Home IOS Making the Most of DEVONthink

Making the Most of DEVONthink

by Kerry Dawson


I’ve written a fair bit about DEVONthink till this point. The two articles I have completed have both been about the value of the product however, I emphasized an approach in getting to know DEVONthink which was very focused. The idea was to use DEVONthink, to obtain a benefit, without being overwhelmed by the product.

In both articles I discuss areas of great value but in the first article “Go Paperless with DEVONthink Pro Office” I outline a strategy to use DEVONthink in a very focused fashion to achieve the paperless office. The benefit of just achieving a paperless office makes the product worthwhile on that front a lone. It’s environmentally sound to go paperless, it’s fun but it’s incredibly pragmatic. Documents are much easier found this way and you can keep them for as long as you want. If these were physical documents, there’d be a tendency to get rid of them regardless of value at some point especially as they started to encroach on valuable space.

In “Approaching DEVONthink” I discussed a way of tapping into the value of DEVONthink as an information and knowledge management system but again I tried to keep this constrained. Rather than trying to grasp too much or do too much with DEVONthink from the get go I looked at what the significant value is DEVONthink provides and who it most specifically suits.

By addressing what DEVONthink is and does and who it is best suited for it then can be learned by focusing on something key and then pressing outward. However, the worst thing you could do when getting to know DEVONthink is try to understand every concept, some of which are a bit obscure and some which are simply complex, and charge forward all guns a blazing. You’d quickly find you’re shooting yourself up and getting quite frustrated in the process.

In this article, I would like to now elaborate a bit further on DEVONthink. There’s a tremendous amount that you can do with DEVONthink that is extremely beneficial. DEVONthink is a powerful product with a lot of functionality. With that power though does come complexity depending on what you’re doing. Not always but frequently. Assuming the two are true, let’s explore some of the better accessible but high value aspects of DEVONthink.

Always Start with an ix500


Although I discussed this extensively in Go Paperless with DEVONthink Office Pro it doesn’t hurt to repeat. For the purposes of this discussion and any article I do on DEVONthink I’ll always be addressing DEVONthink Pro Office which is the best value product of all in that it does one thing well with a huge payoff. It allows you to achieve a full paperless office and without much work.

To begin with then, always have an ix500 to go with DEVONthink Pro Office. The reason for this it is simply the best. Having been chosen this year for a MacWorld Eddie award it is viewed generally as the best. DEVONthink has been optimized for the ix500. Even Evernote is teamed up with the ix500. You can also use it with an Evernote installation if you have that.

To make the best use of DEVONthink create a paperless office with the product. It’s not difficult at all. Scan everything of importance into DEVONthink. Then get rid of the paper. Quickly clear your desk. Some people even go into past files and scan them. I’ve never gone to that length but have rather chosen to become paperless from a certain moment in time. I’m still 100% paperless. The only time there will be paper sitting on my desk is when it is being qued for scanning.

The benefit is major. Working with a clean desk just helps in the whole area of productivity. With my paper in DEVONthink I know that it is immediately accessible anytime I need it and there have been times when I have. The payoff of this one area of activity ensures you are making the best use of DEVONthink.

Filing using the AI Engine


We have inboxes happening left right a centre. We have our email inbox which is a challenge to keep up with. Thankfully, software is being developed which is a huge help in this area. As an example, Mindsense is almost ready to go to market with their OSX version of Mail Pilot. It is none too soon for this kind of approach to mail. It is a superb email product and makes quick and efficient work of your inbox.

We have our task managers that have inboxes that have to be processed daily. There is really nothing that speeds up this process except possibly the package you choose to help you manage tasks. So in the course of a day you will need to devote a lot time to this inbox.

Then we have our inboxes in our Notes apps and when I call these Notes apps they are far more than that. These inboxes can get huge through the course of the day. If you don’t have a good method or assist in the processing of these inboxes they can take a good deal of time. I don’t use Evernote much at all as I can’t face that inbox.

DEVONthink’s inbox processing is a delight. Using the AI engine you can make quick work of your days filing. Unlike filing in Evernote which can be quite laborious DEVONthink is not. I categorize as I create notes and items for DEVONthink as I go a long during the day so when it comes to filing I don’t have to do this. I only need get my notes and items into the best folder to contain them. Using the AI engine either to fully automatically do this or to support my making decisions I take care of the inbox fast. This is a delight when compared to competitive offerings and it is a huge time saver.

Hierarchies and Nested Folders

I love hierarchal and nested folders for the filing of like information. DEVONthink Pro Office can create an endless number of hierarchal and nested folders. Into these goes information of like kind. I can then view related information just by it’s very nature of existing in a folder.

