’s Travel Tips

For years, I would race out of the house to the airport, wearing damp jeans – because I had left it so late to pack I had to wear clothes I had grabbed out of the washing machine, still wet!!! After a decade of travelling, I’ve finally figured out a few things that make the process more efficient. Hope these help you…



I always travel with two cards from two different ATM networks, e.g. a Visa AND a Mastercard, or a Link AND a Cirrus. Either I have 2 cards from 2 different ATM networks, or I have a card from one ATM network, and my travel buddy has a card from another ATM network. On a trip with a pal years ago, my friend’s card didn’t work, and if we hadn’t had cards from two different ATM networks we would have had a serious problemo.

6 weeks before departure:

  • Last year when planning a long-haul trip, I suddenly realized I might have to get vaccines. 3 weeks before my departure, I went to the doctor, to find the lead-in time for all my jabs was … 5 weeks. I was able to get most of them, but had to travel without one of the recommended jabs. I do NOT recommend this. In future, I will give myself at least a 6-week lead-in time for vaccination. Please learn from my mistake, and check your vaccination requirements at least 6 weeks before departure!!

7 working days before departure:

  • We all have a secret fear. Mine is I arriving in a country and my ATM card not working, or it taking me a few days to find an ATM where my card works. Therefore, particularly if I’m going far away, I think it’s a good idea to bring a bit of local currency with me. My local bank doesn’t carry currency from any developing country, so I have to order currency at least 5 working days before I depart.
  • It’s a good idea to confirm the dress code for the gig a week before departure in case I need to get a particular garment.

3 days before departure:

  • The obvious: laundry!
  • …and I try to use up as much of my perishable food as possible. This few days is usually marked by unusual food combinations… Brussels sprouts and sweetcorn, anyone?!

1 working day before departure:

  • It’s old-skool, but some airlines require a printout of the online check-in. So the last day before travel, I check that I have ink in my printer, and if not, I buy some. If I’m really organized, I go to McCambridge’s in Shop St., and buy Barry’s Tea and some gorgeous hard Irish cheese as a gift for my hosts. (Ask McCambridge’s to vacuum-pack the cheese and it travels beautifully). If I’m under pressure for time, I buy Barry’s Tea or a hard Irish cheese at the airport.
  • I was in Asia in 2017; I didn’t tell the bank about my trip, and upon me using my card in an ATM so far away, the bank froze my card as an anti-fraud measure. It was SUPREMELY stressful being in a foreign country with no access to cash. So I recommend ringing your bank and telling them you’ll be going abroad, particularly if it’s to a different continent.
  • If I’m anxious about theft, I make a photocopy of my passport, medical insurance docs, credit cards and put that page in a different location to my wallet.
  • Buy any items I’m short of, e.g. protein bars ( …any excuse!  ) .


A science in itself, here are my thoughts on How, and What, to Pack for a Trip , and The Perfect Travel Outfit .


Before leaving, I aspire to …

  • Empty my kitchen bins
  • Put all perishable food from my fridge into the freezer
  • Turn of all sockets EXCEPT for freezer
  • Set up an autoresponder on my emails
  • Put a msg on my voicemail

This prevents me arriving home to an exceedingly bad smell. !


I’ve made a habit of putting my plug converter and device rechargers in my handbag, not main luggage, so I can recharge my devices as necessary, even if my luggage is checked. (This is especially necessary now that some airlines have a policy of checking carry-on luggage at the gate.) This was a particularly good idea that one time I was landing in Beirut and had no idea who was picking me up…!


There are 3 bus companies that service the route between Galway city and Dublin airport (in no particular order: Bus Éireann, Citylink, Gobus) When I’m bussing to/from Galway to Dublin airport for a flight, I deliberately buy only a single ticket. That means that when I fly back and arrive in Dublin airport, exhausted and needing to get home ASAP, I can hop on the next bus departing, rather than waiting for a bus run by the company I made the outbound journey on. It’s totally worth the extra €10 to get home to your bed when jetlagged and exhausted.


I consciously wear light, preferably slip-on, shoes to airport so I get through security asap. I once wore punk boots to the airport… what a TERRIBLE idea. Never again.

I deliberately don’t wear hair accessories going through airports. As they’re frequently made of metal, I have to take them off and put them in a tray going through security, and it’s one more thing to worry about plus I left a particularly nice flower in a security tray in Philly last year. Philly, you deflowered me. !


On most flights, I…

  • stretch my legs while sitting in my seat
  • get up and walk to the toilet / around the cabin at least once

Just once in my life I neglected to do this, and my legs swelled up – SO SCARY! If your legs swell up, it’s probably not serious, this is what I did and the swelling went down in a few hours.

Super sports therapist, Adrian Cradock, gave me a great tip to avoid / help back pain: bring a tennis ball, place it between your back and the seat, and rub the ball into your back as you travel. Also, to avoid DVT you can place the tennis ball under your thighs when sitting. To save space, I use my hand-therapy ball, the Handmaster, instead of a tennis ball.


  • Buy a J-pillow… A travel pillow recommended by Alexander Technique teacher (and excellent musician) Teresa Turner, it’s one of the best things I ever bought. Latch it to your handbag and never go on a long journey without it.
  • I try to sleep as much as possible on flights. I generally sleep better with a bit of shade / darkness on my eyes. For years I travelled with a funkily-designed eyeshade, feeling very hip, until it was time to actually wear it, when the whole illusion of being ‘cool’ crumbled… the eyeshade would end up on my nose, in my mouth, on my forehead, EVERYWHERE but actually on my eyes. These days I bring a light raincoat with a hood, and pull the hood over my face to block out light when trying to sleep.
  • When in the air, I try to drink more than my normal amount of water. I find that unless I do this, I wake up from dehydration. Yeuch.


I try to eat some natural yoghurt when I’m abroad; it lines my gut with local bacteria that help me digest local food.

So that’s it… Úna’s Últimate travelling system, conveniently condensed into a one-page checklist, which you can download here.

Hopefully these tips will help you to be healthy, relaxed, comfortable, time-efficient and rested during your travels… and at the very least, ensure that you don’t return to a smelly house! 🙂 In Irish, we say ‘Go n-éirí an bóthar leat… ‘ May the road rise to meet you. GOOD LUCK on your journey. Let me know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any tips for me!!

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat,