Offering a unique glimpse into his productivity methods, Juho shares how he uses OmniFocus as a tool for idea incubation, project management, and memory enhancement, demonstrating how it seamlessly integrates with his broader workflow.
Whether you're a developer, an aspiring writer, or simply someone looking to improve productivity, this episode is packed with valuable insights and advice from a seasoned expert.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yeah, thanks for the invite. I think it's going to be interesting episode. Yeah, so let's discuss.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, first up, Juho, would you tell us a little bit more about what you find yourself doing these days, how people might know you, you're from Finland. Talk to us more about everything that's going on.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yeah, so I think it's mainly three things I do. So the first thing, I'm entrepreneur. I started my business 2016. I think I will tell a little bit more about this because it's related to the topic, OmniFocus. The second part is that I'm a conference organizer, so I run React Finland in the past and now we started new conference called Future Frontend. So the first edition took place one week ago, and I think it was a great success. So now we're looking to scale next year. The third thing is that I'm a, let's say doctoral researcher. So I'm doing my PhD at Aalto University. In the past, I finished my masters as in 2011 or so. Then I had this very crazy opportunity to go for PhD. I had exactly the right topic and everything went together. So now I'm doing my PhD. So it's mainly these three things and it's not always easy, but I think it's very interesting, let's say like that.
Andrew J. Mason: So just a few things, you have your hand in these days.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Just a couple of things. Two years back I moved to countryside in Finland, so I was living at the center of Vienna. So I went from this very big city into a tiny Village. So it was a big life change as well.
Andrew J. Mason: And you mentioned PhD, I don't want to let that get by. Do you mind me asking what your PhD is in?
Juho Vepsäläinen: So I will focus on hybrid websites. I start from static, like you have static site generators on these technologies. We understand the benefits of these technologies but we cannot always apply them. I'm looking to expand usefulness, a static. As it happens after I started my PhD, many technologies in this space, they showed up so Astro, and Quick, and many others that are finding better ways to develop for the web. So it feels like I was in the right place at the right time. It's one of those things.
Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome. And back to everything you do, you also publish books, right?
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yes. So I wrote a couple of books for other developers and in a way it's a longer story, but I think we have a bit of time, so I can tell it. In the past, I found a blog post by Christian Alfoni about Webpack. It was a tool I didn't understand at that point, but then when I saw that blog post, I understood that this tool might change the world in a way, and then it did actually. But then I was in a phase in my life that I had to decide if I want to get a job or I want to do something on my own or you're in a crossing point. And then I started pitching this book idea to a publisher that I want to write a book about Webpack. And they were like, "We don't want to do it." But then you're in a position that you know want to do it. Anyway, so then I started writing, I went through self-publishing approach. So I pushed the first version of the book to service called Leanpub. Leanpub is a place where indie writers like me can publish very, very easily. So you write in markdown, they will compile it to PDF, EPUB mobile. What happened next? Well, not much happened next because maybe it wasn't that good book, but then I kept pushing and moving. I made a website around the content. I even gave the content for free for marketing because I figured because nobody knows me, it's better for me to gain visibility in the community by providing some free service. And then over longer term it worked out, so people found my content, and even if they found a book for free or the content for free, they ended up buying because it provided some value for them. But that's out of the little bit longer story. Eventually I pushed to KDP, Amazon, they have these publishing services. It's very easy to get your book to a global distribution. I would say it was good thing for me to go the self-publishing way. If you think about lessons in publishing, I think the key lesson for me was that when you do it seriously, you have to do it in intervals. So maybe publish new content to your readers like every one week or every two weeks so that they get constant value, especially when you're developing the book and the content, you can do it in a very agile way. You can work with the audience. And especially in the beginning when you don't know so much about writing, you have to gain the experience, so it's helping with that as well. And I was lucky enough to get a good editor on board very early. So there was this guy from Spain that had much more experience about technical writing than I did. So we went through the content, the books with him and the book content, and then he was able to provide the instructional, how to structure it, how to write it, and eventually I found my own writing style. So that was a key thing for me. And of course because I'm not a native English speaker, then it took maybe some effort to get better at writing because you're writing in a language that's not your own in a way. So that was bonus challenge.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, speaking of bonus challenge here, here is a bonus points challenge. I'd love to know if you have any recollection or memory of how you came across the Omni Group or OmniFocus, any first memories of that at all anywhere, just anything that comes to mind.
Juho Vepsäläinen: So I looked it up, it was, let's say April 2015. I bought the app 2015 and it was like 70 euros or 100 euros. I really had to think about it. Do I want to spend 100 euros on something? But then you can say that it was maybe the best investment of my life because one year later I set up my own company. So I was working through cooperative before that, but then they take 10% out of everything and it's not yours. So then I was in a position that now I have to set up a company. So I could say that OmniFocus, it changed my life. You can say that.
Andrew J. Mason: Wow.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yep.
Andrew J. Mason: What a compliment. Very grateful for that. Thank you.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yeah, it was like the best investment ever for me. But, I think, likely I could have achieved the same without the app, but I mean I think it gave me the discipline I needed to grow my business.
Andrew J. Mason: And talk to us about what you used the app for in your business, was it just your business? Was it every area of your life, just the professional part of your life? How did that look for you?
Juho Vepsäläinen: So it's a little bit mixed. I mean, the background is that I think in the summer before I bought it, I was reading this Getting Things Done book. It was somehow very impressive for me because then I understood a couple of principles. Then it was sitting here somewhere in my mind and then I started using OmniFocus as my system. The most important thing for me was to use it as as a place where I can push my ideas, and if something comes to my mind, I push it to the system because otherwise I will simply forget. So it has a couple of purposes for me. One is capturing, so what I do, I have these projects, I push ideas to projects, and then one day when I have time or it feels like the right time, I look at the list and then I start working on the list. So that's how I make book revisions because I have a couple of books, when it feels like the right time to do a new edition, I look at my list, start going through the items, I have a new edition together, so it's saving time for research. So that's the professional aspect. And then there's personal aspect because now I own house, you have to do certain things at certain times. So I can schedule, I put a schedule task like clean the ventilation or whatever. It's helping me to remember to do the things that I have to do because otherwise I might forget. It's just for recurring tasks, for runtime tasks, and of course for business, PhD, all that because I do a lot of things and I have to get these things done. So I think it will be impossible for me to get things done without the system.
Andrew J. Mason: That's really cool. What you were talking about this place of idea incubation where... Yeah, I've heard so many people talk about, "Well, I can't be organized because I want to be creative when the inspiration strikes me." And yet being able to capture those inspiring ideas in a way that when you sit down to write, you have this bucket of 10, 50 night things that were good ideas, at least at the time that you had them. That's really wise.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yep. Exactly. Yeah.
Andrew J. Mason: What advice would you have for somebody who is maybe just getting started, either curating the knowledge in their head or needing a task manager because their responsibility has grown more than what they can keep in their head. How would you advise somebody to move forward in that way?
Juho Vepsäläinen: I think the first step is to find a system. I mean, you don't have to pay money for it, just find a system that can be a to-do list, can be a Trello or something similar, but the place where you can push your ideas and then organize, I think that's sort of minimal. And then over time you might see some value in it. If you can get value out of it, then you start using it and then you start doing more of it and to get more value. So it is a snowball kind of thing to get started with a simple system and maybe get a bigger system later, or if you're a software developer maybe build your own thing. I mean, that's the point. I'm a software developer, so I think in systems, so it was natural for me to get a structured approach.
Andrew J. Mason: Fun fact, just every assessment I've ever taken that has to do with sequential thinking, step-by-step thinking versus systemic. I always show up as sequential, and I've always admired systems thinking, people that can think about how seemingly independent stuff are related to each other as a part of the whole. So I really admire that way of thinking.
Juho Vepsäläinen: I mean, I want to mention one thing. It makes it very easy for me to work. I wake up at the morning, I mean now I'm in this, let's say inbox mode, so I have a lot of... too many items in my inbox, so I didn't categorize these items, but these are sort of the items I have to get done short term. But I would love to get rid of this list all together one day so I can work from the projects, but it's just giving my days and week some structure because I always know what's the next import task to be done. Then this systematic thinking, it helps me with deadlines because I have to push some papers to certain way. If I want to publish, I have to be on time. In addition to having tasks and understand what has to be done and when. So it's like over time thinking. Then that's why I use Google Calendar as well. So I push my deadlines to Google Calendar, but it's actually syncing with OmniFocus, so I can see the deadlines here as well, which is super handy.
