The Art of Efficiency – 10 Ways to Organise Your Life

Without organisation there is chaos. A sheet of paper becomes a pile of paper. A single rubber band snowballs into a tangled nugget of desk gold. A lone file on your computer’s desktop multiplies into an infinite number of faceless icons, blocking out the pretty wallpaper of your cat. Here are 10 popular ways of getting organised, with additional comments from my productivity-obsessed friend and co-worker, Ken.

Plus! Find out why this subject is, now more than ever, so significant to me personally…at the end of the article…

Written by Jon

1) Be Tidy

The complete antithesis of my own desk

Those who know me and have seen my desk will likely have read that, scoffed, then fallen off their chair laughing and pounding the floor. However, whilst my physical desk at work is a cacophony of Nintendo toys, business cards and metrosexual accouterments such as lip balm and anti-oil blotting paper, my computer desktop is slightly more organised. The point of being tidy is not for the sheer obsessive-compulsive satisfaction; workspace tidyness (whether physical or on the computer) should be an on-going self-adjustment of making important things easily accessible and filing less-important things away.

Ken says: All my desktop clutter is meticulously stored away in alphabetised file folders. So whenever I need say, a pencil, all I have to do is reach into my filing cabinet and search under ‘P’…

2) Monitor Post-it Notes

Pretty colours help you to prioritise and sort your tasks

The low-tech solution that everyone loves to hate. In terms of organisational darwinism, sticking notes all over your computer screen is only a couple of rungs up the evolutionary ladder from frantically scribbling things all over your hand. However, for some perverse reason…it works. Especially for those who sit in front of a computer all day, your screen is a convenient and constantly-accessible area for you to keep important to-dos.

Looks a bit untidy though, doesn’t it? I wonder if that is half the reason this solution is so popular – the visual chaos it creates helps permeate the idea that you are super, incredibly busy and sends waves of admiration and awe across co-workers and friends. The ideological Japanese equivalent of this would be something called a “hachimaki”.

A rainbow of stuff to do…

A Japanese hachimaki that reads “Success” – something a student in the past might have worn whilst studying or taking an exam.
from goodsfromjapan

This is a tradition in Japan that has sadly been replaced by other things (like post-it notes on monitors) but in its heyday the hachimaki was a headband that office workers would wear during times of zen-like concentration and busyness. More than just a physical aid (it is said that the tightness of the headband helped you to concentrate), it was a symbol to co-workers to show your unwavering perseverance during adversity and as a non-verbal message saying “back the hell away before you delegate me more work!”.

Ken says: Very useful. Try different colours for different priorities or contexts, and keep a separate note with a legend handy.. for when you forget what blue means.

3) The Hipster PDA


The Hipster PDA is an “invention” from the kings of web productivity, 43folders. 43folders liken their invention to infinitely more expensive personal digital assistants such as the Palm V and they describe The Hipster PDA as…

“…a fully extensible system for coordinating incoming and outgoing data for any aspect of your life and work. It scales brilliantly, degrades gracefully, supports optional categories and “beaming,” and is configurable to an unlimited number of options.”

…and it takes the form of a bunch of cards fastened together with a clip.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek solution that actually works very well, and has a clever name to boot. It has inspired a mini revolution in the way people organise themselves on the go, and The Hipster PDA now has something of a community surrounding it, with fans developing templates to print out and even creating their own variations on the theme from duct tape.

Ken says: A bunch of cards and a binder clip. Genius!

4) A Notepad

The Moleskine

Moving on to something a little more professional, an attractive, sturdy notepad can be both a life-saving organisational aid and an elegant, visual statement on the kind of person you are. Creative-types have for a long time sworn by the Moleskine variety of notebook (made from real mole) which comes in a variety of different paper styles and weights.

Blank paper is good for writing…

…and sketching

This year I bought my inaugural first Moleskine and I’m very pleased with it. It has replaced my previously employed method of organising on the go (scribbling on hands, scraps of paper, post-it notes attached to my face) in a most satisfying manner. I liken the Moleskine to an analogue version of the Apple Mac; looks good, gets the job done well and fills me with a smug sense of superiority when I see other people with lesser notepads.

Ken says: The Moleskine®. An indispensable companion. But if you have more than one, telling them apart can be problem. So buy only one.

5) A Whiteboard

Google’s very busy whiteboard

Getting (very) slightly more high-tech, the personal or group whiteboard is a useful tool for scribbling down quick thoughts or brainstorming with – an activity that requires constant correcting and re-arranging of thought processes. Most tech or creative companies swear by the whiteboard as a method of encouraging interactive discussions within development or creative teams. Careful of letting trade secrets slip out into the public though

Ken says: Be careful not to draw over the edges. Whiteboard marker is tricky to remove from wallpaper and rubbing only makes it worse…

6) A Physical Inbox

An elegant and simple document tray, from Muji

The ubiquitous inbox – butt of the joke of countless business-oriented newspaper cartoons, showing an inbox full of papers piled miles into the sky – and now near-defunct thanks to our new-fangled paperless offices with their interwebs and electronic mails and whatnot.

However! The physical inbox still has a place in our lives. Whereas our offices tend to be paperless, our homes do not. Sadly I still get most of my bills via snail mail – a physical inbox allows you to separate the bills from the melee of food delivery service spam that no-doubt makes up the other 70% of your post box, put the bills safely into the inbox and attend to them at your convenience in order.

Ken says: The ultimate capture device! Doesn’t have to be fancy. An empty shoe box works fine.

7) Desktop Software

Midnight Inbox

Making a giant leap for mankind, we move onto electronic solutions. There is a vast, spectrum of excellent software out there a mere google-search away, that can help you organise your life. For the mac, some popular solutions are Omni Group’s OmniPlan and newcomer Midnight Inbox (currently in free beta) which adheres strongly to the popular GTD organisational methodology.

Ken says: Quicksilver in combination with kGTD is a great way to save and organise those ideas. Only available for OS X.

8) Online Software

Online solutions to organisation are extremely popular, one reason being that you aren’t tied to a single device / computer. This makes all your organisational goodness available wherever you are as long as you have access to the internet.

37signals has made a name for themselves providing excellent, online solutions to organisation and productivity problems. Other popular examples include a Japanese to-do list app called which also allows you to access your lists via your mobile phone, and relative newcomer and strangely-named Monkey On Your Back which is a web app that allows you to delegate tasks to other people.

Ken says: Online…software…?

9) A Phone That Is Cleverer Than You

Softbank’s new X01HT Smart Phone

Smart phones running powerful operating systems are becoming more and more popular as technology allows them to weigh less than a sack full of broken hammers. In the West, the ever-popular Blackberry is fast-becoming a symbol of mobile business. In Japan, a fresh crop of sexy new smart phones from Softbank and Willcom ensures that smart phone technology is still reaching a fresh audience.

Smart phones have all kinds of useful functionality for organising yourself, providing 24-hour access to your mailbox, compatibility with PIM software, desktop syncing – in addition to all the vanilla features of a regular phone.

Ken says: A fantastic way to stay organised whilst on the move, unless you forget to bring it that is. So when at home, keep it with your shoes and never leave home without it again!

10) Personal Butler

Danger Will Robinson! – The B9 Robot from Lost In Space

Ok, so we aren’t quite there yet. But soon! I can’t go out and buy my very own B9 Robot yet, but research and development is and has been underway to create robots for more domestic, personal-oriented uses. Take for example NEC’s experimental “sommelier” robot, which can taste food items or wine and give you information on them (when researchers put their hand under the sensor, the robot – rather unnervingly – said that human hand tastes like bacon…).

Other exciting developments include robot actors and the creepy-yet-fascinating “Kokoro” fembot (below):

Ken says: I recommend the iRobot Roomba® Vacuuming Robot. Also a great place to put those post-it notes when there’s no longer any space around your monitor.

So Why Is All This Important To You, Jon?

Me doing “The Businessman”…

Well sadly folks, you just read my last PingMag article. I’m leaving IMG SRC and the PingMag team to embark on a new adventure. Ken and I (aha…that’s why he was in the article…) are about to create our own little startup, called jonkenpon and we’ll be busy thinking up and creating simple, useful and fun web tools for everyone to use – I’m really excited about it! We’ll also be launching a blog about the web industry in Asia and other stuff we find interesting, at the same address as above (if you like the sound of that, do leave your email at jonkenpon so we can inform you when the blog launches!).

I’d like to thank everyone at PingMag and IMG SRC for the excellent time I’ve had here. IMG SRC is a phenomenally cool place to work at, and the PingMag team are great fun to be around. I’ve learnt so much at IMG SRC simply from being surrounded and motivated by the best talent in our industry. In the last year we’ve seen PingMag go from strength to strength – and I’m confident it’s only going to get better and better.

A big THANK YOU to to all of PingMag’s readers and I wish PingMag continuing success in the future!

Bye for now,

  • http://none Brandon

    Great article guys!



  • Ephram Zerb

    Really really enjoyed the article. I typically ignore productivity articles for fear that the time I spend reading them could have been used in a more productive fasion elsewhere. If there is one thing I will follow up on from this article, it’ll be buying the Moleskin. Not for the productivity but solely for the smugness. Thanks for providing me with new ways to condescend and best of luck to you in you future endeavors.

  • Ian

    Great article and good luck!

  • Eriksen

    Good luck and have fun!

  • Lime

    Can’t stand the Moleskine personally. Twee, overrated and not modernist enough.

  • Wee Keat

    Very good points! I personally have a cluttered desktop but it’s’ what I called ‘organised chaos’. :)

  • Ben Tong

    Excellent Article!

  • ced

    This article is great for obssessive compulsive people. lol Thanks for helping us organize our work place. Good luck on your plans!

  • mike

    Love the article! so here is a link to one of my favourite ways to stay organised:
    I am such a luddite!

  • Administrator

    Nice one Mike! I had come across pocketmod before but forgot about it until now – I’ll give it a try.

  • lucas

    thanks, mike. :)

  • keanu zhang

    good luck.
    looking forward to your new articles.

  • Peter

    Take a look at it is a brand new online tool that allows you to manage your own tasks but also so send tasks to other people via email and then nag them if they don’t complete them on time.

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  • Badger

    I need to tidy my desk. :(

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  • Noogz

    good article. nothing motivates more than a few pics of the organised life – wooooooo!

    (the 43 folders link above has a space in the name — url won’t function as is.. cheers)

  • http://www, daisy

    try lots of really brilliant and free organising templates to download!

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  • Pingback:| In The Middle of Something Beautiful » Blog Archive » The Art of Efficiency - 10 Ways to Organise Your Life


    Metrosexual? I think not.

    It’s called faggot.

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    Good luck and have a nice way ahead! :)
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    Fantastic Article

  • Jafa

    Be carefull though not to loose your notebook… I prefer a single sheet folded in 4 that I can then leave in a box when done with.

  • Elf Sternberg

    I liked Moleskins but ultimately I prefer the Miquelrius notebooks better– the paper is nicer and the cover is thinner and lighter, making it all around a better buy.

    As for telling them apart, that’s easy. Go buy yourself one of those silver paint artmarkers and label the cover. The date is usually sufficient. Also, save the last three pages for a “table of contents,” number each page as you come to it, and when you have an important page you need to track, write it down in the back. I use bookdarts (hammered copper bookmarks, very thin and light) to track other details: darts on the top indicate pages with unfinished tasks, darts on the side indicate long-term project organization pages. And as an ultimate geek step, along with the page number I draw two small checkboxes in the upper right hand corner. The bottom checkbox indicates that everything on this page has been catalogued, completed, or otherwise dealt with; the top checkbox indicates that all pages prior to the one you’re reading have no unfinished business on them. Makes finding your pending work a breeze.

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