Devonthink and GettingThingsDone?

It had to happen sooner or later…

Many of you may recently have noticed increased chatter in the blogosphere regarding various implementations of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) planning system. (if you haven’t is as good a place as any to start)

Though Life Balance & Tinderbox (which I also own) currently seem to be the applications of choice for GTD on the mac, I’m starting to think that DT might be better for those of us who deal with a lot of documents and web-based research.

Any one else out there interested in starting a thread on DT’s GTD potential?

I’ll take that bait.

I’m fairly new to GTD, though I saw a few videos of Allen and liked what I saw enough to post about it on this forum in Janaury (see the topic: “DEVONthink as a collection tool” here in Usage Scenarios).

Having now read the entire GTD, I’m working on implementing some or most of the ideas.  Paper management isn’t a big issue for me, but organizing and responding to incoming email, projects, reference, action items defines my work life.

Right now, I’m using, CP Notebook, Finder, and DT PE/Pro to manage the tsunami.  I use Notebook to list and check-off “the next action,” whether originated out of a project list, phone/voice mail, or email that I can’t immediately respond to.

I use DT and Finder as repositories for meeting notes, project files, reference, and "someday/maybe" ideas.  (E.g. in DT I have a group called "Buy Me."  But then again, I also have an Amazon wish list that I use for the same purpose.   :frowning: )

There probably are advantages to consolidating down still more to only two applications – say, and DT.  But I use the outliner metaphor for all of my meeting notes and many of “my next action” items, and DT doesn’t seem a comfortable environment to handle many topics/line items of various length, hierarchy, and state (i.e. some check-box items, some not).  I’d love to hear from folks who are using DT’s “outline” function to handle their next actions.

As for Finder, I still haven’t settled the war in my brain about the best way to have DT and Finder interact.  I’m one of those folks that has an broad and deep folder hierarchy in Finder, and for the moment it’s still working for me.    I can easily envision the day when, due to sheer volume and my fading memory, it won’t.  I’m curious - how do others handle this?  In my dreams I’d like to take all the incoming that’s non-trash, feed it DT (which would automatically group the item), then throw the original in an unsorted pile of files in Finder’s “Documents” folder.  We have a lot of PDF and Keynote and other apps that aren’t easily/directly ingested by DT, making this arrangement problematic.

Then there’s my email archive…  ::slight_smile:


ps: some evangelist ought to inform Merlin about DT.  He loves Quicksilver (as do I); I’ll bet he’d love DT…

Thanks for the detailed reply, Fred.

Until recently, I was leaning toward Tinderbox for my GTD chores, particularly since its “agent” feature – which can automatically collect aliases according to very tweakable criteria – seemed more powerful than the manual creation of aliases that DT requires. An agent can, for instance, gather all your Next Actions from various project folders automatically. I imagine DT will someday be able to manage this with Tiger’s “smart Folders” feature.

In the meantime, DT has some advantages (apart from its wonderful file/text/web management features) that are potentially powerful parts of a GTD implementation:

  1. DT replicants are true aliases in that they carry all their subitems, unlike TB’s aliases, which merely refer back to the single original rather than replicating its full outline.

2)The export features in the latest betas are remarkably powerful; I’ve only just started experimenting, but I’ve discovered, for example, that I can put together a very workable single ToDo List by exporting all the contents (“Next Actions”) in my various GTD “context” folders (ie. @calls, @office, @home etc) to a single RTF document, and then keeping that document indexed in DT. By replacing the file with a new version every time I export, I get a constantly updatable indexed “ToDo” document in DT. Pretty Nifty, and longer to describe than to do. Exporting OPML to Notetaker or Novamind might also yield interesting results.

  1. Since much of what I do in a GTD setup involves files (articles and scenes to write, websites to check, articles to read, reference material to refer to) it’s great to be able to replicate all the relevant material to a project folder.

  2. When starting a project I create a folder containing a ProjectPlan that outlines goals, outcomes etc plus a list of possible NextActions. During review, I merely have to select and drag the text of a NextAction to the appropriate folder (ie. dragging Call Joe into @Calls) and a new textfile/action is created. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to distinguish different kinds of files. So Far I’m using names like P- ProjectName and (rightarrow from character palette)NextActionName (The arrow has the advantage of being searchable, allowing me to find a list of all next actions simply by searching for “rightarrow”. (For some reason the more easily accessible keyboard symbol > doesn’t yield search results.) A great side effect of all this dragging is that the ProjectPlan ends up containg a list of automatic WikiLinks to all its NextActions.

Obviously this is still a work in progress but so far so good.

Things that make you go hhhmmmm?


thanks for the suggestions. Version 2.0 (should be available at the beginning of Q1/05) will introduce agents (“smart groups”) and won’t require Tiger for this feature.

In addition, there are some raw plans for something called “DEVONmail” which might be either a plugin for Apple’s Mail or a mail plugin for DEVONthink Pro. Maybe this will be part of DT Pro 2.0 and then one should be able to read/write mails within DT Pro too.

tres cool christian

and eiron, thanks for the heads up about the 43folders website.  i like it a lot.

Christian, both of these items sound extremely useful.  An efficient, transparent way to read, write, and store mail within DT Pro will be wonderful.

Re: DT’s smart groups feature independent of Tiger’s smart folders.  I’m very curious, and very hopeful, to see if DT/Pro can leverage Tiger’s Search API’s.   Spotlight is only a part of what seems like a very significant architectural change by Apple.

Eiron, thanks for the illuminating reply.  I want to study what you’ve written before I reply.  At the moment, though, you might want to check out the review of Tinderbox written by the redoubtable Ted Goranson at this month’s About This Particular Macintosh:

It’s interesting that Mr. Goranson notes that many Tinderbox users also keep a “snipping/database” application handy.

I follow what you’re doing here – and thanks for pointing out the “export group(s) to RTF(D)” feature – but I’m not sure why you are doing it.  It does yield a single document with all ToDo’s…but that single RTF document has no concept of state, so you can’t use it to check off completed items…?  I do see where it would be useful to print out and take out of the office.  I readily admit I might be missing something here.

Well, interesting is a good choice of words.  I created a trial set of ToDo’s as you outlined above.  I added comments to each ToDo content item, including some gif files.  I then exported to OPML, and opened the OPML file in CP NoteBook, OmniOutliner, and Novamind.  One file, three applications, three results.  OmniOutliner handled the output the most accurately… but it can’t display graphics.

There is still some work to be done to make this OPML workflow seemless.

This is just incredibly slick.  Thank you very much!  The automatic WikiLinking in this context is the killer app.

As for Finder, I still haven’t settled the war in my brain about the best way to have DT and Finder interact.

Tell me about it. I’m thinking the ability to move easily between databases may help with that - mentally, I need my writing to remain separate from research - and like you, am accustomed to deep folder use - and sorting among them, creating hierarchies, is part of the thinking process.

Sorry to say, in more than a year, I haven’t found a comfortable solution. It seems an insult to the wonderful technology at Devon, but sometimes I think the db works best as a monster clip dump, thoughh I’m not sure how to make the cream rise to the top.

GTD, seems to me, is about having before you only what you can do on this day, and recording the rest. For which purpose DT would do just fine, no?

The problem DT presents is that it invites so many usage scenarios, I tend to back off and stay with more circumscribed apps, for a given project, just to have a container for one idea.

Neither NoteBook or NoteTaker fill the notebook gap satisfactorily. Maybe Christian will give us the appearance of a notebook within DT, a la Word.

Say, that’s not a bad idea. I hate cranking up a whole database–or either of the notebook apps–for quick notes and ideas. In fact, I thought, when DevonNote came out, that it was going to be what I am describing - a small, easy to clip to and jot notepad that lived outside the main database but was periodically sucked into it. . to use a highly technical term.

Anyway, GTD rocks. Interesting thread. [


I have just started using DT to implement GTD and I prefer it to Tinderbox. I loved Tinderbox but I adore DT. It will just be perfect for this purpose once agents and mindmapping functions will become available.

I initially started to adapt Ryan Holcomb’s GTD Tinderbox template for my own purpose, by simplifying it as it is perhaps slightly too complex but upon the release of the latest version of DT I switched over to this application.

I am also in the process of transfering all my research notes from an very old version of Filemaker to Devonthink.

:bulb: Tinderbox’s Public File Exchange is a great idea which perhaps would deserve to be emulated by Devonthink. It allows users to share templates and ideas about possible uses of the application.

I have posted some screen shots of the template I use to implement GTD with Devonthink if this is of interest to anyone.

Why do you prefer DT over Tb for this particular purpose? I use both, and hope to implement GTD soon, but initially leaned towards Tb for this purpose.

I to would be interested in hearing your thoughts on DT over TB

Also, I saw in your screenshot that you track calendar events within DT. Would you mind sharing how you are doing that?


As an academic, the key issue for me, is that DT is absolutely brilliant at handly pdf files. More and more academic journals are now available online as pdf files, and DT is great to store them and convert them as text files.

To try and answer your query I have created the following graph. I hope it is of assistance.

Thanks Pascuale, that did help. What I was really asking was how are you doing it “programmatically”? In other words, are you manually copying/typing calendar events into DT, or using AppleScript?

I have gone for simplicity and I manually enter events items in the calendar. It nevertheless work well as it replicates the 43 folders tickler system.

The agents available on Tinderbox would be great in DT !

I have only switched back to to Apple Mac for less than a year and have not yet looked at AppleScript. Any thought on how it could help.