Andrew J. Mason: You just did mention Google Calendar. That's a great transition. Is there any software that works in tandem with OmniFocus for you? So zooming out that either hooks into it as input or gets sent out of it as part of the output process, where does OmniFocus fit in the overall workflow for you?
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yeah, so it's a little separate, but I use Apple Notes because Apple Note is more freeform. I'm planning the conference for next year, so what I did, I started one document on my Apple Note, I wrote down the days, so I have the teams and then the initial speakers, and I was able to refine this into a concrete plan today. Apple Note is super handy for something freeform and I can draw in it. I have iPad where I can draw, can make this shopping list or whatever. So OmniFocus cannot do everything for me, but it's just one of the tools I use and there's some value in using a variety of tools that make most sense for you. But I mean, I like Apple Notes because it's freeform, easy to use, it's not really for tasks, but for something little bit more, let's say vague or obscure, yes, something to draw, just push it to the system.
Andrew J. Mason: Okay. And then coming out of OmniFocus, I guess it depends on what work mode you're in, whether it's writing, or coding, or anything like that.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yes, exactly. And for writing my papers, I use a service called Overleaf. It's collaborative writing, and for software things I use of course GitHub. So you have GitHub tasks and this issue trackers and whatever.
Andrew J. Mason: Okay. Fairly open-ended question here, but what makes you passionate about being as productive as possible? You mentioned coming across this book, getting things done, and something activates on you saying, "Yes, I want to be and do as much as I possibly can in order to make the most I can. What is the source of that for you?
Juho Vepsäläinen: I mean, it's a little bit difficult question, but I think for me, I have to understand I'm already a little bit on the older side. So for me, life is not all about work, but it's about getting things done that you like, it's like doing the work that has meaning, think meaningful work that's giving you the will to go on. You have to do something that makes sense. I think I will not be very happy in some position where what I do doesn't feel to make a difference, but it's like this conference work, writing, it feels like it's making a difference or impact. So I think if I have to think about what I do, where I get the inspiration from, it's from things that have some kind of impact on the environment and other people.
Andrew J. Mason: Talk to me about automation. Is there any automation in your OmniFocus system? I know you mentioned repeating tasks. I consider that a form of automation, but beyond that, is there anything else that you do that you say, "Hey, this helps me kind of keep things rolling in an automated way, whether it's on the automation or something different than that"?
Juho Vepsäläinen: I don't rely on automation so much. I think these timers, not timers, but not notifications that you have to do something like every month or with two weeks or every year. This kind of reminders are highly useful for what I do. I think these days some people they use this GPT or artificial intelligence and all that. I'm not so much into that yet, but I think that will be the direction to investigate because it's clearly making some difference, but I don't have so many automations going on. I think I have more home automation than software automation. So everything in my home was automated. So I move in the house and the lights turn on and off and these kinds of things, but not in terms of software.
Andrew J. Mason: Is there anything that you've experienced in your career journey so far that you would advise somebody against doing themselves? So maybe not a failure, but if you're going to go ahead and try this out, I would skip it. Don't do that.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Yeah, this interesting one because when you're young, it's a good time to gain experience, and I think some of the experience, you cannot really have to go through these things. I can give you advice, but you might not take the advice. I think one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received when I was like 20, it was that before you're 30, you still try different types of jobs, like different types of carriers, and then you find your preference, you find what you like, you like what you prefer, what you don't because once you understand yourself enough, then it's easier to go in the direction that you prefer. So you don't end up like drifting, but you can be determined about something. So I think that will be my advice that you have to find the thing that's really for you.
Andrew J. Mason: Juho, if people are interested in connecting with you or any of the things that you're up to because you're up to a lot of things, how can they do that?
Juho Vepsäläinen: I mean, most likely the easiest way to connect is to go to my website survivejs.com because you will find other relevant contacts from that place. I mean, it's most likely easiest. I don't on Twitter and LinkedIn or whatever, but I think that's a good way to do it.
Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today, Juho.
Juho Vepsäläinen: Thanks.
Andrew J. Mason: Hey, and thank all of you for listening today too. You can find us on Mastodon at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out everything that's happening with the Omni Group at omnigroup.com/blog.