How does DevonThink help you? How do you get the most from DT? A beginner still in doubt

I’m testing DT3 and I’m about to the end of the trial period, and I’m doubt.

The more I use DT3 the more I see potentiality, but I see I’m still having a basic usage of it: note taking and documents storage (with some tag here and there).
It’s the same as when I was using Apple Notes + Finder, along with a curate naming of the files.

I suppose DT is far more than this, but what?
Maybe I’m stuck in what I call “the note taking mentality”, not seeing other better methods to organize and retrieve the documents even after years.

I work with academic papers, articles, various media to write articles, make videos for my YouTube channel, structuring projects, etc…
The method I used until now (a kind of customized Zettelkasten) worked fine, but it was too time consuming in the long run.

I’m testing DT because I read it can ease the organizing and retrieving steps, but how?

I watched many tutorials, but they didn’t go so far from the usual storing (with some “advanced” feature such as tags).

So I wonder: how can DT be a better method for me?
How can DT make my work easier then the basic method I described above?
Is there something I’m missing?

Ok I realize it’s a confusing request, but well…I said I’m still in doubt… :wink:

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Important points for me

  • Support for organization using tag methodology
  • Integration with scripting (Applescript)
  • Enhanced search features
  • edit: note inter-linking
  • Easy export of my data; I’m not locked in

There are infinite ways DT3 can be helpful depending on your particular use case but let’s focus on what is likely the simplest and least-effort benefit of DT3 given your description of your workflow.

If you use academic papers and articles as sources to write articles, at minimum you would likely want to search for a specific keyword and find all of the papers and articles in your database which match. If your documents are all OCRd or otherwise full-text searchable, then DT3 is more effective and more efficient than any other method I know to search through such a collection.

There are many many more uses - some of which take a good bit of time to configure. But doing a basic full-text search of a bunch of documents is by itself worth the price of admission to me and I suspect to anyone with a similar workflow.


Perhaps the thing that you are missing is linking. In my view, this is one of the best things about DEVONthink

I will describe a scenario.

I decide to write a paper about Sigmund Freud, so I create a group called something simple like “Freud Paper”. In this, I create a kind of “master document” or index for the material I want to include. Somewhere in my databases I find an article that is useful, so I copy the item link for that article and paste it into my master document. I find a second article and do the same. Now I find a fresh pdf on the internet, which I download and place in my “Freud Paper” group. I might as well include a link to it in my master document, so I copy the item link for this article and paste that into the master document.

Slowly, I am building an index of all the useful material, and as I have the links to all the material in a single document, I do not have to search for it. I can click on any of those links and be taken straight to the article, pdf, image or whatever it is, immediately.

As one does this repeatedly, one builds a kind of “personal wiki” with a network of links that carry you instantly from any document you are working in to another document that is relevant. These links will even open the relevant database for you if it is not already open.

Moreover, DEVONthink item links even work from outside DEVONthink. You can copy an item link and paste it in a document created by Word, Omnifocus, iThoughts, NotePlan, Scrivener, Tinderbox, and many others, and clicking on that link will take you to the item inside your DEVONthink database. These links are pretty robust, in that you can move or rename the item, and the link will still work.

In my view, if you are not using item links, you are missing one of the most useful features of DEVONthink (thought admittedly it does depend on what work you do, and how you do it). But if you already use the Zettelkasten method, you will know that links are at the core of that. Linking is a crucial feature for me.


Just to give you a better idea of how I use DEVONthink, here is a screenshot. I am presently reorganising my Zettelkasten, which I now keep in DEVONthink (in my case it is a separate database with all my notes in it). The words in light blue are links to other items, or in one case to an item in Bookends, the bibliographic manager. In my case I am writing in Markdown, but you could also write in RTF. In short, I don’t just use DEVONthink for storage, I also use it for my projects, each of which I tend to have in a separate database. That is where I gather material, or links to material, and organise it. The links tend to be DEVONthink item links, so if I turn this page into a pdf and save it somewhere else (for example) the links will still go to the items in the DEVONthink database(s).

I will freely admit I have pinched some ideas from others, such as Kourosh Dini.

I hope this is of some help.


Very interesting @mbbntu

Do you have a set of templates which help you with that formatting?

Hi there! I’m still working on it all, but I mean to have templates, and probably Keyboard Maestro macros and Typinator expansions to help with it all. I have several balls in the air at the moment, and I have only just come back to DEVONthink after a period “away”. (Nice to have data integrity checks!)

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Related question - how popular is the “Widescreen” preview that you use (document in the middle pane) as opposed to the “Standard” preview I use (with the hidden preference to display groups in the preview panel)?

I think I am in the minority - but if you use Widescreen how do you sort by date/name or other metadata fields?

Speaking as someone with qualifications in social psychology, I would guess that the only way to find out if widescreen is more popular than standard would be to conduct a survey! :wink:

I am experimenting at the moment, and I’m using the setup which supposedly mimics the three-pane layout of DT2 (not exactly, but it will have to do). There was a blog post about this, so I followed the guidelines. At the moment I prefer it. Screens are wider than they are taller, so I feel it makes the best use of the space.

As to sorting, that is easily done by using the menu View->Sort and choosing whatever takes your fancy from the huge list. Or you can do the same thing with the drop-down menu in the bar next to the choices for icon, list, etc. And if I want to see all the columns it is so quick to change to Standard view – Cmd-6 and you are there. Cmd-7 and you are back to widescreen. I still miss three-pane, though.

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You can add any column via the menu. That’s something I forget from time to time as it’s not obvious when looking at a default widescreen view.

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Wow - I owe you dinner if you are ever in town.

I have used DT3 forever and either forgot or never realized that. It is indeed an immense help.

Huge thanks.


@pete31 Thinking about this more - maybe instead of my current ridiculous computer configuration (I won’t admit how many monitors I have) I should make my main monitor an obscenely widescreen one so I can add lots of columns. Black Friday is soon here…

Sounds good

I’m using it in my M1 13 inches and in my new MBP 16.

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Got it working on a 5K monitor 5120 * 2880 - very nice.

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Something I’m not used to, and maybe something I’d better to learn: I read they can ease the workflow so much.

It’s maybe the most Moro rant thing that made me enter DT.
Even by searching and by my (basic) organisation I was working only on the most recent documents, the older ones buried somewhere else.

I realised it when I moved my documents from OneNote to Apple Note, and discovered several documents that would have been useful for my past works and projects, but I’ve not “remembered”.

It felt as like as living only on the short term memory.

This is why I decided to test DT.

Maybe: I’ve read something about them, but I’ve never been used to such strategy.
Maybe because of the software I’ve used until now?

I’m used to the Zettelkasten concept, and you’re right it’s pretty similar, but I think the linking system of DT is faster and less time consuming.

Thank you for your deep explanation, and I think keeping the Zettelkasten into a separate database is a good idea.
I take note.

So you have sort of master lists that point toward the reference documents, is it?

I’ll test the Widescreen for myself too, on my 27”.
Maybe I discover a better organization of the interface :wink: