In today's episode of The Omni Show, Kourosh Dini returns to share his latest OmniFocus insights. He emphasizes the importance of guided play for work, and discusses how to shift from a force-based approach to a visit-based approach.
Kourosh also provides advice for individuals dealing with wandering minds or transitioning to new responsibilities, focusing on the need for daily visits to task management systems and optimizing them for better workflow.
Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:
Andrew J. Mason: You are listening to The Omni Show where we connect with the amazing community surrounding the Omni Group's award-winning products. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today Kourosh Dini returns to share more about how he uses OmniFocus. Well, hello and welcome to another episode of the Omni Show. My name is Andrew J. Mason, and today we're really excited to be able to have Kourosh Dini back on the show with us to share more about how he uses OmniFocus. If you're not familiar with Kourosh, he's the author of Creating Flow with OmniFocus. He's a productivity expert as well as a musician. And I think a reoccurring theme that you'll hear is this productivity emerges as a result of guided play. I love diving into this topic. A very natural and stress-free way of approaching productivity. So thank you so much for hanging out with us today,
Kourosh Dini: Andrew, thanks for having me here. I really appreciate it.
Andrew J. Mason: Now, I was thinking about our last interview, which was 2020, a solid almost three years ago, more than three years ago actually, and just mentally transporting in the Wayback Machine to what, what's going on back in October of 2020. And dare I say, a few things have emerged or changed in the landscape since then. I'd love for you to just transport us backwards as far as you see fit, to catch us up to what's latest and greatest for you.
Kourosh Dini: Sure, absolutely. No, so if I can run back further, I mean I started off with a lot of the productivity journey in OmniFocus and such before 2010 or so. And then by 2020 I'd had the third edition of Creating Flow with OmniFocus, another book, another course, and things had really blossomed at that point. And since then I decided, I just decided to dive deeper into the world of what makes for our intentions, how do we store them? I mean, because that's what essentially our tasks and projects are. It's how do we store them. As a result of thinking in parallel and having to act in sequential process, you know, we have to manage that. And our world of emotions don't care too much about the whole... Often they don't care about the world of possibility, they just kind of show up and say, "Ah, but I want that." And so in that realm, I noticed some struggle more than others and I really tried to kind of focus on that group that seems to, that doesn't matter what the methodology and all that, I'm like, all right, there's something going on here. I want to try to dive there.
Andrew J. Mason: It's so interesting to me that this really is, I think, an itch that people need to scratch where it's, you have this software and it's really just reflecting back to you what you've put in it and just this dichotomy of stress. "Oh my gosh, I see this giant list in front of me. Where did this come from? Oh yeah, it came from inside of me." So it's kind of funny how we don't want to open the software sometimes because we realize what we've put into it. But at the same time, the feeling of flow when you're checking those things off and you're moving forward and you're like, "Oh, this is great. I'm making progress." Talk to me a little bit more about how has your system in OmniFocus shifted, evolved over the last couple of years? Are there any changes there for you?
Kourosh Dini: So it's been a steady, OmniFocus has been just a steady stalwart companion since it first came out, since the KGDD days, if you want you can date it back to that. And what I'll do now is I'd say it continues to be steady in how I use it, there's small adjustments here and there, but really it does what I want it to do and it does it well. So I'll give you examples of with OmniFocus four. You guys did this wonderful job of putting this together and I like the ability to craft the display and the editing of any particular perspective down to its details and nuances now. But as an example, I have what I call my current spew. This is effectively an itinerary for the day and I don't want to see very much. I just want to see the tasks. I turn off visibility for display and I turn off all the visibility of all the doodads, all the knickknacks on the display setup. So I just see the task title. But then when I select the task, I want to be able to see the note field. And the reason why I do that is because I continue to heavily rely on links that you can embed in the note field. And OmniFocus has this rich method of being able to link to any other part of the system really. So I set it so that in the editing, when I select it, I am able to open up the note field. So I tap on that and then boom, I'm able to go to wherever it is in OmniFocus that I'd like to get to. So more specifically, I have a task that says, "Develop my thoughts for the Omni Group podcast." And I tap, it opens up, I select the link, it goes to my project where I have all my thoughts, all my ideas, different correspondence. I have our email, I have whatever, and it's all ready to go. And it makes it so that it stays out of my way when I don't want it to be there. But then when I want to dive into something, it's ready to go. And then just as a contrasting example from my review perspective, I want to see everything. I want to see lots of stuff. So I want to see everything that's under the hood. So display and editing mode. I want to see most everything at once, and it makes it easy to just kind of go through, flip through. And then we've got this nice quick button that says, mark as reviewed as well as a quick setup that says, how frequently do you want this reviewed? And those are kind of my main things that I look at when I review. So it's got this nice flow to it at this point.
Andrew J. Mason: Kourosh, I think some of the intangible or the extra added value that people get when they interact with your material and understand kind of what it is you talk about, for me, OmniFocus is very much a corralling of ideas. The rabbit, the frog in the mind that just jumps here, there and everywhere. It just kind of really, okay, let's funnel everything into this one central inbox where action can actually happen here. For the person that really appreciates maybe what you've done, how you've presented your material and yourself, there seems to be a structured tending of the garden, and I don't know if we blame rhythm, it's just a very intentional rhythm that you've put into place, a discipline. Is this something that you were born with? How do you advise somebody who maybe finds themselves a little bit all over the map mentally, but wants to get into that place of more calm, structured, rhythm, flow, just any great first steps there for somebody?
Kourosh Dini: So the way I hear the question is kind of the overall nature or theme of how I approach work if I'm hearing it right.
Andrew J. Mason: That's it.
Kourosh Dini: So rhythm is very much a part of it, and the ecology of those rhythms is also a part of it. If we can kind of mix the metaphors. So the unit of work I look at as opposed to the task, I think a lot of times we look at task or project as kind of the unit of work, and I don't look at it that way. I approach it as what I call a visit and a visit is this. A visit is you show up to something, whatever the intended work is, and you preferably with distraction set aside, and you stay there for at least the length of a single deep breath and that's it. You don't have to do anything. Now if you do nudge it forward, great. If you nudge it forward a bunch and it becomes a flow of something great, but if it doesn't move forward, that's fine too. You can have it show up again the next day or schedule the next visit. And what that does is that it allows me full agency, which I think is vital. It's the centerpiece or a centerpiece of my work, not only as productivity, but in psychoanalysis and my therapy work. It's to clear and support the development of a person's sense of agency, their ability to defining that, their ability to make a clear non-reactive decision act and create from that. And a lot of times we in productivity space or just in general, people I think adopt the sort of force based method of work. Where the example is, if you look at the task that's written, it says write report. You can't finish that. You can't mark that complete until you've written the report. So you are stuck with it. You are forced. There's a number of different ways to force oneself, deadlines and negative emotions of shame and whatever. You can force yourself in lots of ways. And that tends to be the way that people approach it. And this other approach, this visit based approach, what it does instead is that you sit in front of the work, it sounds simple, but it's not. You expose yourself to the emotions. You expose yourself to the feelings of the work, all the feelings of, "I should have done this, this is horrible." Or, "Who is this person who assigned..." Whatever it is. But then there's also those feelings of, "Oh, I see a little bit of that in there. Oh, maybe if I did this." Something like that. And what happens is you start noticing, you start tuning in where you're looking naturally for that stimulation that's just enough where it's not too boring and it's not too overstimulating, and you just, when you nudge it forward, you kind of work your way into what I call those windows of challenge that lets you start moving forward. All the while you've been paying attention to the emotions throughout. So what happens is you become much more genuinely connected to the work, I feel. At least that's my experience and the experience I've had with students and clients as well. And so that's the unit of work. So when you ask, a lot of people might point out and say, "Oh, I seem so intentional in how I do this and I'm very directed in this." Yeah, kind of. Really what I'm doing is I'm doing this and I'm deciding in the moment every time. I'm still going, "Yeah, I still want to go in that direction."
Andrew J. Mason: One of the things I was alluding to in an earlier question about getting stressed out by the list that you've created, is that actually happened to me. I was showing this to somebody on staff at David Allen company, and they were saying something to the effect of, "Do you realize how crazy it is to get stressed out about a list that you've created?" And yet we all go there. And I think what I hear you saying is that it's okay to get off of your own back about that, to not feel like you have to check off every box that you put inside your inbox.
Kourosh Dini: Wonderful. Even what you mentioned about the list, I mean there's that idea of what I would call list hygiene or attention hygiene, either of these ideas that you can cultivate these lists so that you start feeling more supported rather than repelled. When you look at these things, depending on how you've written it, depending on how many things are there, depending on what they represent and how you've arranged it to be visited throughout the day, you can make it so that if you look at a list of three, four, or five things that all look completable and only as a matter of a visit, that's vastly different than a list of 20 things that all look like which ones do when and what do I got to do? And I can't mark this complete until this, that. One is like, thank you, I'm happy to have this list. And the other one's like, please, I just want to shut this down and run.
Andrew J. Mason: Exactly. And I feel like a real key there is what you talk about, this importance of play and getting off of our own back. When we come to do something that's productive inside of our lists, this feeling of like, "You know what? I don't have to do this. I am the committee. I'm the one that created this note or this deadline, and it's okay for me to say no to that." But I'd love for you to talk to us a little bit more about what do you mean about the importance of play and productivity?
Kourosh Dini: Yeah, I would throw in there also care as being another emotion that's deeply important, but play I look at as also an emotion. When I talk about play, I am talking about that same play you see as a toddler where they're deeply in focus, the world doesn't matter. They're just there with the world in front of them and engaged in this interconnectedness, this questioning, this exploration of between self and world. And the same pattern is there in a master at a craft or something. When you see that gentle smile that's just quietly there and they're deeply in it, whether they're playing basketball or they are carving wood or they are a surgeon or something, they're deeply in it. And I view mastery and meaningful work as the development of that guided play without it. Whatever we're creating I think is hollow. It becomes when you listen to a beautiful piece of music, you can see it, you can hear it. There was play involved, but then when you listen to something that gives you a headache, you get a sense of there's something being forced there. And I get the same thing when I'm writing a piece of music. If I feel like I have to make this later on, even if it sounded good in the moment and I go back to review it, it gives me a headache. When it was a process of discovery and, "Oh, let me try this, let me try that." Then there is that beauty behind it. There's a truth behind it. There's something that feels like it resonates. Now, of course, it's that idea of guided play, that idea that if it's all just exploration and we never quite connect with the tribe around us without learning their language and their communication, we still have to be able to do that. But even that can be a process of discovery and exploration, and that's where you find the richness.
Andrew J. Mason: So good Kourosh, thank you so much for that. I want to hear a little bit more about, for somebody that finds themselves in that space of, as you say, ADHD, anxiety, this idea of the wondering mind that is really trying to get corralled and focused in a positive or proactive direction. Any other thoughts or ideas about how somebody can really effectively engage with their world?
Kourosh Dini: So the approach I'll take often is I guess I'll say what's unique for me because there's many different approaches, many things that people do, whether it's exercise, diet, meds, therapy, et cetera, things like that. But what I'll notice is that those with what I call wandering mind, have this overlap between whether it's ADHD/Anxiety, but it could also be people who are creative and brilliant and have this sort of, I would say abundance of playfulness, abundance of the sort of powerful sense of engagement where it's not just those scattered, it's also those times where you deeply dive into something and lose sight of things. And that oftentimes they resort to that forced based work. So I'm contrasting forced based versus visit based. Because there's often a sense of I don't know how to control myself, I don't know how to get myself to do things, I don't know how to remember things and I forget things and all that sort of stuff. So they often feel like there's this, I have to either rely on a deadline to have urgency kick me into gear. I need to rely on someone else to yell at me. I need to rely on myself to yell at me through shame and anxiety. I have to maybe post online this is my intention and rely on shame that way. And it goes on, the sort of force based methods. I'll say one other thing about that is that because you rely on that so much, you wind up hitting exhaustion, paralysis, feelings like I don't feel like it. All those things, and even from your past self, you write down a task, even things you might enjoy, you're still rejecting the authority within and just saying, "I can't, I'm done. I don't feel like it." Because you've spent all this time twisting yourself in knots. So what I do is I try to help a person move from that force to the visit based, it sounds simple, it sounds easy, it's not so simple and easy, but beginning is simple, what I described of being with it and just for a single deep breath. When you start doing that, I'll give you an example, okay. A lot of times we'll look at in the ADHD community [inaudible 00:15:11] say there's this interest-based way of approaching things that I have to be interested in order to engage. And so what happens is that you can take that and turn it on its head, and some people do, and then they fall into, "Well, I guess I can't do it because I'm not interested in doing it." Which it becomes this sort of helpless state. But the visit based where you show up to the thing lets you nurture the interest in the moment, it lets you start thinking, "Where is it within this that I can find something that might be of interest to me?" And that doesn't happen because you're forcing it. It happens on its own for the most part because there's that abundance of play within. There's that abundance of... Very often a person with will stay with ADHD will, despite not wanting to do X, Y, or Z, there are times where they wind up doing the thing that they didn't want to do. Somebody who's not reading very often, maybe is on a plane with a book and they don't have to read it, and somehow they find themselves reading, they've made a visit to that book. Now you can start arranging that sort of, it doesn't have to be so concentrated and blocked off and walled off necessarily, but you can take advantage of that same principle and develop your workflow to be in that vein.
Andrew J. Mason: Kourosh, I'd love for you to maybe widen the aperture on that a little bit and expand just from the idea of somebody that's dealing with wandering mind or extreme focus. But what about that person that is possibly taking on new responsibilities in a place of transition of life where they're doing something different than what they usually do, but just task managers tend to show up in people's lives during those times where things are changing or expanding or different. And for somebody that is just new to that space, what advice do you have for somebody who's stepping into that role of expanded responsibility?
Kourosh Dini: Like they're just starting it with task management, they haven't really explored it at all, but they're interested. They're kind of building their selves up to it?
Andrew J. Mason: Exactly.
Kourosh Dini: Well, the first thing I would say is that believe it or not, you probably already have something in place. For example, if you look at my own high school time and how I did my tasks, I didn't use any lists of any sort, I don't think. Basically the method was take pile of undone stuff, put it on the left, move it into the center, do it there, move it to the right when I'm done. That was the method. And play Metallica on the boombox in the meantime, that was the method. But the thing is, it was something that said, I have an idea, I have an intention. So again, stored intentions, and I have a way of moving through that. So when you start off with an app, the idea is, what already works for you? I would start with that idea and start to build from there. So it's hard to say specifically, this is the way to do it, but I'll tell you what this might help. Okay, there's a few levers involved, and the aim would be that you have this thing in front of you, this app, wherever you look at it, laptop or iPad or phone or wherever. That is your point of discussion, your point of being able to approach, effectively past you. You know, you're present you, you're looking at all the things past you as written, and you want to have a conversation, and you want to be able to have that all concentrated right there in that one place. And from that concentrated position, you want to be able to say, "Okay, what do I want to do knowing where I am now, where I want to be and where I've been?" Big tall order, it seems. But that's the ideal. That's what you're heading for. The way to begin that I would say, is with a daily visit to that thing, at least a daily visit to the app and paying particular attention to when you visit that feeling of overwhelm, as soon as you feel that even slightly, the better you get at kind of even whiffing that the better, to ask yourself, what is it about this that isn't working for me and how can I hide the things that aren't relevant to me right at this moment and bring to the front things that are relevant to me at this moment. So no matter what system you're using, those are kind of the questions you're asking. What's useful to me now? I'll give you a concrete example. And using OmniFocus, for example. Let's say, let's go with that write report option, right? Yeah. Write report on there, and you look at it and it makes you feel ill, it's due on next week, Friday or something, whatever it is. And you're like, "Ah." So using this and it's sitting there amongst 20 other things for all I know, but let's just focus on this one. So what I would do then is I might turn that into a project, the report, and I would have instead a task in there that would say, continue writing report. And I would have that repeat. And the way I would have it repeat is that I would select it, mark the repeat button, and then I would change that to daily. And importantly, I would have it scheduled as defer until date. I would not do it by a due date. There's that two methods of repeating. And what that does then is that now you have this thing in front of you that you can complete simply by paying a visit. You can show up, you mark it complete, but as soon as you've done anything, whether you've done it a little bit or a lot, and now it's gone. Now it's off of your plate for the day. It has been moved to tomorrow, it's deferred until tomorrow. So you don't have to think about it. You don't have to look, because that's part of the way it is. You are creating this sort of series of visits. Now it's off your plate until tomorrow. Tomorrow, okay there, it's again, it'll show up. You do that and other things, you can make it sequential. Maybe there's something you have to do before this, before that. Okay, you can create a sequential process. Okay, what is it you do need to see in front of you? And what does it, you don't? The better you get at that, the better you are on the path of developing whatever system. So I guess I'm going on a long answer to your question of how do you start, but I think it's probably better to have, what's the mindset in place as you begin?
Andrew J. Mason: Kourosh, this has been fabulous. I so appreciate your time spending with us, especially during the holiday season when things are crazy. But I think it's just an extra value add for people that are listening during this time to be able to focus on not just themselves and the work that they're getting done, but also their systems themselves. And so I'd love it if you could just share a couple of ways that people can find out more about you and what you're up to these days.
Kourosh Dini: Certainly. So a couple of sites. One is my latest project. It's called Waves of Focus, so it's wavesoffocus.com. If you're interested in the, you can skip past the enroll, go to the subscribe area and get on the mailing list if you want to do that. I have a PDF about starting the visit kind of stuff, the visit based process. So that's one way. The second way is going to kouroshdini.com, K-O-U-R-O-S-H-D-I-N-I.com. And that one links to just my broad range of what I'm interested. And so if you want to follow my musical pursuits or my psychoanalytic ideas and such, those are there from there.
Andrew J. Mason: Kourosh, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate the visit that we have because I feel like every time we walk away from a conversation like this, I have more clarity and that is a great thing. So thank you so much for your time with us.
Kourosh Dini: My pleasure, and thanks for having me on.
Andrew J. Mason: Hey, and thank all of you for listening today too. You can find us on Mastodon at TheOmniShow@omnigroup.com. You can also find out everything that's happening with the Omni Group at omnigroup.com/blog.