Often I’ll have a folder which is a subfolder of something else say just for a project or a purchase of a major item. As the project progresses everything goes into that folder or a subfolder of the project which then in turn gives me the best view of the information. This is highly effective when you either just need to retrieve something or have a view of where you’re at with a project.



Searching in DEVONthink Pro Office is exceptional. Even if your not inclined to go to a folder to retrieve information on something as you might not remember what folder you put it in, searching will guarantee you find it and find it fast. You can search at a fairly broad level or a granular level. Searching has yet to let me down. I have always found an item regardless how bad my memory is.


Th 3

Like folders and to DEVONthink Pro Office it see tags like folders. I do not. I should point out now though I have a caveat and trick to what I’m going to present.

Folders for me contain like or “very” like information. If I go to project folder “A” I will see stuff related to project A. Tags though might allow you to view disparate information from various places that have some commonality. So if I have a tag “X” I might tag information from “X” “Y” and “Z” as “X”. When I view the tag “X” I see this disparate information from this tagged view. This is very powerful in terms of the way you might relate information.

DEVONthink Pro Office though has a very nice feature called replicants which are multiple instances of one physical item. Using replicants you could put into the Project A folder replicants from the folders “X,Y and Z”. Use replicants as they too are powerful. However, I like tagged views. Definitely view tags as different than folders to “make the most of DEVONthink”.

Smart Folders

Smart Folder

Smart folders are smart. Actually, they’re great. They allow you to automatically pull all notes into a smart folder based on a search criteria. I have a number of smart folders I rely on constantly.

Three smart folders I use daily relate to the way I tag notes. Notes that I need to take some kind of action on I tag as @Action, @Followup and @Waiting. They do exactly as the name implies. I then have three smart folders that grab all the notes that are tagged in one of these three ways. Finally, I constantly monitor these folders and if there is an item in the @Action folder I take some kind of action. These folders significantly enhance productivity. As the status changes I change the tag. If the action is taken and now I just have to wait the note is tagged @Waiting and it is now in the @Waiting folder.

I have smart folders for all untagged items for the last two days and these items get tagged and immediately which allows them to leave the folder. There is a smart folder that lists every note in the entire database and on it goes. Definitely use smart folders. They are actually very simple to enable and use.

AppleScripts to Extend DEVONthink Pro Office’s Power


DEVONthink comes loaded with Applescript’s to extend the power of the product. I use a variety of these Applescripts to say tag a group of items or to remove a tag from items. I use another Applescript to create automatically a reminder item in The Hit List, my current task manager, while previously I used the OmniFocus Applescript. There’s an Applescript to get rid of all duplicate notes and this one is very handy.



DEVONthink is at the beginnings of using the cloud to sync. This is excellent. If you have say a desktop and a portable computer use DEVONthink’s cloud based sync to keep them both identical. I use the dropbox option.

If you have the IOS product DEVONthink To Go, this allows you to take your information with you. It doesn’t allow you to do much with that information other than view it although you could create new note with basic text information however, it is best, until DEVONthink To Go 2 comes out to view the current DEVONthink To Go as an information viewer. To make sure you have the most current information before you leave the door sync. DEVONthink To Go uses WIFI sync so once you’ve left there isn’t a way to sync that information unless you’re at a Mac where you’re going and you sync that computer using cloud sync. Then you’re in business.

Do sync though frequently to get the most out of DEVONthink. My view is you can’t sync often enough as you want to ensure everything is current and up to date.

Now that you’re making the most of DEVONthink Pro Office ….

With these tools in hand you should be able to get quick results of significant benefit from DEVONthink Pro Office plus you should now be making the most of DEVONthink Pro Office. However, this isn’t to say you’re tapping out all the capabilities of the product. You’re not.

This is the thing about DEVONthink Pro Office; there’s a lot to it. What I’ve presented in this paper I see as sort of the prime functions that provide immediate benefit. Within each of these categories, if it looks like there’s only one way to do something there isn’t. Part of the art of DEVONthink Pro Office is not only to find the way to refine how you’re doing things to make the product more efficient but to also find some of these little gems that improve upon the process**.

DEVONthink is a very capable product. However, it definitely isn’t a product for everyone. The learning hurdle is simply too steep for most people. However, for those who can achieve the most benefit from DEVONthink, then it is worth it to them to break through the learning curve. The product is definitely a power users product. There are many people I wouldn’t even think of asking them to look at it as they wouldn’t have clue what end is up. The power user though with defined needs is going to be able to tackle the product and achieve a lot with it. They will benefit from it’s capabilities.

In no way am I being critical of the non-power user or person with the specialized needs that makes this product worth learning. Rather, what I am saying is not everyone is in a position to face the learning curve and not everyone has the needs to achieve the corresponding benefits. However, the researcher, writer, lawyer etc all might have the defining needs to achieve significant benefit. Hopefully this article helps them make the most out of DEVONthink.


You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.