An Unusual Database Strategy - Feedback Welcome

Hello everyone,

I have owned DT Office Pro for quite awhile and have a spotty usage history, because I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work for my thinking/processing style. I am a synthesizer by nature, and strongly idea-oriented; so that means I collect and consume (or rather hoard and gorge on) unwieldy numbers of books, articles, notes, quotes, videos, music, etc. I have trouble grouping and tagging things because my brain is more like a spiderweb, where one node has many connections, than a filing cabinet, where things have distinct relationships. My particular talent is arranging and rearranging unlike things to generate ideas, and this is the main reason I’m trying to manage information outside the finder’s file structure, which is too linear for me.

Unfortunately, this thinking style means I am “disorganized” when it comes to retrieving records from amid the piles of my collections. It takes me forever to find the note where I jotted down my credit card repayment plan, or the most recent version of a white paper or infographic I’m doing for work. My file names say things like FINALproductionversion.doc and SeriouslyFINALproductionversion.doc and AbsolutelyFINALproductionversion.doc. This is not helping me retrieve anything. :open_mouth:

In addition to DT, I’ve tried The Brain, Evernote, and a raft of note-taking, project management and task management tools (OmniFocus, Pagico, Pear Note, Tinderbox, Curio, and many, many others). None of them has stuck except Evernote, and that’s out of pure laziness. I’ve come to understand that it just will not work to treat the records I need to retrieve in the same way that I treat the information I want to collect, compare, and connect.

So now I’m thinking of creating just two databases: Retrieve and Synthesize.

In the Retrieve database I’d store records and files that I need to quickly find. Could be anything from bank statements to recipes to white papers or graphic designs I’m working on at work. In this database I’d make use of Groups (using topic as an organizing principle, probably) to keep everything easy to find.

In the Synthesize database, I’d store what I think of as resources. Could include notes/excerpts from books I’ve read, articles, videos, social media posts, random notes to myself, paragraphs I’ve written that I like but haven’t found a use for, out-of-date work that I don’t want to throw away, etc. In this database I’m thinking I might not create any groups at all, but might just have DT auto-group from the inbox.

The result I would like to get from this setup is that I would go to Retrieve to store something that is static, or at least in progress on the way to becoming static; but I would go to Synthesize to make connections and generate ideas. Thus, I would be honoring my nature and at the same time mitigating my inefficiency with routine file retrieval.

Thoughts? Opinions? Has anyone else tried anything like this?

I see this as how I use DEVONthink.

I have a Support database that’s well organized (though I occasionally have to rearrange / file extemporaneous captures and notes). I also have other organized databases on more focused topics, like Health, etc.

I also have very loose databases I capture data too, very organically. I rarely even group much of the data in these. When I do, it’s usually when I’m testing something. Our search capabilities are so good, finding “needles in a haystack” is often still easily done.

One thing to consider: “auto-grouping” will likely not function as well in the loose databases, as connections won’t be as easily detected.

Also, while the AI is amazing, surprisingly so, it is still just a computer. It doesn’t abstract information in the way we do (nor can it). We are incredibly good at this. The AI makes logical connections from static data (oftentimes better than we do). On tighter databases, this makes for powerful classification and suggestions “easier” on the AI. On the other hand, on the looser databases, the AI often suggests “creative” connections you may not have expected!

The strategy doesn’t seem unusual at all. In fact it is perfectly normal, from my perspective :laughing:

Like, Jim, I have some very structured databases because I need to track my client work carefully and retrieve documents from history. My personal databases, on the other hand, are heaps-o-stuff. They grow and grow. In both cases, I depend heavily on See Also, and Search. I don’t use Classify much because I’m more interested in exploring relationships between documents on the fly than preserving those relationships in groupings or structure.

I also use a lot of external tools for note taking – I’m never satisfied that anything in the “note-taking / productivity” space is excellent. (There’s a term for this – CRIMP – which is one of the main themes of my favorite forum, Outliner Software.) So, I basically look for software that produces files I can keep in folders that I index in one or more databases.

Love reading other approaches to structuring DBs! Thanks for sharing!

One point I’d throw in – not that I’m a long-time user or anything – but couldn’t you achieve the same by still using 1 DB?

In other words - have one Group or something that serves as your catch-all “Retrieve” group, and then structure various Groups for ‘synthesis’, as you were planning to, but inside that same DB.

AFAIK, the single biggest benefit of this would be that you are able to search/use the AI etc. across all of your material, which might assist you given your way of thinking/processing your information?

Splitting them into 2 or more DBs, would still involve a process of manually(?) moving things from one DB - out of Retrieve, and into Synthesize… Which is obviously fairly simple and easy to do - but having them all in 1, would allow this to be done easier? You’d also allow the data to ‘dictate’ possible connections, rather than you making calls on what needs to move from Retrieve to Synthesize? Just a thought.

FWIW - I have 6 separate DBs at the moment, and it certainly works for me - simply figured I’d drop the above into the mix

Good luck - I’m sometimes a bit embarrassed about how much pleasure I derive from thinking about the thinking I’ve got invested in managing my data! 8)

“Search” works across all open databases – as do Global Smart Groups. AI (See Also, Classify) do not, as you point out.

Last time I looked I had over 80 databases :mrgreen:

There I was, wandering through life thinking I was just fine, when in complete innocence I discover that I am a CRIMPER.

Well, I guess there is comfort in knowing I’m not alone. :smiley:

Thanks, everyone, for the generous feedback. It’s helpful to know that I’m on a track others have trod. I’m still fussing around with my database structure and have created quite an unholy mess, but one good thing about it is it’s making me look through the mess and start throwing out stuff I really have no interest in saving. I have my Synthesize and Retrieve databases set up, but I also have maybe five or six others that are right now acting as landing pads during the sorting and cleaning. Some or all might actually hang around for the long term. For example, I’d intended to put all my financial stuff in Retrieve, but I kind of like having it separated out right now. The same is true for a Homestead database I set up. Maybe Retrieve will go away and I’ll end up with Synthesize plus multiple themed databases for retrieval.

Hope everyone is having an excellent start to the new year -


Thanks, jayne! A busy but good start so far.

PS: I like your relaxed attitude toward this whole topic. It seems to be too serious or people get intimidated by “setting up the database wrong”. Other than putting the databases in a cloud-synced folder, or trying to store them on a remote server and simultaneously accessing it, there’s really not much “right” or “wrong” about it. We have built in a lot of flexibility to accommodate various working styles and thought processes. My way may not be your way, and yours may not be someone else’s. That part of the fun of DEVONthink. Discovering how YOU use it. :smiley: